May 052010

Outside my window right now, a breeze lingers and turns through the riotous green of the trees, and the climbing ivy clings to the mottled red brick of the house next door. My cat sleeps curled on the futon next to me, making a gentle noise that is sometimes a purr and sometimes a snore. The pale yellow curtain billows to brush my arm, and above everything, the sky crests blue.

I want to begin this way because I know that writing for Pagan+Politics as a pacifist and an anarchist is likely to be a difficult and sometimes daunting task, that my views will likely stir up a lot of criticisms and objections among some of you, maybe even provoke a few unkind accusations. Comments might get heated, and issues will definitely get complicated as together we tease out the many implications, false assumptions and unacknowledged fears tangled up around words like “peace,” “freedom” and “responsibility.” I have been writing publicly about pacifism for several years now, and it still remains a challenge to face down my own anxieties about misinterpretation, hypocrisy, judgement and impotence. It is not always fun to write about ideals and ethical principles that can make not only my readers but even myself feel uncomfortable, uncertain, inadequate, angry or sorrowful.

So why do it? Because I honestly believe that, despite our discomfort and uncertainty, despite our habitual resistance to the idea, the truth is that peace is easy and freedom is innate. Though we are surrounded today with myriad examples of violence, war, hatred and rage, though we have complicated systems of government control looming over us at every step — ordinary, everyday life for most of us is still characterized by spontaneous, consensual cooperation and moments full of the profound simplicity of peaceful relationship. Outside my window and here in this room, the world revels in this sunny spring afternoon, a spring that came without coercion or malice, that arose delicately and swiftly out of the interplay of countless creatures and forces, gods and forms, all organizing themselves through their striving and reaching and vying and dancing, rooted in the necessary rot of autumn, preserved through the inevitable cold of winter, and deeply engaged in the ceaseless process of becoming something beautiful.

It is undeniable that violence, too, can be all too easy, and this is why I believe that Paganism needs committed pacifists among its ranks. As a small but quickly growing, often chaotic community cobbled together from the bits and pieces of memory, history, scholarship, creativity, identity and hope available to us in a modern/postmodern, globalizing/global-warming world, we are not only wild and strong-willed on the fringes of mainstream culture — we are also vulnerable and clumsy, still finding our feet. The Wild Hunt‘s coverage last month of the child abuse case involving a self-proclaimed “druid” reminds us in no uncertain terms that we cannot take for granted this vital process of forging healthy relationships both as individuals and as communities, relationships based on values like honor, honesty, kindness and love. Even simple, natural things like peace and freedom can take a lot of hard work to realize in the face of resistance.

As philosophical schools with a history of hundreds of years across many cultures and religions, both pacifism and anarchism have sturdy roots in the spiritual as well as political world community. Like Paganism itself, they are often misunderstood, misapplied and intensely debated even among their practitioners. Yet the broad, mind-bogglingly diverse community that is today’s Paganism can benefit greatly from a study of these philosophies. While most of us are familiar with the popular, often-quoted Wiccan Rede, as a community we have grown beyond the point where its simple eight-word instruction can serve as a meaningful starting place for conversations about harm, violence, intention, freedom and peace-making. Though the Rede’s laissez-faire moral code may work very well for some of us, it cannot possibly speak to the huge range of perspectives found among those practicing Druidry, Asatru, Neo-Shamanism, Ceremonial Magic, Feri, Dianic and eclectic Witchcraft traditions, Hellenic, Khemetic and other Reconstructionist paths, Voudon, Santería, and the almost endless permutations and combinations thereof. Pacifism and anarchism can provide the Pagan community both with a fertile common ground for conversation, and examples of effective direct action from the past and present day. Each has its theorists and activists, its intellectuals and apologists, its heroes, martyrs, tragedies and holidays. What Pagans can learn from the history of struggle, debate, defeat and subtle triumph of these philosophies, which have existed on the vulnerable, breath-taking fringes of the mainstream for generations, cannot be underestimated.

Yet there is something perhaps even more important about what we as Pagans can bring uniquely to the philosophies of pacifism and anarchism. Grounded in acts of civil disobedience, conscientious objection and nonviolent resistance, pacifism has long suffered under the common misperception that it is passive and detached in nature, characterized by a refusal to engage or participate. The muddy, sweaty, full-bodied liveliness of modern Paganism, expressing itself creatively through engaging ritual, drama, sensuality, art, music, poetry, story-telling and writing, can bring an earthy energy and a sense of sacred embodiment to our understanding of pacifism as peace-making, an active process of attending and creating, in which new choices are made and new alternatives forged even in the midst of violence. Likewise anarchism, breaking free from the rule of law and the comforts of government, can too often flounder into mere chaos as passionate individuals pursue disparate goals without grounding in a common vision. As Pagans, our engaged experiences of nature provide just this needed grounding, building organically from the natural laws, energies, currents and forces of the earth as a living, spirit-filled organism and ecosystem. As people aware of our place in the natural world, we can discover and honor a shared but intrinsically local emergent order and structure to community life without reliance on externally-imposed rules or hierarchical rulers.

Even as there are leaders and role models in the Pagan community whose spiritual and political lives are guided by the theories of pacifism and anarchism, there are many critics who would argue that pacifism is, at its most basic, against our human nature, or who claim that anarchism is fundamentally opposed to peaceful, cooperative social existence. My own view of peace-making and free community, however, has been guided with every breath by an honest and reverent relationship with the natural world, one that does not rest easily with the naïve view of nature as safe, cute and cuddly, but pushes instead towards a more expansive understanding of the roles that destruction, death, power, passion, will and conflict might play — roles that do not degenerate into violence and oppression, but instead lead us human animals in the ceaseless process of becoming something beautiful.

  82 Responses to “Peace, Freedom and Beauty: Towards a Pagan Pacifism”

  1. I think that pacifism is an ideal to strive for, that pacifism is noble, idealistic, and incredibly naive – I believe there are things worth fighting for, and that sometime violence is both right and necessary.

    • Eran, I appreciate your viewpoint, though in my experience those who assume from the start that something is impossible or impractical most often prove themselves right. Luckily, my pacifism does not depend upon your agreement to eschew violence but is something that I can practice, right here and now, without waiting for everyone else to get on board — and by committing myself to pacifism, I help to ensure that, were you and I ever to come into conflict, you would not need to resort to violence (assuming of course that you do not condone offensive violence against a peaceful opponent). I do heartily agree that there are things “worth fighting for,” but I think that the nature of that “fight” and how we accomplish our goals with long-lasting efficacy is a complex issue that deserves deeper exploration.

    • I don’t think the last word has been written on pacifism. My own prejudice is to agree with you; that violence is sometimes necessary. However over the past decade or so, I have come to understand that it is so rarely justified in circumstances in which people insist it is inevitable, that I am not willing to close the book on pacifism.

      Nonviolence as a tactic for change has some significant successes (the Civil Rights movement here in the United States is one example). Further, so many of the criticisms I read of pacifism just seem to miss the mark. In particular, I have come to understand that a commitment to pacifism, especially in the face of violence, is a mark of strength and principle, not of weakness.

      I am not suggesting that everyone who criticizes pacifism sees it as weakness of a sort, but a lot of those who dismiss pacifists as hopelessly naive often imply this.

