Pacifist Nation No Place for Wimps

On Secular, Ethical Pacifism

    Though I am a Jew by birth, and a (Unitarian Universalist) Christian by upbringing, I am an atheist.  Always open to correction, I currently (as of middle August, 2002) believe that there is no supreme being as posited by Western theological thought.  Perhaps I am a "Beist", as I believe that we simply are.  As such, I hold that life has no intrinsic value, except what we, personally and as a society, place upon it.

    And yet I am a committed pacifist and believe pacifism to be ultimately the best guide to creating a socially, ecologically and economically just life, neighborhood, community, nation and world.

    Supporting a secular-based Pacifism is certainly a challenge, but I feel it vital that we arrive at a universal ethic if we are to escape the pitfalls of bowing to any power or moral suasion than our own conscience.

    Pacifism exists in three media: one's personal belief system, one's actions and the consequences of applied pacifism.  As such, social, economic and ecological justice is an intrinsic goal of pacifist action, for injustice is not just an intolerable form of violence, but stands squarely in the way of a peaceful world as reflected in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:  "Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice."

    Pacifism has no Jesus or Bible as an authoritative source of definition; it must, therefore, be defined individually.  Whether in absolute or relative terms, though, it must address and provide parameters regarding the issues of violence, killing and war.  It is, I believe, most useful to approach the subject from the end-product point, for most would agree that the goal of applied pacifism (the only really useful form) is to create a world without war or any other form of applied or institutionalized violence.  This begs the question, can violence be a legitimate, practical or even acceptable tool it the pursuit of that goal?  Logic suggests that using violence to eliminate violence is oxy-moronic.

    It is safe to say that the pacifist abhors violence, killing and war.  What form of those, if any, is acceptable, practical or even necessary forms the nub of any significant debate.

    As a starting point, one may differentiate between offensive and defensive action.  Defense may be viewed as required as long as any threat to any given body remains.  As the goal of applied pacifism is universal justice, when that is achieved, any practical reason for war will cease to exist, leaving only the odd psychopath about which to worry, hardly one to be allowed into any position of power.

    The raison d'être of defense is protection.  As long as there is any potential threat to any person by any other person, some sort of defensive protection is necessary, and, under some circumstances, violence is bound to be applied.  The applicator may not be an absolute, pure pacifist, and that person's presence, with its attendant potential for violence, will likely be tolerated, condoned and even supported by pacifists.

    In discussing the practicality of applied pacifism, it must be explored in the context of the real world.  There is the criticism that pacifism, where principles of nonviolent action are totally inadequate in the face of overwhelming violence, is even dangerous in that, through inaction, violence will be allowed to be perpetuated, to an even catastrophic conclusion.

    One may cynically assert that, as pacifism does not exist in a vacuum, any organism, social or otherwise, will naturally defend itself, that the existence of non-pacifists obviate the need for action on the part of the pacifists.

    The corollary to that is that, as pacifism does not exist in a vacuum, it presupposes that if a society is totally pacifistic then pacifism must be universal or else that society could not exist.

    It is in the midst of that that the pacifist must define him or herself.  From a secular viewpoint, to say that violence is wrong is to say that an earthquake or tornado is wrong.  Therefore, from a personal standpoint, to the extent that the pacifist is willing to use violence (or allow violence to be used in that person's name) in self-defense, as it is natural it cannot be wrong.  Each individual pacifist must, however draw their own line and accept the consequences of that action.

    In one's voluntary participation in society one must decide what the nature of that participation will be.  The nonpacifist may become a police officer or a soldier, or work in the support of those persons.  The pacifist will work to alleviate the underlying causes of war and, in doing so, while the nonpacifist is protecting society and ensuring its survival, the pacifist is working towards a social and political climate in which the threat to society's survival will no longer exist.

    As to the relative value of each person to society, it may be argued that, so long as defense is adequate, the more energy and activity applied by pacifists, the sooner the objective of a just society (among just societies) at peace will be achieved.  Thus one may conclude that not only is applied pacifism practical, it is preferable to the application of violence toward that goal, for if violence is perpetuated, it will not cease until there is but one society, with no other to challenge it, leaving all of humankind under the rule, not of law and justice, but of force of arms.

    Nowhere in this treatise have I used the the argument of the value of sanctity of life, which are based on religious values.  Instead, I sought to argue a logical, practical construct wherein applied pacifism is even necessary to the survival of humankind, if that survival is to be of any true quality.

    Thus, pacifism and the committed pacifist should be valued by society.

Daniel ben Avram ap Jean (B. Zwickel)
Pittsburg, Sacramento Delta Bio-region, California
August 14, 2002