Why I Am A Pacifist
Any belief system that does not have its pragmatic element will not work in the material world. Vegans face this in life-threatening situations with regard to contemporary medicine. Most medicines contain animal by-products, and are tested on animals at some point or another in their development. One can easily make a conscious choice to die rather than use these products, but in life-threatening situations such choice is usually removed from the sufferer. Furthermore, doctors applying such treatments believe they are taking a life-affirming step, and are unlikely to follow, let alone entertain for a moment, the ethical regime or coordinates you have declared for your own life.
Most car tyres contain animal by-products: it is, once again, almost unavoidable if participating in the modern world to bypass the car or bus. This does not mean one must own a car, or condone such animal usage, and indeed a conscious choice can be made to minimise participation in such exploitative materialism. I do not wear clothes made from animal by-products, avoid purchasing any domestic products that contain them, in addition to never knowingly consuming them. It's a constant process of vigilance and ethics. In essence, it's this consciousness and this vigilance that are at the core of the ethical regime.
The above concerns relate to issues of pacifism, from my point of view, in two ways. The first concerns the principle of peace: of not knowingly inflicting hurt or damage on any animal. Within the pragmatics I mention, this avoidance of harm where possible extends to plants and "the soil" as well. The second, and of direct relevance to the conjecture that follows, relates to peace-making and peace-maintaining. These are activities that can generate passive-aggressive acts of "non-violence" and of "non-resistance", even "resistance". They are quite distinct from a complete abstention from any aggression whatsoever: an inflexible "non-participation". Maybe this is a spiritual constant that the believer in peace works towards, as opposed to the sublimated aggressions of peace activism made pragmatically necessary by the obvious and overt violence of war-making. In this context, "pacifism" is ultimately unrealisable, but a variety of peace-states-of-being are achievable.
Given that there are ongoing wars at some point or another in the globe at any given time, given that a "state of peace" is something towards which peace-activists should be pro-actively and constantly working, ours is still a heightened time given the war-active posturings of the super-power military government of the United States, and its militaristic allies in Britain and Australia. Such use of the violence of their enemies as a trigger to escalate war into a global context, to impose a consumer-profit "democracy" on world order, to subvert a body like the United Nations into playing "hand-maiden", goes hand-in-hand with the undeclared war of State against individual and communities that's been going on since the formation of nation-states.
As an anarchist-pacifist, I feel it an obligation to declare my sympathies and energies in a pro-active form, a verbalisation of resistance and rejection of systematic state-funded violence. This is peace activism, coming out of a pacifist regime of belief, but not an act of pure pacifism in itself. I do not condone any form of physical aggression in tackling these war-mongerings, but I do support "civil" and "linguistic" disobediences, silent vigils, industrial action (strikes), peaceful marches, "speaking-out", non-compliance, and Greenham Common-like tactics that proved in some ways so effective within their time-frame and cultural space. So the pacifist must find the pragmatic variable in the "terrestrial" material world to clarify and give meaning to the pacifist ideal or constant.
The other issue I am strongly concerned with here is how within a peace movement, non-peaceful activities seem inevitable: arguments, dislike, rivalry... or, as in the case of the Greenham Common debate, violence apparently from participating male activists. I have been at many protests where things "turned nasty". Hyped-out on anger, or the occasion, or a mixture of these and substances, the most peaceful intentions can become more of the very thing under protest than the peace-making beliefs that produced the original action. The extreme expression of the pragmatics of pacifism, via peace activism, is peace enforcement: the aggressive protest, or the peace-keeping troops of the UN. For me, this is one step too close to the cause to be truly effective. However, it is important not to debase intentionality with "errors" or diversions in the peace activism. A protest of ten thousand people with only a dozen violent participants is not invalidated by the negative activity. The group is an effective tool for change, but individual responsibility is its own cause and effect. The whole thing takes a working combination of both.