      I must also consider this: no one who ever did me harm was a pacifist. All who have ever done me harm believed in force or fraud.

      I still believe there is a type of relentless malevolent evil who will only ever respond to force. But I wonder what percentage of the misdeeds in the world fall under that category, vs. what percentage could be defeated by showing people a better, more peaceful way.

      I’m not a pagan or an anarchist in the sense it is meant here – not even sure how I wound up on this page (probably reddit; it’s always reddit), but one thing I am positive about is I have no quarrel or conflict with pagan pacifist anarchists, unless they try to burn me in a giant wicker apparatus to ensure better apple yields.

      At which time I will have a cross word with them, let me tell you what.

  2. I have the utmost respect for people who follow pacifism. It intrigues me and so I look forward to your posts.

    • Cara (and Jeff), Thanks so much for your encouragement! I look forward to writing, and I hope I can live up to your expectations. :)

  3. I used to think that pacifism was an unattainable, naïve ideal, but Ali, over many conversations, you’ve convinced me otherwise. :-) I look forward to you convincing many, many others here.

    The most difficult problem, I think, is that people dismiss pacifism as impractical and then give it no more thought — dismissing the huge real-world gains made by pacifists such as Gandhi and King and countless less-sung heroes, and dismissing the huge body of practical philosophy written about it. Sure, it may be practically impossible to eliminate all violence for ever. But we can do a damn sight better than we are now. Saying “violence is inevitable, so pacifism is impractical” makes about as much sense as saying “theft is inevitable, so property is impractical.”

    In any case, Ali is going to be writing a lot about practical, real-world pacifism, and I can’t wait. :-)

  4. I think that it ought to be difficult to be a totalitarian, war-mongering Pagan. But then there are those authoritarian and bellicose deities setting us examples.

    How we orient ourselves in the world seems to depend partly on who we want to become, and partly on what those deities in their pantheons have in store for us.

    Anarchism and pacifism seem like better alternatives than absolute obedience to leader or state and/or a cult of never ending weapon and battle.

  5. Ali –

    Thanks for your first post.

    Could you perhaps clarify your views, please?

    As per the Wikipedia link you cited for ‘pacifism’ (thanks for the cite! – I like cites), this term can have an incredibly broad set of possible meanings. Again using the Wikipedia definitions, where do you personally fall in the range from belief that international disputes can and should be peacefully resolved to opposition to violence under any circumstance, even defence of self and others?

    And regarding anarchism, do you follow the laws of the country, state and city you live in? Or am I misunderstanding your position (or your use of the term) when you state you are an anarchist?

    • Wooly, I cited the Wikipedia articles on pacifism and anarchism specifically knowing this kind of question would come up. :) For this post, I hoped to keep things relatively brief and introductory, but I wanted to point readers towards some information that would help illustrate just how complicated and diverse the philosophies of pacifism and anarchism can be (so as to head off any overly-broad statements of off-hand rejection or dismissal, such as Eran‘s and Alex‘s).

      I’m planning to elaborate on my own views in future articles (interspersed between more news-y posts), but to try to answer you very generally now… As a pacifist, I tend more towards the end of the spectrum that views all forms of individual and systemic violence as unethical and unjustifiable, but this view is intimately reliant upon a complimentary personal code of compassion and connection that tempers judgement against those who act instinctively or in self-defense (in such situations, healing rather than judgement is called for). As an anarchist, I am hardly qualified to answer, as this philosophy is much newer to me and I’m still doing my research; I can say that I do not “follow” or obey laws per se, but live according to a personal understanding of ethics and self- and social-responsibility that leads me to behaviors that, almost always, happen to correspond to the law, though sometimes they exceed it. For instance, I would not steal regardless of its legality, and I do not watch television because of its tendency to break down our capacity for effective communication, even though television is, as you know, perfectly legal.

      I hope that answers your questions, at least to some extent. :) I have written more extensively about my views on my own blog, most notably during last year’s Pagan Values Month, and hope to do so again for this year’s event.

      • I can say that I do not “follow” or obey laws per se
        Then perhaps let me try and understand based on simple day-to-day actions rather than philosophy:
        - Do you have a drivers license?
        - Do you obey traffic laws?
        - If you use public transport, do you pay for it?
        - Do you pay taxes?

        If you do, but you claim that you do so because you have a personal understanding of ethics and self- and social-responsibility that leads me to behaviors that, almost always, happen to correspond to the law, then I fail to see how you are an anarchist – it sounds rather like you are a typical law-abiding citizen instead.

        I would suggest that a law-abiding citizen has ethics and social responsibility that happen to correspond with (most) laws due to the fact they live in that country. I know I may not be presenting this question in a terribly well-defined way, but I’m confused at the difference between what I’m used to hearing from anarchists and what you are portraying.

        I’m also not quite sure how your decision to not watch TV translates into an anarchist act.

        I look forward to your future posts further detailing your pacifist beliefs.

        ‘The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures.’ – Abraham Lincoln

        Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well armed sheep contesting the vote. – Frequently attributed to Ben Franklin

  6. I do not believe something is “right”, but at the same time it CAN be necessary. War is NEVER right, but until such time that humans can actually evolve socially, which doesn’t seem to be possible after all these hundreds of thousands of years, then conflict will continue to plague us, because quite frankly, it is stupid to think that lying down in front of murderers is in the least bit practical. Yes, pacifism can solve the problem, it solves the problem the aggressor has in removing those objecting to their aggression. A dead enemy is the perfect enemy.

    And anarchy as i understand it is nothing but chaos, for no two humans will agree as to where boundaries should occur, and these boundaries MUST exist if any two humans are to get along with each other. Just because you want peace does not peace make, it takes cooperation, and cooperation requires some measure of agreement, sacrifice, and tolerance, which are traits most humans have precious little of. Yes, it is understood that education and social justice should, in a perfect world, cure us of these ills, but we’ve had a very long time to accomplish such a feat and we are no closer to it now then we were when Neanderthal collided with Homo Sapiens. We are animals, with brains, which only makes us more dangerous animals. Our dear Gaia tried, Gods bless her, to evolve the miracle which was our potential, but alas, we are no less a failed experiment than the dinosaurs would have been saved from extinction.

    The first half of my life was spent regaling in the splendor of the human condition, but then I set aside the blinders and the rose tinted glasses and now I spend the remainder of my life grieving for us. We had so much promise…….

    • “Lying down in front of murderers” isn’t the only form pacifism can take. Nevertheless — since you bring it up — it can be extremely effective. It worked to make India and Egypt independent nations, it worked to desegregate the southern US, it worked to prevent wholesale slaughter of the Maoris of New Zealand, it worked to speed the end of slavery in Trinidad, etc.

      And anarchy, as a political philosophy, doesn’t mean “chaos”. It doesn’t mean “everyone do whatever they want”; it means “order without government”. In other words, it’s how a forest works.

      I suggest you read the articles on pacifism and anarchy that Ali linked to. Humans were created by this planet, and are still a part of it. We may yet be a “failed experiment” (though I’m not sure what you mean by that — aren’t 99% of all species extinct? Are they all “failed experiments?”) but the jury is still out on us.

