Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Pacifism

On Pacifism

Pacifism, as an idea, as a concept, as a creed and a standard and a life defining principle, is essentially a reaction to war. Therefore, in order to understand pacifist and their reasoning one must first understand war and its reasoning. Only by grasping what pacifism is reacting to can one understand why it advocates for the things it does, why it has gained so much popularity, and why some individuals feel threatened by it.

War is a type of conflict, and therefore, before a full understanding of war can be grasped conflict must first be defined and understood. The reason why people, especially Christians, have an instant emotional reaction against pacifism often arises out of this failure to understand the nature of conflict.

Throughout human civilized history and society, there has existed an ideal tranquility or harmony that all civilized societies strove to reach. The ancient Egyptians named it Ma’at, the concept that there was a divine order that society needed in order to function. To abandon this concept of order, was to abandon civilization and would lead to chaos and uncertainty. This ordered, structured, societal neutral medium called civilization consists basically of the idea that one looks to one’s own (tribe/household/family/self) while allowing others to do likewise without interference.

However, this ideal structure of society begins to fall apart when one’s own interest or gain, comes at the expense or in competition, with that of another. This is the birth of conflict. Within all conflict there exists these two parties. The Initiator, is the party that decides to challenge the status quo of the ideal structure, and therefore strives to affect and change that. The second party, however, is just as vital to the creation of conflict, the Reactionary. The Reactionary is the kindling to the spark of the Initiator. Reactionaries may simply uphold the status quo, or be challengers of it as well, but in a manner in contest with the Initiator. Without either of these there is no conflict.

Since conflict is composed of these two parties, there then develops three ideal forms of conflict resolution. In the Socratic Model, both parties involved in conflict approach it with the intent of reaching a common ground/goal/good. In his model, Socrates implied that conflict should be aimed at reaching a resolution in which both parties “win”. This form of conflict resolution, the “win-win” form, often takes the most time and effort, things humans loath to part with, and so, is not commonly found in historical endeavors for resolution of conflicts.

In the Common Model of resolution, one party gains victory while the other is left to defeat. This is by far the most commonly used conflict resolution strategy as it takes less time, less effort, and allows for more aggression. The common form has often been the immediate response of humanity, because of the inherit selfishness of human nature, to simply demand or force ones own right or way, without thought or regard to the state of others/competitors/rivals. However, this form of conflict resolution is not particularly stable, as often the “loosing” party will not accept the “winners” new status quo and therefore, the “loosing” party will become Initiators in another conflict. This is clearly seen with the end of WWI, in which the Allied demands attached to the Treaty of Versailles not only drove the formation of the Axis power, but actually led to the rise of Hitlter’s power and then WWII. Therefore, the common model is prone to instability, although it is still the preferred method of conflict resolution.

The final model of conflict resolution is essentially war. During war, both parties, Initiators and Reactionaries, go into the conflict expecting to loose money, resources, and lives. When war is chosen as a model, it appears that its result is similar to the Common Model, “win-loose” but in fact, in war, there are no winners. Both Initiators and Reactionaries loose when war is the medium of conflict resolution. The reasoning behind it is as follows.

Firstly, during a war, lives are lost. There have been very few bloodless battles in history, and no bloodless wars, at least in what constitutes a war. Even the loss of a single life to a nation, people, tribe, group, or clan is disadvantageous. That one individual’s potential to aid society and humanity has been cut short. While it’s true that most soldiers would not end up being the next Socrates, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Shakespeare, there is no certain way of guaranteeing that they aren’t. All individuals who have added to human culture and humanity as a whole have been just that, individuals. Therefore, the loss of a single individual, while often considered minute, may in fact be the greatest loss a society, people group, or nation suffers. Many great writers, painters, poets, philosophers, thinkers, inventors, sculptors, and engineers have all had military service, and had they been killed in battle, their life’s work would not have been left for us today.

In relation to this, there has never been a time when the cost of war was only felt by the Initiators and Reactionaries. The cost of war, emotionally, physically, mentally, and developmentally has always impacted spectators, civilians, bystanders, children, and those who had no part in the conflict. Children especially have suffered because of war. Whether they have been the children of soldiers killed in battle, left to grow up without a parent, or the children who are raped, killed, enslaved, tortured, or brutalized as “spoils” of war. While many societies have attempted to curb this cost on the innocent with codes of war (Samurai code, Chivalric code, Geneva Convention, etc.) historically their attempts have failed. Even today that is clearly seen in the “spoils of war” that American troops collected when they took over the Abu-Grebe prison and its political prisoners, many of whom were Christians who had been sent there by Saddam Hussein. The impact of war on children has further repercussions, as they are then desensitized to violence at a young age and brought up in a culture in which war and revenge are then portrayed as the socially acceptable means of conflict resolution. This then leads to further wars, and creates a never-ending cycle.