In his book Philosophers of Peace and War, (CUP, 1978), W. B. Gallie observes:
Although not a pacifist, Kant regarded war as the greatest evil besetting human societies, and in one passage he goes so far as to describe war as the source of all evils and of all moral corruption. But he did not see war as an evil which admits of any one complete and immediate cure. It was the extreme form of the general evil - the natural egoism - in human nature which had, first, to be tamed by the enforcement of laws, no matter how harsh and imperfectly rational, and which only thereafter could be directed towards the political ideal of lawful freedom, within which pure social morality - men treating each other as ends, never as means - would be at least partially realised. But while insisting on the inherent evil of war, Kant acknowledges that every citizen should be prepared to defend his country from foreign invasion. Indeed he seems to have regarded self-defence (at the national as much as at the personal level) as a natural reaction, essential in life. (21)W. B. Gallie's interpretation of Kant's views is useful in establishing distinctive correlations between the "abstention" of absolute ideological or "spiritual" pacifism, and the necessary pragmatics of peace activism. As a pacifist, I do believe that war is a "wrong", but I also agree that it's part of a "natural egoism": that is, that there's an inevitability in the human condition that leads to disagreement and conflict. This is wrapped up in issues of freedom and persecution, power and disempowerment on the surface, but is chemical, structural, and spatial as well. However, my pacifist means of resolving the tendencies of "personal egoism" differ greatly from those projected by Kant. As an anarchist, I resist the State's imposition of "law" to control, and I emphatically believe in a self-imposed ethical "law". Defence for Kant becomes an act of physical aggression, as much as of resistance. It participates in the language of war. I favour peace activism as mentioned above. Furthermore, I see "nation", as in the "nation-state", as being a machine or device of war.
I am a pacifist. This does not mean I subscribe to actions of "non-violence" or "non-resistance". These imply a language of violence. I would prefer to work out of a literal language of peace. To dialogue - a catchword of contemporary internationalism, of peace activism. Also a catchword of globalism and economic duplicity!
My poetry has often been critically described as "pessimistic" or "dark" or "full of violence". This is poetry of observation and experientiality, which does not prevent it also being a language of peace. It's a form of peace activism that comes out of pacifism, and in the extreme, not a pacifism itself. If I subscribed to my "constant" view of pacifism, I would not write.
I feel poetry is not a telling; it is an evocation, a suggestion. But through these disturbances, a possible peaceful environment is perceptible. The actuality is not the potentiality. This brief essay is another step in a personal struggle towards the articulation of seemingly irreconcilable beliefs in equality and freedom, and pacifism.
Pacifism - peace in all interactions (gender, domestic, spiritual etc) — cannot oppress or predate in itself, though an idea of pacifism might be deployed by an aggressor or passive aggressor as a means of empowerment. But in itself, it is inviolable, by definition. By forming a constant.
As a child, I was taught that violence is wrong. I was taught it in the home, and in church. My father was violent towards me; my mother never touched me in anger. (My father and mother split when I was still a small child.) I was obsessed with playing war as a child, and read military books compulsively. I liked the math of it. I preferred enacting the side defeated, and reversing the outcome. I developed a sense of justice that meant the loser would become rightfully triumphant. All battles at school, in the home, the playground, inside myself, were fought in this vein. Brought up outside the patriarchal family unit, I searched out alternative hierarchies. Peace, as a concept, was a conflicting hierarchy. Peace was an obligation outside war, and I linked it with satiety and reward, and the outcome of the "just" victory. I have spent my adult life wrestling with this. For me, peace is a permanent state that exists outside notions of right and wrong, oppression and liberation, the just and the unjust. The person imprisoned - "rightfully" or "wrongfully -" can have peace. Pacifism is the one universal that defies enslavement. Peace is its projection into the material world. As a pacifist, I am a believer in peace.
My pacifism does not come specifically out of a religion, though it may share things in common with aspects of religious pacifism. It is not the stance of a Thomas Merton who could write on "non-violence" yet also admire and revere Joan of Arc, a military icon, as well as spiritual victor. I cannot talk in terms of the victory of the spirit over aggression, over the material. Pacifism as a unifying concept can exist in the presence of so-called "evil". It is that overwhelming. This is in the belief not that a kingdom of greater good awaits, as was the case with early seventeenth-century Dutch Mennonites, but that peace is obtainable and desirable immediately and always. In Pacifism In Europe to 1914 (Princeton, 1972), Peter Brock writes of these "early Mennonite nonresistants":
They were but transients in this world; their country was not a terrestrial kingdom but a heavenly realm. They held, moreover, that injustice and oppression were the inevitable lot of the godly in this life. 