      • In the cases of India and Egypt, pacifism certainly helped with their independence, but it was not, by any means, the sole cause. Similar arguments can be leveled at your other examples, but I think that it is disingenuous of the pacifist movement to claim sole responsibility for the success of causes for which pacifism was only one of several tactics employed.

        • I find it interesting that when war “works” (no matter how temporarily), we all attribute that success to violence, but when pacifism works, we immediately start looking for other explanations. Most wars are fought despite dissent from some (sometimes quite large) segment of the population, as well as a good deal of political maneuvering and diplomacy… why is it that we do not attribute the successes of war to these things, or at least consider them mitigating factors?

          The other point you overlook is that pacifism holds different goals from the aims of war and violence. Violence is about getting other people to do what you want. Pacifism is only partly about the outcome, and also very much about the means of accomplishing it. Whenever someone manages to refrain from violence and to strive instead for nonviolent diplomacy or negotiation, they have succeeded in being pacifistic. When you begin to understand the nature of pacifism’s goals, you see that not only is it infinitely practical (you can do it on your own, right here and now, regardless of what everyone else is doing), but it also has a much higher success rate.

          • If I might chime in for a moment. Anarchy is not about chaos or order. Rather, Anarchy is all about chaos AND order. The word itself means “without rule,” which is a very general phrase. After being bastardized throughout history, akin to terms like atheism, anarchy has often been inappropriately associated with chaos and confusion. But there is nothing about the term or about the philosophy that has developed around the term to suggest that anarchy has anything to do with these seemingly negative labels. Actually, the very worst thing to do is to go and read the drivel on the Wikipedia site because it reduces Anarchism to a simple political philosophy with almost no mention of Anarchism applied in the same way you folks apply your religion, as a way to life. In addition, Anarchism is not something you are going to find in books or research. A person largely has to work it out for themselves, and while reading the different takes on it is useful for some sort of perspective and comparison, it is by no means necessary. Much of the work on Anarchism is riddled with complex academic jargon, draining the name of its blood. Unfortunately, even most self-proclaimed “anarchists” use the term like a kid with a new toy, breaking it out a lot at first until they find a new toy to take its place. The backbone of Anarchism is actually summed up best by the end of John Henry Mackay’s famous poem “Anarchy”: I am an Anarchist! Wherefore I will not rule, and also ruled I will not be. Everything else must be interpreted by the individual based on that general idea. A clever person would also find that once you earn the name Anarchist, and yes, it must be earned, that the ideas behind terms like “pacifism” actually flow quite smoothly from the fundamental principles of Anarchism, making it redundant to call oneself a pacifist and an anarchist. Because while you can certainly be a pacifist without being an anarchist, an anarchist must be a pacifist to avoid ruling over other people. If you absolutely need somebody else’s opinion on Anarchism, though, the best place to start is with Emma Goldman. She has done for Anarchism what Nietzsche has done for true philosophy. After that, simply work on making sure that the “without rule” philosophy does not end with your political life, because any true Anarchist recognizes Anarchism as an absolute philosophy, not just a political theory.

            • Thanks for this comment, Raymond! I’ll admit that I still call myself “anarchist” in a very light-hearted way, knowing full well that I haven’t done much investigating of the philosophy (though in lifestyle at least I do very much adhere to the “without rule” concept).

              When you said, “the ideas behind terms like ‘pacifism’ actually flow quite smoothly from the fundamental principles of Anarchism, making it redundant to call oneself a pacifist and an anarchist,” I had to smile, because I’ve discovered exactly the same thing about pacifism, that a thorough understanding and application of its philosophy of peace-making naturally flows into anarchism. I do feel that redundancy of terms that you mention, and I’ll probably end up focusing more in my future posts on pacifism (the history and writings of which are more familiar to me) than on anarchism. But I thought I’d give folks fair-warning that I am not exactly coming from a pro-government position. ;)

          • You seek to dispell the misconceptions of pacifism as naive, but you continue to show how naive this ideology is. I’m not sure what history you’ve been studying, but diplomacy and political maneuvering have been given ample credit in many of the West’s major wars: the War of 1812, WWI, and the Napoleonic wars for example. This is elementary.

            “Whenever someone manages to refrain from violence and to strive instead for nonviolent diplomacy or negotiation, they have succeeded in being pacifistic.”

            And they’ve succeeded at little else as well. Pacific means sure did much to halt the imperialist ambitions of Tojo, Mussolini, and Hitler.

            • Actually, without the punitive approach taken by the victorious Allies in WWI towards Germany, including reparations that caused actual famine in that country in addition to rendering their currency worthless, it is questionable whether Hitler would ever have risen to power.

              Likewise, the militaristic attempts of the United States to cut pre-war Japan off from major industrial resources were not a response to militarism on the part of Japan at that time, but, at least to the historians I’ve spoken with, likely one of the causes of it.

              I don’t know enough about Mussolini’s rise to power to comment there, and I’ll acknowledge as much. But, to quote a friend of mine, why is it that only after those who favor the use of force have so escalated a situation through the use or threat of force that it has become unmanageable do they then turn to the peace movement and say, “There! Nothing a pacifist can do to avert THIS war, is there?” Why not attempt consistent peaceful engagement, rather than alternating between punitive and threat-denying approaches to world affairs? It took more than Neville Champerlain to create the horror of WWII.

              • “Order without government”……why, that is such a wonderful fairy tale! Each man, woman and child exists within their own little peaceful bubble and everybody gets along just slendidly! I so wish it were that simple. Yes, non-violent resistence contributed greatly to removing discriminatory practices and shame whole societies into changing the way they treated certain segments of their societies, but believe me, when a culture reaches such states of power and self-rightousness that they can steamroll right over another race/culture with impunity, telling those victims to just roll over and play dead with the assurances that someday justice will be served rings hollow to the victims of such massecres. The ovens of the holocaust became finally die due to any shame on the Nazi’s, but due to the eventual intervention of the Allies who brought them to account. The jews believed as you pacifists do, that such horrors couldn’t be possible at the hands of a civilized race, and history has proven over and over again just what depths of depravity we are capable of reaching. I myself will NOT stand by and think that singing kunbaya while my neighbor is dragged off into the night will keep them from returning the next night for me. If I can’t stand for my neighbor when evil comes to visit, then I deserve the same fate, and I am not going to let my thirst for justice or peace on Earth or fairplay blind me to what sometimes, unfortunately, is necessary. You CAN’T have peace on Earth if such evil is given free reign in the simplistic name of non-violence.

                • Again, there are choices that are neither “singing kumbaya while your neighbor is dragged off into the night” nor waging war or even taking lives.

                  You may not find the case for pacifism convincing, but there is not need to caricature it in order to say so. Pacifism need not be passive or ineffective, and even if you believe that force may at times be needed, I hope you can concede that active non-violence has often accomplished good things in the world.

                  I’ve already mentioned those who helped Jews escape the Nazis as one example; not all who did so were pacifists, of course. However, in the case of another famous example of active non-violent resistance of the oppressed, the Quakers who were active in the Underground Railroad helping slaves escape prior to the Civil War, all were indeed pacifist.

                  Is war necessary? I have concluded for reasons of my own it is not; Ali has reached a similar conclusion, and I suspect she’ll be sharing her reasons over time. They may or may not convince you. But it is disingenuous to pretend that those who commit themselves to non-violence do not resist evil that is done in the world, or perform sometimes acts of great courage and effectiveness.