This illustrates another aspect in which the War Model of conflict resolution fails. All conflict is meant to have an end. The purpose of conflict is goal orientated, namely, for either one or both parties to change the status quo and thereby become “winners”, by attaining a different status quo or reaching a place where the current status quo is now acceptable. Whoever, because of War’s affect in creating two sides who both feel the status quo is unacceptable, this makes war endless. Current conflicts in North and South Korea, as well as in Pakistan, Afganhistan, Darfur, Sudan, and Iraq all illustrate this, as they have no foreseeable end. In the example of the War in Iraq, the more the war goes on, the more the militant forced in Iraq are justified in their struggle and the more they fight. The more of them the US kills, the more their children take up arms against the US in retaliation. The more US soldiers they kill creates a greater sympathy for the war, and justifies it in the political system and the general public’s eye, thereby increasing troop numbers. Theoretically, the only way for a war to actually end is for one side to completely wipe out the other side, thereby establishing their dominance without leaving anyone that can retaliate. Obviously, this is not an acceptable model of conflict resolution.

Even historically, wars have been endless. An example is the war between the English and the Irish, which is still going on from its inception in the early 12th century. It has been officially declared and officially ended time and time again, however, neither side has ever reached a place of forgiveness, and instead retaliation and revenge by the unacceptable status quo enforced afterward has caused its most recent incarnation, the Irish Troubles, to end with an uneasy peace and a renewal of conflict soon afterwards. Like all other wars, this 800 year long war has found most of its casualties in the form of innocent civilians.

To return to the larger issue, many people have ideas that all conflict is either good or bad. To believe that all conflict is good, means that peace and tranquility is undesirable. To believe all conflict is bad, means that submission and injustice must be tolerated. Neither of these situations are acceptable, because neither of them come from an understanding of what conflict is. As shown above, there are many forms of conflict, some more desirable and affective than others. Conflict comes from humans and so it has the very human nature to be either good or bad, depending on how it is used.

Conflict can end oppression. Conflict can heal old wounds. Conflict can actually be the vehicle for greater peace, understanding, and love in a society. However, conflict can bring death, destruction, misunderstanding, great harm, great injustice, great oppression, and great hate. Conflict is neither good nor evil. To turn to conflict as an answer to all problem or to shun its use completely are both foolish ways of using it. Conflict is a tool. It is up to humanity to decide whether to build bridges or break heads with it.

War is a type of conflict in which there is no resolution. War is a type of conflict in which there is no healing. War is a type of conflict in which neither party is, as Socrates put it, searching for common understanding and mutual enlightenment to understand a problem and overcome it. War is a cheap out with a great expense. War is the easy path, which leads to suffering that never ends. War is by nature, not a good form of conflict resolution.

That doesn’t mean that there have not been some good side affects of war. Wars have general increased nationalism, which in some areas have led to increased culture and art, though heavily influenced by propaganda and government censorship. Wars have also stimulated economies which were on the verge of self destruction. However, in the current global economic market, that is no longer a viable way of economic reform, as wars no longer increase production, only expenses. Wars have at times temporarily alleviated the human situation, as found at the end of WWII, with the stop of Hitler’s eradication of the Jewish, disable, immigrant, homosexual, and Christian sections of European population. However, wars are at their core profit, not principle, motivated. As for alleviating the human situation, other forms of conflict have shown much greater progress with lasting change, such as the boycotts of the civil rights movement in the USA, or the hunger protests led by Ghandi for Indian Independence.

For all these reasons and many more, War is not a rational decision to make. For something to be a purely rational decision, the benefits must outweigh the costs. There are very few benefits that come from war, and even less that have lasting impact. The true cost of war is incalculable in that the effects and repercussions of wars last for generations. Even just a purely financial cost for wars is uncountable, in the amount of potential economic stimulus lost by the lives lost, brain drain affect by lives lost and defectors during war time, and resources depleted with minimal or no gain. And then that is just the beginning, as future conflicts that arise from the treaties made at the end of wars in order to cover part of the massive expenses then lead to further wars whose expenses can then be traced to that war and should be included as a cost of that war. Some people may quip at the “money wasted by NGOs such as the UN” but compared to the cost of war, it is a very minute price to pay. War is an irrational decision as the cost is just too great.

