PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, November 20, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: How to be a pacifist

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: How to be a pacifist.

Ceit has sent us a quote that got her thinking about the subject. On the
other hand, I approached the topic by first arguing that we should get
rid of old dogma about the topic. Whatever we say about the subject it
is certainly a very topical issue today.

An insight from Ceit:

This quote from Utah Phillips is what got me thinking about this question:

[Ammon Hennessy] said, "You got to be a pacifist." I said, "Why?" He
said, "It'll save your life." And my behavior was very violent then. I
said, "What is it?" And he said, "Well I can't give you a book by Gandhi
- you wouldn't understand it. I can't give you a list of rules that if
you sign it you're a pacifist." He said, "You look at it like booze. You
know, alcoholism will kill somebody, until they finally get the courage
to sit in a circle of people like that and put their hand up in the air
and say, 'Hi, my name's Utah, I'm an alcoholic.' And then you can begin
to deal with the behavior, you see, and have the people define it for
you whose lives you've destroyed." He said, "It's the same with
violence. You know, an alcoholic, they can be dry for twenty years;
they're never gonna sit in that circle and put their hand up and say,
'Well, I'm not alcoholic anymore' - no, they're still gonna put their
hand up and say, 'Hi, my name's Utah, I'm an alcoholic.' It's the same
with violence. You gotta be able to put your hand in the air and
acknowledge your capacity for violence, and then deal with the behavior,
and have the people whose lives you messed with define that behavior for
you, you see. And it's not gonna go away - you're gonna be dealing with
it every moment in every situation for the rest of your life." I said,
"Okay, I'll try that," and Ammon said "It's not enough!" I said: "Oh."
He said, "You were born a white man in mid-twentieth century industrial
America. You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of
weapons. The weapons of privilege, racial privilege, sexual privilege,
economic privilege. You wanna be a pacifist, it's not just giving up
guns and knives and clubs and fists and angry words, but giving up the
weapons of privilege, and going into the world completely disarmed. Try
That old man has been gone now twenty years, and I'm still at it. But I
figure if there's a worthwhile struggle in my own life, that, that's
probably the one. Think about it.

How to be a pacifist by Lawrence

If we take pacifism to mean objection to wars and conflicts then we have
no choice but to say that this ideology has failed completely. And when
we consider that this ideology goes back to the foundation of Buddhism
and Christianity then the claim of failure is even more telling.

But this should not come as a surprise since it is very difficult to
buck human nature and in any case, wars and conflicts are not causes but
the effects of failed governments and states. Unfortunately, pacifists
not only propose untenable ideologies but ideologies used to address the
wrong objectives. What humanity needs are not "no" wars but more peace
and the two are not mutually exclusive but two independent phenomenon.
If we want peace we need to do things for peace and if we want war we
need to do war things. For example, the Maginot line by the French and
then the Atlantic Wall by the Germans in France were completely useless
war "things" that served for nothing. Likewise, economically bankrupting
Germany and subjugating the German people by the allies after the first
world was not conducive to peaceful coexistence.

Conscientious objection is more successful as a belief; a conscientious
objector is acting on personal conviction rather than group ideology.
And many conscientious objectors are not necessarily against a war
effort but find it personally repulsive to kill someone.

The key problem with pacifism is that it does not address the question
of self defence and belligerent actions. Notwithstanding the fact that
wars are the product of failed state policies, self defence is always a
legitimate reason to go to war. The question is what us self defence ; I
will argue that the irony is that a good pacifist could help us
distinguish between war as self defence and war as an act of aggression.

One of the best ways we know how countries can avoid conflicts is to
have a stable economy with wealth distributes fairly and justly. This is
of course easy to say, but harder to implement, but not impossible.
People who can see justice protecting them and their labours ought to be
more disposed to protect the interests of others. The average person on
the Clapham omnibus has a very keen sense of justice; not everyone is a

The second necessary condition would be education; even if by education
we mean the archaic inefficient system we call education today. But by
education we don't mean being able to recite the multiplication tables,
but knowing how to learning, know where to go to learn and most
important of all, having access to knowledge and information. People who
are knowledgeable know how to make value judgements and most important
of all, know how assess the claims of others.

Hence, the third necessary condition would be access to information and
transparency of the machinery of power. But this cannot happen unless we
also have an independent media that is free to investigate, gather and
disseminate news and information. A biased media is an insidious disease
of a democracy.

Thus the short answer to our question is that: the best way to be an
"Effective" pacifist would be: get rid of past ideologies; be obsessed
with learning about facts and thirdly, be a sceptic. I would argue that
these are all necessary conditions for someone to be a pacifist. By
applying these conditions strategically in our thinking we can see the
the dangers better and take action more efficiently.

But there is an easy way for all this, and a short cut to wit, and that
is: travel, travel, travel.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: How to be a pacifist

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