These Mennonites did, however, confront the terrestrial issues of peace in a more direct way as time went on:
But with the sect's gradual acculturation to Dutch society, and with the absorption by the brotherhood of patriotic sentiments, new aspects of the peace problem began to interest Mennonite writers. They took pains to show that hope for the achievement of justice through war was illusory. Did not the innocent in war suffer along with the guilty? Were not war's inevitable concomitants - pillage, rapine, and destruction - incompatible with the ends of justice? Could one in fact discover in history a single interest of a truly just was, one that merely began, but also ended as a just war? (177)
I take these positings from Brock as my point for departure. For me, from the absolute pacifist perspective, the suffering of the guilty is, within the terms of the language of "justice", as unjust as the suffering of the innocent. Given this, justice can get no foothold in the material world without leading to an absence of peace. A just war is as violent as an unjust war. The idea of justice and the idea of salvation are, to my mind, obstructions to pacifism. However, as a peace-activist, my intention is always to help "liberate" the oppressed, the poor, the compromised, to allow them to enter the dialogue of difference on a "equal" footing. A protest against oppression and suffering is synonymous with a protest against war.
Pacifism is an idea and an ideal, but it comes out of the physical, the real. It's conceptual, always vulnerable to circumstance and being tested. Maybe that's why I separate off its material realisation into peace activism, the experiential. "Pacifism" as an ideology or belief-system has a history, and a set of precedents that make adherence to its principles more certain. It has a language of ethics. To pay lip-service is easy; to live out the belief is something different. To have been violent, experienced violence, and to have concluded that it is illogical on all levels, is a journey. Pacifism becomes an end result, not a process. That is because its ideal form is a constant. Always there, even if we can't see its pragmatic worth.
Pacifism for me extends to all living creatures: as already mentioned, I do not eat them, do not consciously exploit them, and do not make tangential use of them through by-products. My pacifism is synonymous with my veganism and my anarchism. The State controls through varying degrees of curbing the individual's desire for self-determination and expression. It controls the group through the same tactics.
I suppose, though rejected in many ways, pacifism became defined for me - an active alternative - out of the Christian church. Christ teaches us to turn the other cheek. I saw the church as another State, another system of control, though I could admire the figures it used to hide its own violence. The church knew that the Lamb of God, the willingness of one individual to absorb the sufferings and sins of all others, would allow it to control by diversion. In the name of... I searched other religions too and found this inherent "pacifism" everywhere I looked, regardless of the militaristic rhetoric accompanying battles between "good and evil". All religious works dichotomise peace and violence. The ideal wrestles with the pragmatic. Peace activism starts "left-of-field", but must be vigilant against its own internal violences.
I admire Gandhi because of his passive resistance. But from a distance, it also made good "tactical" sense. I ask now whether that's pacifism or another form of aggression. From a peace activism point of view, it was positive and consistent. It moves towards a pacifism. The internalising of outer conflict by converting it to personal suffering is noble and selfless, but it inflicts a form of violence on self. This, of course, does not invalidate it, but is self-suffering pacifist or a form of peace activism? There is no easy answer to this, as it involves questions of spiritual beliefs as well as social and political tactics, so the implications and outcomes become entangled.
I admired the Jains because they did not eat animals - decidedly. But that doesn't mean some Jains didn't make "effective" generals. The one factor does not necessarily invalidate the other.
A search for peace? Or ways to think about peace? An act of appropriating - a violence in itself - other ways of thinking about cultural interiorities? Peace is not bound by culture? Or does peace come out of culture…? Peace seems relative. Pacifism linked to peace seems essential to me.
"Conscientious objectors"? In Australia as I was growing up (I was a child during the Vietnam conscription days, during the moratorium marches), "conscientious objector" was a dirty expression in a society filled with uncles who were war heroes. Those that'd done their bit to make "my" freedoms. War comics, TV, war games, wars in the back yard, fights, being beaten.... aggressions: out of it aggression/ psychiatric/revolution/anger. I was going to join the army as a kid. To be a general. Top of the pile. Less risk and more control. The Australian Defence Force Academy even holds some of my poetry papers - every poem an utterance against violence. Unsustainable ironies?