                  Argue from a position which acknowledges truth; it’s more convincing, and also more meaningful!

    • This seems to me to be grading on the curve at best.

    • ” . . .but alas, we are no less a failed experiment than the dinosaurs would have been saved from extinction. ….”

      I submit the following as refutation:

  7. “the truth is that peace is easy and freedom is innate.”

    This is so at dissonance with reality, with history that it I seriously laughed out loud when I read it.

    • Ugh, Well at least I got you to laugh – that’s a start. ;)

      Of course, peace is at odds with what we read in history books, because violence is much more interesting and, being rarer, it’s easier to condense the long sequence of events by referencing those violent milestones like war and political upheaval. A history book full of “millions of people today woke up, kissed their loved ones, went to work, came home, read a good book and went to bed relatively happy” would not only be boring, but incredibly long, though not as long as the history of the entire world in which the vast majority of life forms live in competitive cooperation rather than through violence. Of course, I never said that because something was easy, it wasn’t also hard work (in fact, I said just the opposite). Perhaps I should have more accurately said instead, “peace is simple” and like many simple things, we can bend over backwards to ignore it, avoid it or otherwise mess it up.

      As for freedom – if you have quibbles with the concept of free will, we have a long haul ahead of us… but at least I’ll know who’s in the driver’s seat. ;)

      • I don’t think you realize how insensitive your words are to those who have actually worked for freedom and peace: say, for example, Native Americans, the Irish, Israelis and Palenstinians, and African-Americans. Try telling them how “simple” peace is, how “innate” freedom is. There has never been a people who did not need to fight to win and/ or secure their freedom. Freedom and peace come at the price of blood and sacrifice. That is the fact that history reveals. No people ever won freedom and peace without force and coercion of some degree. To call these milestones “interesting” and entertaining is to trivialize how fragile and arduous freedom and peace are.

        • I don’t take her comments as trivializing the struggles of various peoples by using the words entertaining or interesting; I take it as describing something that is pretty much true: people record and remember extreme events because they stand out in memory and affect the events that follow them. Taken as a whole, most history only presents those extremes, and passes over the fact that for every day that saw a street riot, a food shortage, a medical breakthrough, or a “War Is Over” parade, there were hundreds of days where the most notable thing was whether to have eggs or cereal for breakfast.

          I do, however, think it’s less than good form to claim the offense of people other than yourself. You may find her words insensitive; it’s grabby to say other people do unless they’ve appointed you spokesperson.

          • It is trivializing because it ignores the useful and important fact that those events tell: no freedom or peace has ever been attempted, attained, or secured without force of some degree. Whether it’s the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s or the Irish war for independence.

            If paganism teaches us anything, it’s that there is nothing more heroic than powerful resistence against evil in the name of the good, of justice.

            • I never know whether to be angry or amused when people advocating violence accuse me of “insensitivity.” Clearly, at the very least, such accusations willfully ignore or selectively apply the peace-making philosophy to victims of violence alone, rather than primarily to the perpetrators of that violence.

              (Please refer to my response above to Wooly about the absolutely essential role of compassion, connection and healing, rather than passivity and judgement, in the application of pacifism in self-defense situations.)

              The issue that snoozepossum brings up below about defending the helpless or disempowered is a very important consideration (and one that deserves a much longer response than a brief word in the comment section – you can be sure I’ll be coming back to it in future posts).

              • Advocating violence? Yeah, when necessary. Is violence cruel, insensitive, and unfortunate? Of course, but again how many bullies are intimidated by or brought down by pacifism?

                • Is it at all consistent, Ugh, to excuse your right to be insensitive or cruel while demanding that others never be?

                  If you insist of continuing to misunderstand my view as “insensitive,” then I suggest you apply your own philosophy and just consider it one of those necessary things.

                • I’ve seen my share. On a personal, not a global level, it is true. But bullies often turn out, surprisingly enough, to be the same species as me and you.

                  • You took the words right out of my mouth, Cat. :) (Actually, my words were going to be something more like, “gosh… at least a dozen in my own direct experience.”) As soon as you stop seeing bullies as mindless monsters, they become much easier to deal with.

                    • Yep, bullies are the same species. So are serial killers, suicide bombers, child molesters, and the evil bastards who run dogfighting rings. The idea that they are also carbon-based binocular bipeds isn’t breaking news.

                      Noting something along the lines of “deep down inside, we’re all the same” may make the issue more organized for the recipient of a bully’s behavior problems, but I have not noticed a victim’s epiphany of related DNA having any effect on a bully’s behavior. I have, however, seen one ram someone’s head into a toilet repeatedly while they were busy telling him how much they understood his pain, and that he just needed to let go of his anger and let light and love heal his inner child. If I hadn’t been the immediately previous victim of the pretentious little aphid’s sanctimonious preaching, I might’ve helped him out after, say, the second dunk.

                      One of the analogies I find myself using frequently is that even if it’s not a dog’s fault that he’s rabid, you still can’t allow him to run around loose biting people. it’s irresponsible. And rude.

            • “If paganism teaches us anything, it’s that there is nothing more heroic than powerful resistence against evil in the name of the good, of justice.”

              Sorry Dude; we’re on different PHA courses. Mine hasn’t taught me anything of the sort, and I don’t see it on the syllabus anywhere. The usual comeback to disagreeing with such a statement is to say that the disagreeing party is lacking in a proper understanding of paganism; please tell me you’re not going to be dreadfully predictable.

              Aside from the fact that the fact you’re reffing isn’t a fact, but an assertion, how does saying that recorded history is selective ignore anyone’s struggle against oppression?

              Also, you’re sorta still claiming to speak for people you aren’t authorized to speak for.

              • Either you’ve been reading bad history or willfully ignorant of pre-christian paganism. All pagan heroes are heroes because of honor and glory in physical violence, in combat. No hero was ever a pacifist.

                Do we need to emulate their behavior today? No, but we can hnor what the ancients honored in them.

                • Good grief, would someone please come up with a more original response than “you’re uneducated/ignorant/ill-informed/blind” when someone disagrees with them on a subjective viewpoint? To insist that your definitions and interpretations are the only possible ones is as arrogant and dismissive as making blanket statements on behalf of people you cannot speak for.

                  Not all ancient pagan personalities were notable for honor and glory in physical violence. Intelligence, learning, and skills in artifice and craft were valued as much. Even if they were, not all of the “heroes” recorded in pagan lore fit my definition of “hero”. You can slap a hero label on anyone you please, but you don’t own any space in my head.

                  Haven’t answered the question I posed either.

                  • There is nothing here open for interpretation, nor am I offering an opinion. Heroism was all about honor, glory, and physical prowess. Obviously I am not talking about other personalities, but specifically heroic ideals as I mentioned that powerful resistence to injustice and evil is heroic.

                    And what question?

                    • Everything is open for interpretation. All you have offered is opinions.

                      Go back and read. It’s the sentence with the question mark at the end.

        • In my opinion this has important implications for how we view our own history as Pagans. Winston Churchill (not a Pagan, but no Christian, either!) once said “A nation that goes down fighting will rise again. Those who surrender tamely are finished.”

