Monday, March 5, 2012

Non-Pacifists Need Consider

Thirty seconds ago, she was a slave. Her ownership was not formed in law but in bodily fact. He had no deed to her and yet he fed her. He controlled her movements, limited her world to three rooms in an apartment. She did not speak the language, was not protected by the country's enforcers. Was not sought by a family. Received no mail. Received no money. And he was her companion and her master. He allowed her some property. Through him she encountered the world in pieces. In his implied anger, in the familiar manner that followed, in his soft-seeming touches and the kind-sounding words, she was owned and he owned her. He had everything and she had nothing.

But that was one minute ago, and now he was nothing and she everything, or at least all of what little remained in the apartment. Perhaps soon the gravity of a power-ful world would crush in on her too and soon she would be nothing, but she had made herself, in the pool of his blood and the absence of breath, a conqueror, however small. A revolution, however small.

It is an option for all of us to forsake violence in every form. I will not preach that path here. I am a parent and a family member. I will defend my loved ones against violence by taking up violent means, the same as I pull a dog off another's throat, the same as I have shoved and struck others. If I prevent it otherwise, I have often done this too. To prevent violence through nonviolence is a good. But to prevent violence or cease it through the use of voluntary and conscious violence is justifiable to me.

Is it not also for the soldier? Is it not also for the policewoman? Is it not also for all of us who see violence in our lives as ambiguous, for all of us who have not yet renounced all violence? Let us be plain about it--to consider it in a moment or a bar conversation can be much the same as considering it in training or discipline. We tell ourselves, civilians and state enforcers alike--that if it comes to certain conditions, we will pull the trigger or hold the throat. We will cut into life, and we cannot assign this responsibility to instinct or morality or approval from others. We consider the thought of justifiable homicide when we consider robberies and rapes and reprisals. We make the choice that we would or we wouldn't and delude ourselves that we are not saying that terrible, much more certain thing:

That if it comes to that, we will or we won't.

Perhaps I would take more seriously the threat of violence around me, from bodyguards to military orders, from gun owners to knife owners to martial artists to anyone with the strength of their arm intact and the willingness to, perhaps, use that strength--if they had written out their commitments ahead of time, looked at them on a page. Perhaps police departments could post signs.

And if it's scary out in the open, maybe we should look down at our hands and ask ourselves a few things.


  1. Christ on a stick. This is a thinker, sir.

  2. Coming back to this, Cuneyt, I guess I find "non-pacifists" to be a shifty term, establishing as it does that "pacifism" is the baseline and "non-" the departure from the norm.

    1. It can be seen that way, though I did not mean it. Pacifism is hardly the baseline. It is an extreme, and I spoke to the philosophical/moral ambiguity to all of us who stand short of that extreme.