While war is irrational, it is also not simply an emotional reaction. Emotionally, war is traumatic. War is brutal. It involves massive amounts of death, carnage, destruction, hatred, anger, aggression, fear, and repression. Emotionally, war is one of the unhealthiest things a person can do. Those leaders who start wars no longer take part in them, for a very good reason. They need the emotional distance to make the decision they make. If they knew each soldier they sent into battle personally, and had to watch as they died, they would probably commit suicide or go insane. From a psychological stand point, in order to “make” a soldier who can act under the pressure of war and deal with the amount of emotional trauma that any normal, healthy, human would experience during battle, the person’s mind, will, and emotions must be completely broken down and rebuilt so that they see the entire world from a dualistic paradigm, therefore breaking down where they may question what is right and wrong, and on a mental level, giving them the same kind of psychological barrier to face reality that is found in serial killers. They perform essentially the same activities, and require the human mind to be insulated in the same way otherwise they would not be able to carry out their acts. This is not to perjorate soldiers, but to show that aside from those mental barriers of dualism, which say that anyone who isn’t on my side is my enemy and is evil and deserves to die, the only type of human being who would be able to wage war would be a psychopath or sociopath whose mind is already unable to register empathy or human suffering. War is therefore not emotionally acceptable to healthy human beings either.

If war is neither logical nor emotionally driven, then why do individuals go to war? Many have postulated that it seems to be the only answer humanity has had for a long time. Since ancient Egyptian times, when they worshiped the tranquil order or Ma’at, humans have viewed war as being a last resort of sorts, when all others fail, in order to preserve ourselves, our culture, and our tranquility. War has been labeled a necessary evil in order to preserve the greater good. In tribal or Abrahamic times, this may very well have been the case, that people had no other choice but to choose violence as a means of self defense and self preservation. However, during those times people also trekked from place to place in a nomadic lifestyles, herded goats, lacked toilets and toilet paper, did not brush their teeth, married at young ages, died at younger ages, killed girl children when they wanted sons, had none of our modern conveniences, could not read, and in general lived and functioned much differently then we do today. To justify war based on tribal times would be equivocal to justify infanticide based on those same practices at those same times. Humanity is set apart from animals in that we progress. We are not the same we were 2,000 years ago, or 200 years ago or even 20 years ago. Why should our method for dealing with conflict remain the same?

Pacifism may be taken too far in some cases, with people who will not allow any kind of conflict. However, that is not true pacifism. That is simply a person who struggles with people pleasing and who wants to make everyone happy. A pacifist knows there are times to be an Initiator of conflict, but that they will remain in control of the conflict they initiate, that they will not allow it to progress into a lesser form of conflict resolution. They seek to allow not only themselves to benefit from the resolution, but everyone, the Reactionary and even non-participants. A true pacifist see the need to take their eyes of their own situation and circumstance, and understand the other parties involved in the conflict too. A pacifist draws a wider circle around themselves, taking care not only of their own, but of everyone. We are not tribal anymore. We build larger buildings that last longer. We have larger cities that look grander. We make larger plans for the distant future. Can we not, then, take a larger view when it comes to conflict? Can we not recognize that everyone is human? That everyone wants to win? That everyone wants that Ma’at, that peace? There was a time when this was merely a dream. But no more. We have the UN. We have ambassadors. We have cultural ties. We have no more excuses to go to war.

A Note on Christians and Pacifism

From a Christian stand point, there is even further evidence of the need for pacifism. While the Old Testament was full of warriors who killed the enemies of God, we find in the New Testament that our weapons are not carnal but meant to cast down spiritual strongholds. We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual things. Make no mistake, there is a time for peace and a time for war, but that time for war is a spiritual war when we are called to step out and take authority and break the strongman, e.g. Satan and his forces. Even in the Old Testament times, God said that David could not build His house because he was a man of bloody hands. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, and do good to those that despitefully use us or persecute us. We are commanded to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to love. The Early Church, which was suppose to be the closest example of what Jesus wanted the church to be like, would pray for and love their persecutors even as they were persecuted. They did not fight back. They submitted. They loved. They died. And there were added thousands to their numbers daily because of it. The Bible makes it clear, he who lives by the sword will die by it. Even if the world does not accept pacifism, we as Christians should, as it was one of the clear principles established not only by the New Testament writers but by Jesus himself. All of the reasons for war are discredited by the Bible. We are not to take revenge because vengeance is our Gods. We are not to defend ourselves because the glory of the Lord will be our rear guard. We are not to worry about tomorrow, what it will bring or how we will defend ourselves because the Lord our God, Jehova-Jireh will provide a defense. And as Paul writes, we are to have a perspective that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Not that we are to seek death (especially in warfare) but that we are to keep that perspective that life is temporal and loving people is the only thing that lasts. One of the key emotions that justifies war is fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind. A sound mind, as has been shown above, would not accept war. The Bible makes it clear, war and violence are two things that came to the cross and did not go through it. They are part of an older system that we need to leave at the cross and instead pick up love, forgiveness, and the peace of the Lord which surpasses all understanding.

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