          He also said:
          “In War: Resolution.
          In Defeat: Defiance.
          In Victory: Magnanimity.
          In Peace: Good Will.”

          What does this have to do with Pagan history? Well, the fact is that Paganism “went down fighting”. From the Greco-Roman world of the 4th century AD, to the Saxon resistance to Charlemagne, to the Viking wars of “self-defense” against the aggressive Christianization of Northern Europe. To the Wends, and Lithuanians and others who fought against the Christians in the Northern Crusades. Etc, etc. (The Lithuanians, by the way, bring us all the way up to the 14th century!)

          The important thing is to embrace and celebrate our Pagan heritage of resisting, often, but not always, with arms in hand, the violent, coercive phenomenon of Christianization. Pacifism, in my opinion, mindlessly equates that kind of just warfare with unjust warfare of the Christians who conquer and convert with the sword.

          The heroism of our Pagan ancestors such as Arbogast and Widukind should not be seen as just more warmongering. They are in the same proud tradition (at least in my opinion) as Nat Turner and Tupac Amaru.

          • the violent, coercive phenomenon of Christianization

            How about:
            It has been calculated that between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution and 120 years of toleration and peace.
            — From Persecution in the Early Church

            This is certainly not to deny the excesses of Christianity you mentioned, but rather to also point out the Pagans had done the same to the Christians for chunks of the first few hundred years they existed. Balance is your friend.

            • “Balance is your friend.”

              Balance requires that two things of equal weight be involved. But when the weights are not equal, then there is no balance. The incidental persecution that occurred in Pagan Rome is not in any way equal to the systematic persecution ushered in by the seizure of power by the Christians.

              How many religions were there among the 60 million people of Pagan Rome? At least several dozen, more likely hundreds. No one really knows how to go about counting them. However many there were, the vast majority of them never experienced even one day of persecution. And when persecution did occur, it was only for a limited period of time, and it was never effective.

              The limited scope and ineffectualness of persecution by Pagans doesn’t make it OK, but it does clearly and unambiguously distinguish it from persecution under Christianity.

              When Christians came to power, persecution of all other religions, including all but the officially approved form of Christianity itself, became a permanent feature of Roman society and of all other societies that Christianity came to control. This persecution was permanent, merciless, and highly effective.

              Persecution of Jews continued in Christendom up to the middle of the 20th century, as did persecution of Native American religions and also survivals of African religions among former slaves (who had been forcibly converted as part of their enslavement).

              And the link you provided, Duane, was to a website put up a single anonymous individual who is too much of a coward to reveal his or her own religious convictions.

              Did you bother to check, Duane, whether or not this Christian coward has a separate section on the persecutions carried out BY the Christians AGAINST the Pagans? Or how about a section on the persecution of Christians BY Christians??

              During the 250 years after Constantine became sole emperor at least 20,000 Christians were murdered by their co-religionists in the course of “doctrinal disputes”. This is discussed in some detail by Ramsay MacMullen in his book “Voting About God In Early Church Councils”:

              MacMullen sums up his own feeling about the violence of the early Church like this:

              “Such awful things to happen! To account for them, awful passions must be imputed. If these were in the service of some cause, then the cause itself must be considered, in itself bloody.”

              • I meant “Wooly” not “Duane” — my apologies for that.

              • Balance requires that two things of equal weight be involved. But when the weights are not equal, then there is no balance.
                No, not at all.

                So then you would argue “Well, your incident only resulted in 100,000 deaths; my incident resulted in 250,00 deaths, therefore your incident doesn’t matter”? I don’t believe this is how it works.

                And using weasel words (the Pagan persecution was merely ‘incidental’) doesn’t help advance your case, either.

                ‘Balance’ involves providing both viewpoints (or alternative viewpoints, if there are more than two). It’s not some tit-for-tat argument of ‘if my body count is bigger than yours I win’.

                I grabbed the first web site I found,. There are certainly many other that provide essentially the same information. Are you suggesting the facts on the web site I cited are incorrect? Are you suggesting there was not persecution of Christians by the early Roman Empire? Or are you looking for another strawman you can try to use against me?

              • Wooly, and Apuleius, you write (respectively):

                ‘Balance is your friend.’

                Balance requires that two things of equal weight be involved.

                I agree with Wooly, insofar as a balanced perspective of history based on the careful weighing of available information, potential biases, obfuscations and omissions is very important.

                On the other hand, I think it is ill-advised to attempt to compare (and “balance out”) the atrocities and deaths brought about by this side or that, as if such things, being so far back in history, were mere numbers instead of living beings.

                Regardless of what source Wooly cited, it is well-established among historians that the early Christian church did suffer persecution under Pagan rule. Just as well-established are the similar persecutions Christians have perpetuated against “pagans and heathens” since then. None of this justifies the continuation of retaliatory violence until things “balance out.” In this case, balance will only be achieved when old grievances are overcome and mutual respect is established – what you have otherwise is the wildly swinging pendulum of tit-for-tat blood feuding.

                I would add, in regards to our obligation as modern Pagans to our ancestors Christian and pre-Christian alike, that the best homage we can pay to our history is to learn from it.

                • Thank your for your comment.

                  I think it is ill-advised to attempt to compare (and “balance out”) the atrocities and deaths brought about by this side or that, as if such things, being so far back in history, were mere numbers instead of living beings.
                  I agree. I don’t believe this can be done, nor do I believe it should be done.

                  IMHO, ‘balance’ is fairly presenting both (or all) sides. When it involves an issues involving deaths, comparisons of body counts is immaterial (and potentially harmful).

                  Getting back to an earlier point, all major religions have had periods where they prosecuted other religions. The question should not be that ‘historically, your religion was more (or less) cruel/caused more deaths/etc. than mine’, but rather ‘where are we today and how do we deal with today’s realities’.

                  • “The question should not be that ‘historically, your religion was more (or less) cruel/caused more deaths/etc. than mine’, but rather ‘where are we today and how do we deal with today’s realities’.”

                    Here’s where we are today: Christians and Muslims have forcibly converted half of humanity, and they have their eyes on the other half.

                • “all major religions have had periods where they prosecuted other religions. The question should not be that ‘historically, your religion was more (or less) cruel/caused more deaths/etc. than mine’, but rather ‘where are we today and how do we deal with today’s realities’.”

                  ” . . . balance will only be achieved when old grievances are overcome and mutual respect is established – what you have otherwise is the wildly swinging pendulum of tit-for-tat blood feuding.”

                  (passes out beer & cookies, bows with forehead to floor)
                  Thank you both!!

          • Do not mistake non-violence for tame surrender. It takes enormous self-discipline and courage to rise even to the level of verbal non-violence. The more I study this path, the more I see it demands of me.

            Heroism need not involve the taking of life. Were those who saved Jews from the Holocaust not heroic? Were they not courageous, because they saved lives rather than took them? No, not all were pacifists. But some were. And all made their priority preserving life rather than killing people. Some saved hundreds that way–and whether or not you believe force was needed or justified in ending the war eventually, surely we can agree that those who risked all peacefully also are worthy of our reverence.

            • “Heroism need not involve the taking of life. Were those who saved Jews from the Holocaust not heroic?”

              Personally I think you are posing the question in the wrong direction.

