The Dangers of Pacifism
- by Subversify Staff
- Posted on 23 September, 2011
I just want to be clear that this not an attack on anyone’s personal character – rather this essay is intended to point out the dangerous flaws of a deceptively poisonous ideology that has seeped into the hearts and minds of dissidents everywhere and keeps them from achieving their full potential. I am referring to the notion of peaceful resistance to an oppressive power at any cost: the idea that the use of force against repressive establishments is something to be avoided regardless of the consequences – for in this mindset the moment one uses force to resist force one becomes like the oppressor.
Of course, the core arguments for this ideology are weak and easily discredited if one takes them to their logical conclusions – for they are based on assumptions that are irrational and completely unnatural. The only way that a belief system such as this can possibly survive is if the competition perceives no substantial threat from it, or even used by the powers that be as a means to misdirect the anger of dissidents that would otherwise mobilize for an actual conflict with the establishment.
Let us now look at some of these core arguments…
1. Violence only begets violence: While I won’t deny that sporadic, senseless acts of violence do tend to simply perpetuate themselves ad infinitum this is not always true – in fact, violence used in a clear and decisive manner can actually result in the termination of conflict. For example, should a psychopath come to one’s house and attempt to kill the occupants and the occupants kill the psychopath the conflict immediately ends: there will be no retribution taken upon anyone here as a result of the violence committed by the occupants – thus no opportunity for violence to beget violence as a result of the incident.
Furthermore, violence has numerous other results as well – for example, when violence is used as a tool of repression it can yield submission from a defeated party, wealth for the conqueror and fear instilled within the hearts of would-be dissenters. But when used as a tool of resistance to oppression it can result in the weakened resolved of the oppressive force, repossess stolen wealth through expropriation of enemy goods and raise the spirits of dissidents via propaganda of the deed. In short, the tool is repeatedly used throughout history because it works: the results of the use of this tool depend entirely upon the ability and intent of the user – nothing more.
2. Violence is unnatural: Even a cursory glance at nature is enough to debunk this one – one need go no further than look at the relationship between the predator and prey to see that it’s actually quite natural. But it does not stop there: various animals have been known to engage if forms of ritual combat to compete for mates (such as the rutting of the deer or big-horned sheep), form into offensive or defensive units to contest territory (two prides of lions or packs of chimps contesting hunting and foraging land) or even forming into nomadic raiding tribes that completely demolish anything in their paths (like a traveling colony of army ants – which are notorious for laying waste to other ant colonies and even ganging up on larger animals sometimes).
In other words, violence is a natural behavior.
3. The use of violence is always “wrong:” As one who doesn’t believe in such concepts as “morality” to be anything more than social conventions, I’m compelled to ask “’wrong’ according to whom?” Why is it “wrong” to ever utilize violent methods of accomplishing goals? Consider that there are many social yardsticks used to measure the utility of violent behavior and that there have been many standards set concerning its use – ranging from the complete prohibition of violence (ex. Gandhi and his followers) to violence being the first and only means of achieving an end (ex. The Khmer Rouge) and everywhere in between (note: it is my opinion that both ends of the spectrum are unhealthy in their own ways – there needs to be a balance struck somewhere for a society to function properly).
Of course, I never get a clear and consistent answer to this question – answers range from divine mandate (“god” says “thou shalt not kill”) to utilitarian notions of the “greatest good” (use of violence creates unhappiness, therefore violence is “wrong”) to all sorts of mystical ideas about the loss of one soul diminishing the rest of humanity and affecting karma and other such nonsense.
Since I don’t believe that such notions as “god,” souls or karma are anything more than a means of social control and considering that the acceptance of the existence of such things is a matter of faith, not evidence, I can safely ignore them altogether – as Hitchens once said, “that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” This leaves the utilitarian argument as the only serious competitor in the proverbial marketplace of ideas: that violence impedes upon the “greatest good” (i.e. the greatest happiness for the greatest number) by creating unhappiness – therefore violence is “wrong.”