One of the ironies of the present "war debate" - of any war debate - is the idea of a right or a wrong war. I was offended on hearing that Andrew Motion wrote an anti-war poem while adding that he might very well write a pro-war poem should it be proved that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction. Aggressive liberalism and the idea of the "just war" are at the core of the perpetuation of violence. As the coordinates vary according to social and cultural perspective, so does the notion of justice. This is a truism, but one that seems impossible for members of nation-states to get around. The idea of a collective wrong, or of being collectively wronged, removes nuance and subtlety. And necessarily makes all responses insensitive and brutal to some person or group of persons at least.
Even within terms of the violence of international militarism, why should a few nations with certain military capabilities dictate the arms policies of other nations? The "reliability" factor, and the "responsibility" factor, are linked with notions of "civilization" and righteousness. The United States government plays this card on a consistent basis. The presidential executive becomes a secular Godhead working as a mouthpiece for his phalanx of avenging angels. This is a nation that deals in euphemisms, things are never called what they actually are.
The "enemy" will always play off this omnipotence - either through Marxist denial or disclaiming of the universal godhead, or through opposing the usurpation of God-like omnipotence by the US government, which ultimately still models itself on the Christian God, or more specifically on the God of individual salvation: a concurrent individualism of profit. As a pacifist, where can one go with this? It's often a slow journey to complete abstention from a belief in the justification of aggression in any form. The idea that history teaches us is refuted by the activities of governments now - unless it teaches patterns of violence.
How important is it to differentiate between pacifism as an ideology, and "non-violence" as a passive-reactive tactic of confrontation? Can a pacifist utilize assertive actions, employ strategies of "non-violence"? In asserting the rights of identity, in not being oppressed by those wishing to gain from this action, a form of resistance comes into play. Is this pacifist? For me, peace activism is a political strategy that is informed to lesser and greater degrees by a politics of personal interaction. Can the violent psychotic be a pacifist? I would answer yes, if his or her intentions were peaceful, if he or she rejected violence as a means of change or as a means of resolving conflict, if the violence came out of an undesired systemic or chemical condition. Pacifism is a constant we aspire towards. It's a belief.
However, the violent psychotic would seemingly not make an effective peace activist. I am forging meaning here. But pacifism is about intention. It's a resistance to the desire for violence - a violent person might still aspire to pacifist behaviours. If someone hits me, I do not hit back. Fact. I have done so in the past, living on the street, suffering major addiction problems, I "defended" myself. I'd like to add "inadequately", but that's beside the point. I "knew" it was wrong. The moment I stopped defending myself I was assaulted less. Maybe it's a body-language thing, or maybe it's a matter of the defensive posture being an aggressive stance.
I recall as a teenager reading about a type of tank the Swiss had invented that was useful for defensive work in high terrain. That it fired most effectively from a stationary position. Defensive tactics. Even then it bemused me how weaponry could ever be defensive. An inverted sublime. Like anti-personnel mines, or anti-tank weapons. The "defence" industry thrives on euphemism. In the end, language is the strategic ground for conflict. The non-pacifist or non-peace-activist will openly use non-violent means if it is not tactically prudent to show outright aggression. Non-violence, like "anti-tank" weapons, becomes a defensive militarism. This posturing works well for those wishing to maintain a status quo but give the impression of pacifism. The male privileged within the family unit, the guy at work barely sexually harassing a colleague, the person privileged within a community by his or her colour.
A believer in peace might not be a pacifist or peace activist. Peace is a variable, a relative state of being. Peace, for some, might be a desirable position between nation-states, between different ethnic groups, between football clubs, but not an absolute. The believer in peace might, like Kant, subscribe to national or personal defence. A peace activist might work every method of non-violence and, in the end, enlist if community is directly affected. A pacifist will not go to war, regardless. A pacifist might react at the spur of the moment to defend a loved one - a pragmatic spontaneity - but will not consistently make the choice to do so. Defence can be an involuntary biological reaction. The peace-activist who believes in the constant of pacifism will attempt to revert to "non-participation", to total non-response in the moment of personal crisis.