              The problem, as I see it, is that while (1) non-pacifists do not in any way dismiss the value of those who do heroic deeds that do not involve violence, at the same time (2) pacifists, on the other hand, DO dismiss the value of heroic deeds that do involve violence.

              The source of this problem is the blanket assertion that all acts of violence are equally wrong. Thoughtful non-pacifists do not deny that peaceful solutions are to be preferred, we just realize that sometimes there simply is no peaceful solution. Period.

              Take the Holocaust, for example. No matter how many Jews were saved from the Nazis, through peaceful actions, it was still necessary to STOP the Nazis once and for all. Anne Frank was saved for 2 years, but then the SS got finally got their hands on her. It was only through massive violence that the Nazis were stopped while the Holocaust was still in progress.

              • You are making some assumptions, Ap.

                I am the proud sister of a disabled Navy vet. I believe he was mistaken in his belief that his military service was necessary and bettered the lot of humankind, but I acknowledge that it was sincere, idealistic, and courageous. So I would not say that I dismiss the value of his heroism.

                Further, many of the peace workers I most deeply honor and respect are veterans who experienced a deep spiritual conviction that their actions were mistaken. It is very hard to reexamine basic beliefs about the world once you have not only risked your own life for them, but in many cases, sacrificed the lives of others. It’s hard to look that in the eye without flinching; those I know who have done so and as a result decided that they were morally obligated to work for peace (and I am not saying that those who do not feel such an obligation are immoral) have engaged in a kind of heroism I have never been tested to rise to.

                Further, if one is convinced that the use of force is in fact the morally right thing to do, then responding in that manner is the moral imperative. There’s a famous Quaker story–probably apocryphal, but, like all mythologies, perhaps a better representation of the value of those who tell it than mere facts and dates could ever be–of William Penn, the first gentleman to convert to the Religious Society of Friends. As a gentleman, Penn of course wore a sword at all times, and would of course have seen it as his duty to be ready to use it to defend either his country or his personal honor.

                The story says that Penn, upon converting to Quakers, asked George Fox, the charismatic leader of the early movement, if he now had to stop wearing his sword–which would have been considered a disgrace and a token of cowardice.

                Fox’s words, according to the legend, were, “Wear it while thou canst, William.” Meaning that, until and unless you are convinced of the wrongness of violence, it would be wrong for you to set aside that token of your honor.

                That we are all obligated to behave in the fashion that our integrity demands of us, whether with force or by refusing to use force.

                The story ends that one day, riding with friends in the countryside, Penn found himself suddenly overwhelmed with disgust at the sword and what it represented. He threw it, together with his wig (another sign of rank) off into the road, and rode on without them.

                I have come to believe that the earth cannot afford war, and that ultimately all violence leads to more violence–that there is no way to peace, but that peace is the way.

                However, I did not always feel that way. Others I love and respect do not feel that way. I believe they are in error… but I honor their integrity and their courage. (As an aside, I would say that my empathy and concern for soldiers has never been as high as it has since I became a Quaker. It may seem paradoxical, but it is true.)

              • Your second assertion ((2) pacifists, on the other hand, DO dismiss the value of heroic deeds that do involve violence) is not true and is not something I have ever heard said by any actual pacifist. Furthermore, to say that all forms of violence are, at base, unethical, is not to say they are all “equally wrong.”

                These are the types of sadly misinformed and sometimes downright ignorant assertions that my inclusion in the Pagan+Politics project will hopefully work to redress.

                • I am not making any assumptions whatsoever. Well, I am assuming that people who use the word pacifist have some idea of what it means.

                  Pacifists opposed US entry into WWII and generally opposed the use of force against the Third Reich. That was the very specific example I used.

                  Anyone who supports the use of force in a situation like that faced by the world in WWII is not a pacifist. Period.

                  Everyone with a conscience prefers to achieve their goals peacefully. But pacifism means much more than a mere preference for peace, or else it means nothing.

  8. Thank you so much for your post and for join P+P. I was feeling as if I was the only Pagan Pacifist in the world. Of course I knew that wasn’t the case so I was really hoping someone would pop up here.

    A thousand welcomes!

    • Thank you, Witchstead! It’s always nice to know there are other folks out there ready to move beyond debate and nay-saying, and take the leap into active peace-making. :) The more of us who step up and speak up, the easier it becomes for others to take that leap, too.

      Pacifism is kind of like Paganism that way. Lots of folks are intrigued by it, lots of folks misunderstand it, and some folks are secretly hiding in the peace-closet hoping someone will give them an excuse to open the door. ;)

  9. Question: Is anarchy akin to consensus?

  10. I see Practical Pacifism as a good thing, but I feel that many people who endorse it entirely ignore something that amounts to a moral issue for some people who do not. It’s within anyone’s right to refuse to engage or respond to an attack on their person; it presents a dilemma when one stands by and allows an attack on someone else, especially if that someone is not in a position to defend themselves. My experience has been that a bully is not a reasonable person, and letting them beat the crap out of you or someone else only teaches them that they can get away with it.

    I was standing in line at a buffet restaurant for lunch, behind two women of extremely advanced age, both with walkers and one with an oxygen tank. A younger man and woman (who turned out to be grandchildren) were going through the line with them, filling plates for them. They weren’t moving horribly slowly given their obstacles, but they were too slow for the (alleged) person between me and them. He started loudly verbally abusing them and their helpers, bitching that they should never have been let out of the old folks home, and how he was a busy and important man and had a job to get back to, and that they needed to get out of everyone’s way.

    I asked him how he’d like it if someone spoke to his grandmother like that, and he stepped forward, leaned into my face, and told me to shut my stupid mouth or he’d take me out the front door. He then opted to kick at the oxygen tank caddy, saying that anyone who needs one shouldn’t be out in public, that they were a health hazard. I moved between him and the oxygen tank woman, who was trying to undo the guide rope and step out of the line, and when he moved to raise his foot again I blocked it.

    He started yelling about pounding my ugly face in, and the manager appeared and had three guys take him outside. He asked the granddaughter what happened, and she told him I started trouble by chastising the man. She then proceeded to give me a lecture about how I had upset and embarrassed them horribly, and made a complete fool of myself by acting like trash. She assured me that I was escalating the cycle of violence, that I should be charged with assault for stepping on his foot, and that I should try this wonderful thing called meditation, which has helped millions of people like me.

    I told her to go outside and pass that sage advice on to Jerkwad, and lemme know how that goes, got my lunch, and sat down on the other side of the restaurant form them. On the way out to pay my bill, the other elderly lady without the tank waved at me. The manager said the waiters told him about the guy kicking the tank caddy, and that he was banned from the restaurant.

    I have had it explained to me that allowing people to provoke a response is a sign of a weak character and undeveloped mind. I think anyone who goes around trying really hard to enlighten people that who aren’t devotees of such a discipline should be forced to listen to yodeling duets by Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi.

    • This issue of defending others, especially those who are helpless or disempowered, is an incredibly important one, and I think your story is an excellent example of that. I have been in several situations of a very similar nature, at protests and rallies (encountering angry counter-protesters threatening violence, as well as fellow protesters stupidly provoking the police), in my work environment (stepping between coworkers about to come to blows over imagined slights) and even just out in public as you were (for instance, a former Ranger threatening an older woman handing out voter registration forms in a theater where Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was playing). And I’m a rather small female, I’ll remind you – yet not once did my intervention fail to step down the violence and anger involved. From my reading of your story, it seems you responded in a highly appropriate fashion that did not rely on violence or intimidation but instead attempted to be reasonable and forge connections. The fact that others in the situation chose to escalate violence or push the blame onto you for that escalation does not change this.