However, such pacifism based on utilitarianism runs into conflict with itself when situations arise in which violence can prove to be a useful tool in bringing about happiness or preventing unhappiness – for example, using force to dismantle an abusive power structure that exploits the common people for labor and resources can result in the immediate removal of a constant source of unhappiness, which in turn sets the stage for new societies to arise that can focus on the maximization of individual happiness. If violent action leads to increased happiness/decreased unhappiness, said action is “good” by definition because it works towards the “greatest good” it defines at the outset (note: utilitarianism is a philosophy that favors outcomes over rules, so invoking the deontological “violence is just ‘wrong’ – period” approach here only serves to create further intellectual inconsistencies).
4. Violence is a coward’s tool: This is usually an argument invoked when all others fail – if one cannot discredit the effectiveness or ethical validity of the use of force, a last–ditch effort to make the use of force look like a shameful act of fear is made.
I dare them to tell that to such folks as Che Guevara, the various members of the Vietcong or anyone involved in any other guerrilla resistance movement against a force that possesses superior numbers and firepower – if this statement is true, than people who take on long odds of defeating a superior foe in a prolonged conflict at risk of their own life, limb and liberty are “cowards” simply because they exercise force. No objective, rational person would deem such individuals as “cowards” as that would be ludicrous.
So, if the arguments for pacifism are fundamentally flawed (or at least are based on gross oversimplifications of complex natural/social phenomena) why does this ideology persist? What allows it to take root in the minds of people who are generally rational in their approach to complex situations?
The answer: propaganda. In our modern society conflict has become a “bad” thing because it hinders order imposed by the state – primarily due to the fact that the use of force to rectify ongoing exploitation by the establishment has been demonized by the state-run education system: young minds are molded into believing that the presently accepted outlets for dissent are sufficient to change social policy whilst any means used to undermine the state are forbidden – that only authority has the “right” to use force to punish those it calls “criminals” or other dissidents.
As the students age, the education system presents them with a skewed version of history and biases the student towards passiveness – the violence of the state is presented in heroic terms whilst violence used by non-state actors (oft referred to as “terrorists”) is condemned, the deeds of pacifists such as Gandhi and MLK (overrated men in my opinion…) are exalted whilst those of Bagha Jatin, Malcolm X and other revolutionaries are downplayed, ignored or else reviled and the student is indoctrinated into looking at the world through a lens that is Manichean in nature (peace is “good,” regardless of the price – force is “bad” unless used by the state to “preserve peace”). Considering this kind of indoctrination it’s no wonder so many people who would otherwise seek to overthrow the establishment by any means necessary turn to pacifism: they are truly convinced that they can reason with the state – that a monopoly on force gives a fuck about what they think and can be reformed!
But this is exactly what the state wants – a docile public that won’t take any action that will pose a serious threat to it. Thus the reason peaceful, non-violent institutions of change (in theory, at least) are promoted: if the state can’t condition people to be mindless worker bees (the model citizens of modern society), they instead condition them with a false sense of empowerment – convince dissidents who would otherwise be up in arms against it that the state cares about their protest marches, petitions and votes at the ballot box. People preoccupied with meaningless forms of resistance pose no threat to the ruling monopoly on force; and this, my friends, is the reason why pacifism is a socio-political poison.
In conclusion, the ideology of pacifism is one of powerlessness – in theory it is hopelessly flawed and in practice it renders individuals brimming with revolutionary potential impotent. I’m not implying the use of force is the end-all-be-all to our social crisis, but it is a key tool for any revolutionary movement: to rob a movement of this ability is to effectively neuter resistance to the established powers – protest marches, petitions and other public forms of dissent make nice symbols to rally behind, but they have no teeth and pose no real threat to power (hence the reason there’s no serious move to ban them).
I implore all who read this to awaken from their slumber and see the world as it is – that the beast that presently controls it will not be reasoned with and cannot be opposed in any significant way through peaceful means. I ask you: is the way of pacifism so dear that it is to be followed at the price of accepting the chains of state rule? My answer is that peace is not so dear as to be purchased at the price of slavery – what say you?