There's a fascinating outline of some issues relating to internal "struggles" within actions of peace activism in Sasha Roseneil's book Disarming Patriarchy: Feminism and Political Action at Greenham (Open University Press, 1995). In many ways, the success of commitment of the Greenham common activists, in maintaining a primarily peaceful protest against the presence of US cruise missiles in Britain, is a reference point for assertive, primarily "non-violent" action or protest. However, it is naive to think that issues of conflict on intrapersonal and within group dynamics didn't take place. That's the nature of what Kant called "natural egoism". It does not necessarily invalidate the action. Roseneil writes:
Some argued that only women should take part in actions to ensure that they remained non-violent. Experience of the violence and aggression of some of the men who had been living at Greenham suggested that the women were less likely to be violent. Some also believed that the police were less prone to using violence against women protestors, and therefore the camp should be women only in the run-up to the threatened eviction. It is interesting to note the "were less likely" here. This is not a denial of the potential violence of women, but a comment on the discourse men are raised in. I have experienced political violence from men and women, but have most often found a readiness on the part of men to exact political revenge in an overt aggressive way. The second point regarding the likelihood of the police is relevant in the same way, though I have noted from personal experience that a greater number of female police will lead to greater violence amongst policewomen and women, as well as from women to men. This is a tactical issue once again, not an issue of pacifism. It's non-violence as direct action.
Others, more explicitly feminist, took the position that for only women to deal with the authorities was more than a tactic to avoid violence; it was a symbolic action drawing attention to the gender politics of militarism and its support from the state. This was often coupled with the argument that working within a women-only environment was empowering and would build women's confidence and strength. Finally, others argued that men were a drain on the camp, had not taken responsibility for their share of the domestic labour, and were pushing women back into traditional housewifely roles. There are two issues of passive-aggressive violence raised by this quote. The first revolves around the gender identity and militarism vis-à-vis the state, and the second, in terms of domestic hierarchies, again around gender. The refutation of gender tyranny, especially with regard to inequalities within the domestic environment, is most often expressed through subversion, verbal or behavioural self-assertion, or specific acts of non-violence. The wrongs of hierarchy are obvious. The gender conflict is resolved within the pragmatics of peace activism. It is not a pacifist action, though individuals may have been pacifist. The issue of group dynamics is separate from the ideological constant of pacifism. It's a passive-aggressive action. Can the tactician remain a pacifist in this environment? Ideologically, is this a resistance to the idea of violence, or simply another form of it? Maybe the end results might be seen as "just", certainly from a feminist perspective, but are they just on all sides? Pragmatically, it seems to have been a positive move and to have led tactically to increasing success within the peace activism. It's of interest that according to Roseneil:
The men who were asked to leave responded angrily, one exacting revenge by picking up an axe to chop down a shelter, another, a non-violence trainer, throwing a pot of water over a woman; but they all departed. As a child and teenager I used to hunt and fish. I also suffered a lot at the hands of school bullies, and was even hospitalised as a result of this on one occasion. There's very likely connection between the killing of animals and being bullied. It was not until I made a link that I could let go of both. I had an opportunity for revenge on one occasion - the police wanted me to name one of those who assaulted me (they were only interested in the one non-white guy, the five "whities" were not to be named). I refused to give a name, and it showed me how a sense of empowerment can come when one sees no empowerment in a course of action.
There is something disingenuous and non-pacifist in my mind about empowerment, but it's a step on the way. I became an active protestor against environmental damage, in favour of aboriginal land rights, and against militarism and nuclear energy. I was arrested on a number of occasions for that and for substance problems. I called myself a pacifist but was aggressive in the extreme. I was angry with the oppressions and injustices of things as I perceived them. I gave up substance abuse and gave up aggressive protesting - which is not to say I won't still march or speak out for a "cause" - I do, consistently. The difference is that I don't see my action as ones of tactical "non-violence". They are actions complete in themselves, not intended to evoke violent response (though they sometimes do - including death threats). It becomes a matter of intention as much as awareness of likely outcomes. I realise I will upset people, but it is not my intention.