      And to me, this is the key point: pacifism is not passive-ism. The peace-making pacifist does not, in the face of violence, shrug her shoulders and stand by watching as someone else is harassed or abused. Rather, she seeks to create healthier alternatives through nonviolent response. I also become frustrated with this odd belief that the “peaceful” response to violence is a lack of response – this totally misses the importance of responsibility, response-ability, at the heart of pacifism. Of course, that doesn’t mean that people like those in your story won’t turn and direct their feelings of fear, anger and embarrassment towards you rather than towards the person truly at fault – you are in some ways a safety valve for them, for the very reason that they trust, if only subconsciously, that you will not retaliate with more violence. Is it fair? No. Which is why strength of character is also really handy for a pacifist to have.

      • ” . . . you are in some ways a safety valve for them, for the very reason that they trust, if only subconsciously, that you will not retaliate with more violence.”

        LMAO! I tend to produce the opposite effect. Been fired from two jobs because I “looked at someone violently”, and I have total strangers who stop in the middle of the street and raise hell with me for “looking malicious” (jeans, t-shirt, hair in a wad, no makeup). I got kicked out of the local dump for cutting moving boxes up with a pocket knife to go in the recycling baler. Oddly enough, when I’m armed and wearing field melee gear, most people respond like I’m their long lost cousin who always loaned them money.

        These kind of things are some of the reasons I feel that people’s definitions of violent and non-violent are too skewed to be considered practical.

    • It sounds to me as though you handled the situation beautifully and non-violently. It sounds to me, too, like perhaps the grand-daughter was conflict-phobic, and took her agitation out on a relatively safe target, once the crisis was past: you. Certainly, I do not think you showed signs of a weak character. It sounds like you handled things well.

      Though perhaps not. I wasn’t there, and there are a lot of nuances in such a situation. If the goal was preventing the elders and family from embarrassment, and there was little danger of physical violence, then it’s hard to say whether your actions were about taking care of their needs or yours–a need not to let jerkwads think they are unopposed (something I often feel quite strongly myself). Would it have been easier on them (not you, but them) if you’d been quiet? Well, who can be sure? While I am inclined to think not, it is also true that sometimes the most effective way to defuse a situation can look passive to an outsider.

      When I worked in emergency mental health, I learned that one excellent way to deal with someone, perhaps psychotic, who is escalating towards violence is to SIT DOWN. Very, very few people will be able to motivate themselves to strike someone who is sitting down.

      Doing nothing may sometimes feel lousy, but be right. Or feel safe, but be wrong.

      And I think the hardest thing about trying to live as a force for peace and justice is how difficult it is to discern the best action in a tense moment, when you have only seconds to decide. Which is why I think you certainly deserve to be commended for doing the best you could in a rough spot; you used all the wisdom you had in that moment. I don’t think we can be asked to do much more, do you?

      • Sigh. Wasn’t fishing for an evaluation or assessment. You might want to reconsider your idea that I’m “trying to live as a force for peace and justice”. It’s not a universal shtick, nor is it my primary MO.

        I tossed that in as one example of why I made the observation that I think some people who espouse a serious devotion to pacifism feel the need to “enlighten” anyone who doesn’t dance to their drumbeat. I’d say it’s as presumptuous to dismiss the granddaughter’s beliefs as merely conflict-phobic as it was for her to decide I needed to be corrected. Her ideas may mean quite a bit to her; that doesn’t mean she has the right to assume the role of teacher if I haven’t adopted them myself.

        I voiced a complaint with the jerk’s behavior because I was tired of standing in line listening to him bitch, and dodging him and his laptop bag every time he stomped his feet and swung his arm around to complain to the rest of the line. I took the line of asking him in a “come on, Dude” tone how he’d like the same treatment, because that tactic was more likely to shut him up than just going ahead and telling him he was a foul, maggot-riddled, parasite infested, bilious pile of rancid pig snot with delusions of adequacy.

        I resent being in a public place, and having the experience turned into an ordeal by some ill-mannered loudmouthed jackass who thinks he or she can behave however they like, and no one dare give them as much as a look for it. I despise a “might makes right” attitude, and I dislike it even more when someone is cheap enough to abuse someone else in an attempt to teach me the error of my opinion. I also have no patience for hypocrisy deluding itself into believing it’s really superiority.

        • For somebody who hasn’t got a primary interest in being a force for peace and justice, you do seem to have quite the attitude about injustice, what with despising the “might makes right” attitude.

          I’m not sure who you are accusing of being a hypocrite–me or the other actors in the scenario you described. You do sound pretty pissed off, but maybe that’s just your diction as a writer? Hard to day.

          In any case, you might note that I acknowledged that I could not be certain of how to interpret a situation which I wasn’t present to see. I’m not sure of much, from your story–certainly not that the granddaughter was a pacifist because she recommended you consider meditating. (Lots of people who meditate are not pacifists; lots of pacifists don’t meditate.)

          And in the context, your remarks on what you term “practical pacifism” and your comments that many pacifist ignore the moral implications of situations like the one you described, it seemed to me that reflecting on the moral implications, as seen through the eyes of at least one pacifist (me) was relevant to the discussion topic you’d introduced. If that was not the point of your story, I’m sorry–I didn’t see another in your sharing of the anecdote.

          In no way was I pretending to give you advice you had not asked for. (Why is it some people find approval even more offensive than argument? Why is agreement presumed to be condescending, when sometimes, it’s just what it is?)

  11. “Outside my window and here in this room, the world revels in this sunny spring afternoon, a spring that came without coercion or malice, that arose delicately and swiftly [...]”

    This is incredibily superficial. Spring comes about with the exuberant violence of predators upon prey. Since in our part of the world that happens in mostly among insects we don’t usually notice it with unaided senses, but it’s there. A robust Paganism embraces that aspect of Spring along with the pretty parts.

    • I forgive you for jumping to the conclusion, after only a few paragraphs, that my view is superficial, rather than your reading of it.

      Also, I’ll note my closing remark in the above post: that my view of nature “pushes instead towards a more expansive understanding of the roles that destruction, death, power, passion, will and conflict might play — roles that do not degenerate into violence and oppression…”

      And I’ll also refer you to two other posts on my own blog in which I talk (albeit incompletely, as this is such a profoundly complicated subject) about my definition of violence and the difference between it and destruction, especially when it comes to how we apply it to the natural world.

      Obviously, this is a subject that requires a lot of conversation and exploration, and I think making any broad statements about what Pagans can or can’t think in regards to the matter is a bit premature.

      • I read your entire post before making my comment. I had nothing to say about the rest of it. But your view of Spring is superficial and you chose to put it near the beginning, implying that your view of human conflict rests upon it. Own your words.

        • I am reminded of a story about Helen Keller learning to read Braille. Because she could not rely on the visual experience of glancing at a sentence in its entirety and thus getting a sense of how long it was and when it would end – but instead had to rely on the strictly linear experience of running her fingers along each letter – she would sometimes assume a sentence had ended before it had. She would read a sentence such as People should not think because they are blind that they are inferior. and when she got as far as People should not think because they are blind she would throw the book away in disgust and disagreement, not knowing there was more to the statement.