Azazel- The violence of the state is presented in heroic terms whilst violence used by non-state actors (oft referred to as “terrorists”) is condemned, the deeds of pacifists such as Gandhi and MLK (overrated men in my opinion) are exalted whilst those of
Here we go again with Gandhi, Azazel. In future, I strongly suggest you contact me to clarify your points about him.
At the age of 37, Gandhi celebrated violence, revelled in it – so long as the targets were blacks in Southern Africa, whom he called ‘kaffirs’. He’s left lines showing his disappointment when a colonial punitive expedition failed to hunt more of them down.
In the First World War he organised an ambulance corps to help the British and urged Indian support to the colonial war.
In the interwar period he was always happy playing political games, and forced his political opponent and rival SC Bose into escaping India to form an army in exile. For Gandhi, the colonial state’s violence against Indians always seemed acceptable. He went out of his way to stop Indians from retaliating.
There’s more evidence that Gandhi’s alleged commitment to non-violence was a sham. In 1942, he called for a Quit India Movement against the British, which certainly didn’t remain non-violent. At the same time, the Japanese had captured Burma and the aforementioned Bose was soon to arrive at Singapore to become the head of a 3 division Indian National Army. According to the Congress Party politician Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Gandhi had been poised to call for a violent anti-British uprising if the Japanese had indeed invaded India at that juncture, presumably so he could take credit for the liberation from British rule. Unfortunately the Japanese only invaded in 1944. By then the tide of war had obviously turned, Gandhi was in jail, and if a liberation had happened it would have been Bose who’d have got the credit. So Gandhi kept his mouth shut.
Even in his personal life he was a petty tyrant. His children hated him.
I could go on and on about Gandhi. All day. I’ve scarcely even begun.
Now, I’ll address the rest of your article in a separate response.
1. Yes, violence is natural. But so is conflict avoidance. Our closest living biological relatives, the bonobos, are above all else known for conflict avoidance. You’re presenting only one side of the issue there.
2. Violent revolution needs to have a plan if it is to be successful. You mention Jatin Das (“Bagha Jatin”). Like most Indian revolutionaries, his activities were stunningly insignificant, ineffective and incompetent. Instead of doing the hard work of indoctrinating, recruiting and training a guerrilla army,these men formed fragmented cells which performed a few random acts of small scale violence, assassinated a civil servant or policeman, and were then squashed flat. They are no advertisement for violence.
3. I am strongly in favour of violence as a legitimate anticolonial tool. In fact, it is the only viable anticolonial tool short of waiting for the colonial state to collapse due to external factors. We’ve already seem how violence has thwarted the Empire’s imperial agenda in Iraq and Afghanistan. But said violemce has to have a chance of success,or be discredited as a tool by those with vested interests in delegitimising it, as in India.
3. Violence against one’s own state as a tool of protest is stupid unless the state is weak to the point of being unable to launch an effective counter attack. It’s something states want to provoke because it gives them an excuse to destroy revolutions. At the least, one needs an army with all that entails to take on a state and win, like Castro and Guevara did.
Az, I am actually in agreement with most of what you said.
Violence is natural, it’s evolutionary. Most of the misconceptions you mentioned are exactly that. The liberal media pressures to see all violence as something wrong, while the conservative media insists that violence is justified.
It’s neither…and that’s where I guess my disagreement begins. Violence is just human nature. It’s neither right nor wrong. It’s our perception of suffering that makes violence appear to be the “right thing” to do. The State oppressing the weak is the “wrong” thing to do, though evolution suggests its perfectly natural.
As for the call to action of violence, as in we must approve of violence, perhaps even join in it…that’s hard to say. We are all very different animals “of human.” Some of us our organisms that can adapt to change, perhaps even a horrific change. Others cannot and will die trying to keep his environment.
I suppose it belongs to the alphas of our species to stand up for a cause they believe in. Perhaps it’s right, perhaps it’s wrong. Washington, Jefferson and Company certainly felt justified. However, their baby has matured into a totaliterean state of its own right.