In the animal rights movement, there are hugely varying beliefs over such issues. As a vegan pacifist I am ideologically against all forms of violence - including "non-violence". From the extremes of bombing and damaging hamburger chains and animal testing facilities, through to the "outing" of vivisectors, a desire to take on the violence of those who damage animals is maintained. An act of revenge is a vehicle for personal anger and blood-letting. The pacifist vegan, however, hopes change will come from pursuing one's beliefs without aggressive intent. My non-usage of animals in any form, to the best of my knowing ability, sets an "example" of respect that is its own end. It is not a tactic of non-violence, as I am not trying to subvert others into thinking the way I do. I believe so emphatically that it is the right thing for me to be doing, that I do not feel the need to destroy anything in the process to make it a reality. I would die before consuming animal products; not as an act of civil disobedience, but because that's the truth to me. That's the key to my pacifism. However, while not trying to force change on my neighbour, I will march and write and speak out against the systemic abuse of animals: this is the pragmatics of it, another form of peace activism from my point of view. It becomes an issue of rights.
Is this a reconcilable paradox? I feel it is when linked with daily patterns of behaviour. One time in youth, hitching in the south-west of Australia, my brother and I were nearly run down and were actually hunted (bullets fired around us - they couldn't pinpoint their target) because we verbally abused log truckers for wrecking the old-growth forests. Our desire to stop violence against trees predictably evoked violence. Now, by contrast, I would sit down and have a yarn with the truckers and share views if possible - the key being that I would not seek them out to do this. That's part of the pacifist consciousness - allowing it to happen organically, rather than setting it up.
Inevitably, we arrive at the coming "Bush-Blair-Howard" and all other vested interests war. Where do I stand? Against war, all war. Against is the wrong word. "War" is a misnomer. I don't recognise it. It's a non-state of being. It is against life. There is no such posture as the defensive. The national posturings reek of irony - linguistics tells me that. Even in its own terms, it's an "unjust" war. One speaks about it as if it's inevitable, and yes, that's where the justice on its own terms ceases to exist. Whatever its goals, its intentions overwhelm them. My pragmatic self invokes peace activism!
In the UNESCO collection of essays From A Culture of Violence to A Culture of Peace: Peace and Conflict Issues, Felix Marti in his essay, "Understanding and Dialogue between Religions to Promote the Spirit of Peace" calls for dialogue and peace in place of violence. He explores the problems of religious violence with regard to [a] God's expectations of justice. He then makes a point about peace being a "consequence of justice":
Peace is a consequence of justice. In situations where people or groups are oppressed, it is normal that there be violence and wars. Human history shows a series of violent situations because injustices have consequently taken place. The change following the advent of modernity is that injustice is no longer considered to be a consequence of fate, so much as the result of decisions by humans and of structures that can be modified. Freedom and oppression, prosperity and poverty, are social constructs, and violence therefore arises not only as an expression of protest but as a way of breaking down unjust structures. In our age, the desire for justice is now universal. Before, there were above all local claims which aimed at a higher degree of freedom or fraternity within geographically well-defined societies. Today what is really shocking is the injustice that condemns many people to live in conditions inferior to those of others and with a very limited level of freedom. Justice must become global. There will have to be changes in the political and economic structures that ensure prosperity for a minority of nations and maintain the underdevelopment of the majority. (148)I feel it is patronising to those in poverty, and/or suffering oppression, to deny them the agency of peace. Violence does not bring peace, and only peace can bring equality and non-suffering. Absolute peace would deny exploitation on any level. Peace is an internal as well as a collective search, and that's the only viable "action", unless the history of "violent situations" is not a permanent condition. However, I feel Marti is right in recognising the necessity of resolving issues of oppression and inequality. My problem is with potential means, and notions of "justice".
Justice and peace can both become euphemisms for violence in this context. An entire shift in reasoning needs to take place before they can take on qualities that are intended in their universal usage. The recognition that power corrupts justice is one thing, but the belief that an end of oppression will bring justice, and consequently peace, is imbuing peace with a subjective (if "good") set of values that it cannot sustain. Pacifism is, primarily, the consciousness of being peaceful - it is a given, a fait accompli. It is not a denial of choice, but a starting point from which all choice comes.
There is no freedom, no choice, in a discourse of violence. All nation-states are built out of a resistance to threats against their existence. They react through localities of worship, the judiciary, the military, the media, their buildings and cultural languages — they resist dissolution through aggression at worst, cultural "non-violence" at best. Either way, they can never be peaceful. Institutionalisation is violence. One might more realistically say, "War is a consequence of justice."