          You have done much the same with this post, reading fragments in isolation instead of attempting to understand the implications of the whole. In this post (and in many of my writings) I will often open with an image or idea and then return to that idea or image later, from a new perspective, in order to give it more depth and complexity.

          I do own my words, lovingly – I even linked you to two other posts I have written in order to help you understand my view better. Please do me the courtesy of owning up to your responsibilities as a reader.

          • You have no evidence that I didn’t read your whole essay as one continuous flow of thought. The Hellen Keller story is a red herring, because I’ve provided a criticism that you can’t rebut honestly. You are degrading the regard with which I will view your future posts.

  12. Thank you for being willing to publicly take up this part of the spectrum. It’s a very hard place to be in any community, even this one. I’ve read Goldman and Bookchin and Kropotkin and agree with many of their goals and ideals. Even as a veteran of the Navy, I feel that working for peace is a better goal than waging war. I don’t believe it’s simple, but I do believe that striving for peace and mutual aid is a good thing.

    • Erynn, I really appreciate your response.

      I should have known that statement about peace being easy/simple was going to get me into trouble. But when I sit and observe as honestly as I can what is going on around me – rather than content myself with the stories I am told by others about what I should see – it does seem to me that we as a species are marvelously capable of “making peace,” even if we are capable of creating horrors as well. Peace, in principle, seems simple and natural to me – there are only a few simple “guidelines” you need to abide by, though applying them consistently and trusting in their efficacy can sometimes be very hard work indeed.

      But if we don’t assert that peace is not only possible, but actually rather simple, we end up with ridiculous assertions like the ones I heard recently on a discussion forum: “how can you ask victims of sexual abuse to be pacifists? haven’t they suffered enough!?” But this reasoning assumes that peace-making is a burden and leads only to hardship and increased suffering, when often precisely the opposite is true (and I say this as a victim of a sexual assault and childhood emotional abuse myself).

      Pacifism isn’t a system we can impose from the top-down onto others (as some commenters above seem to think it is – and if it were, they would be right to object)… it’s little more than what you describe, the belief that “striving for peace and mutual aid is a good thing” and acting, with every fiber of your being, on that belief.

      • I think that for a lot of people, myself included, overcoming the occasional urge to violence can be difficult. Certainly not impossible, but violence can be a very tempting way to address a difficulty. I believe it takes a certain amount of maturity in both an individual and in society to really bring about working examples of peaceful ways of life. We have to be willing to let go of that urge to violence when it finds us. The fact that it can be an instinctual reaction can make it difficult. If someone hits me, my instinct is to hit back to make it stop, but I can overcome that instinct if I wish to and if I try.

        Willingness to try peaceful options is certainly necessary before we can actually use them. Many people are unwilling, and I find this sad but not unexpected.

      • Just because something is simple doesn’t make it easy.

  13. I am so happy that a pacifist wasn’t babysitting my goats when that pit bull slipped under my fence and attacked one of them. By the time he/she had finished attempting to reason with it, my poor friend would have died, and he would have either started on the next goat or gone after the pacifist. I love animals. I love them more than I love most of human kind. But I did what I had to do. I shot that damn dog. The one that was bred by humans to do what it was doing, and whose owners had failed to control it. I don’t blame the dog, I blame the owners. I am not a card carrying member of the NRA. I consider myself more of a liberal than a conservative, but I have not surrendered my common sense. The gun I used has been sitting on the headboard of my bed for several decades now and I have not found any reason to use it. But, it IS a tool, and was used for a specific purpose. I would love to be a pacifist also, because I avoid conflict with a passion, but I also know that you either defend yourself and those you love, or you suffer the consequences. I choose not to suffer those consequences when there is no logical reason not to. I believe the Iraq war was a major FUBAR and should never have happened, but I also know that WWII was necessary. It is fine to WANT the world to be fair and reasonable and logical but if you are paying attention at all, it ISN’T, and isn’t likely to be any time soon. I am not attacking the pacifists for their beliefs, but I hope I do not have to depend on one when evil comes knocking on MY door.

    • Not all pacifists are vegans. The boundaries of pacifism vary from person to person. You are constructing a straw man to argue against.

      Does that mean you have doubts about the strength of your position, or that you don’t recognize a logical fallacy when you write it?

  14. It really is worth studying the philosophy and history of the Anarchist movement. Some great Anarchists whose writings are freely available online:

    Errico Malatesta:
    “And by anarchist spirit I mean that deeply human sentiment, which aims at the good of all, freedom and justice for all, solidarity and love among the people; which is not an exclusive characteristic only of self-declared anarchists, but inspires all people who have a generous heart and an open mind…”

    Emma Goldman:
    “Anarchism repudiates any attempt of a group of men or of any individual to arrange life for others. Anarchism rests on faith in humanity and its potentialities, while all other social philosophies have no faith in humanity whatever. ”

    Mikhail Bakunin:
    “Karl Marx, the illustrious leader of German Communism, justly observed in his magnificent work Das Kapital that if the contract freely entered into by the vendors of money – in the form of wages – and the vendors of their own labor -that is, between the employer and the workers – were concluded not for a definite and limited term only, but for one’s whole life, it would constitute real slavery. Concluded for a term only and reserving to the worker the right to quit his employer, this contract constitutes a sort of voluntary and transitory serfdom. Yes, transitory and voluntary from the juridical point of view, but nowise from the point of view of economic possibility. The worker always has the right to leave his employer, but has he the means to do so? And if he does quit him, is it in order to lead a free existence, in which he will have no master but himself? No, he does it in order to sell himself to another employer. He is driven to it by the same hunger which forced him to sell himself to the first employer. Thus the worker’s liberty, so much exalted by the economists, jurists, and bourgeois republicans, is only a theoretical freedom, lacking any means for its possible realization, and consequently it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood. The truth is that the whole life of the worker is simply a continuous and dismaying succession of terms of serfdom -voluntary from the juridical point of view but compulsory in the economic sense – broken up by momentarily brief interludes of freedom accompanied by starvation; in other words, it is real slavery.”

  15. This is just a general note to let all your awesome folks know that, though I am still reading along with everyone’s comments, I’ve decided for my own sanity to only respond to comments and questions for the first two days after each post (and to not respond at all to comments which are ridiculous or insulting). This will give me more time to actually think, research and write posts in the future that will hopefully be both interesting and relevant; plus maintain my own blog, my other writing projects and still, you know, have a life.

    But I will be reading, so that I can address legitimate questions as well as ignorant or inaccurate assertions in future posts. Thanks for all the feedback! Some of you make me look downright prophetic. ;)

    • “Some of you make me look downright prophetic.”

      Okay, this works the same way as the “if you think you’re crazy, you probably aren’t” principle.

  16. I’ve been looking for the quote. Something about if it were not for the allies, Ghandi’s headless bayonetted body would have been floating down the Ganges river. I can partially get my head around the Anarchy sentiment though.

  17. I know that you probably won’t read this at this point, Ali, but I am SO EXCITED to see that you are writing about pacifism and anarchism on this blog! Good luck to you!