I suppose I’m far too cynical to actually sanction a political party or a faction. The whole “there will be casualties” argument, justifying rebellion, screams militarism. It’s the exact thing the government says.
I don’t like violence but suggesting there’s ever going to be an end to it is frankly idealistic.
Great article though.
I’m not sure where you’re coming from Bill. You are in support of war only if the side has a real chance of victory?
“Concentrate an absolutely superior force. Fight no battle you are not certain of winning”. – Mao Zedong.
Maybe that clarifies my position?
1. I only know what I learned in college about Gandhi (obviously, the information was quite biased in favor of idolizing him) – even then I thought the guy was overrated. If what you’re telling me is true, my opinion does not change one bit.
2. All revolutionary forces start as small cells (even Che Guavera’s guerrilla army started this way) and yes often they do get crushed, but even if a particular movement is destroyed it can serve as in inspiration for others to arise (as in the case of Bagha Jatin – thus the reason I cited him as an example).
3. Regarding use of violence as insurection against the state – consider that the U.S./NATO empire is spreading its forces increasingly thin in its attempts to control the flow of oil (the life blood of the empire): if this continues (and I have no reason to think it won’t) a succesful guerrilla campaign will become a possibility in the near future – especially with growing economic crisis coming to bear (which will provide a fertile recruiting ground for guerrilla movements).
As i mentioned on Mitch’s post, i don’t believe violence; of itself; is an inherent human trait, but violent reaction to perceived or real endangerment is. The Inuit are ferocious and fearless in their hunts for whales and Polar Bears, but they are an extremely gentle society. Until the incorporation of the White Colonialist, they were strangers to the thought of exerting violence against each other or their neighbors. To this day, you’ll see a more tolerant and milder view toward aggressors among the Inuit than is normally exhibited even by those who profess to peace keeping methods.
I believe in the values of non-violent solutions and believe they have to occur first, at the domestic level. However, i find a state that uses violence means as a tool for enforcing its will while at the same time advocating non-violent solutions a complete sham. You cannot exert violence without a negative reaction, whether the reaction is submission, retreat or rebellion. In fact, submission has a life expectancy; sometimes short, sometimes long, but eventually wanders into the clans of retreat, which harbor and nourish the seeds of rebellion.
On the subject of Che Guevara, may i add that even though the CIA riddled his body with bullets, ending his life, it did not end the revolution. His death unified the masses against their oppressors in a manner Castro was not able. The revolution took wings; all the way into Central America and beyond. He was, essentially, a non-violent man, a doctor who found no hope for the problems of poverty, slave conditions and abusive treatment without revolution.
Actually, collaboration is natural as well, and the point people sometimes make, that violence is somehow part of an evolutionary adaptation is not based on any science at all, It’s merely a belief. The science actually says the opposite, that humans evolved through collaboration, not violence.
As a Latino, I always find it quite funny to see US citizens hold him up as an example, often cleaving to a one-sided myth of the man. while Che engaged in violent means, he also utilized nonviolent means. for example, he engaged a radical critical pedagogy that eventually resulted in raising the literacy rates of Cubans from being the worst among Latin@ nations to the best.
In fact, it is in the life of Che, and other latin@ revolutionaries leaders, such as the Puerto Ricans Pedro Albizu Campos and Lolita Lebron, that we can actually see which parts of the revolutionary strategies had the most effect. In the case of Che and many others, their nonviolent means have endured and have had a more lasting impact than their violent means.
And violence is cowardice. I don’t give a shit about Che. He lived and died by the sword, goo for HIM. I have documented that 80% of war casualties are women and children. If, knowing this, you still foment for violent means, then you’re a coward. t
Finally, your post is to me laughable, to pout it mildly. I’m not being facetious or mean, it’s just the spectacle of some calling nonviolence a pathology is so beyond the pale that I cannot, in all good conscience, take it seriously.
Your “argument” if one call it that, fails because it confuses passivity with pacifism, appeasement with nonviolence and that only shows you really have,’t studied your subject matter.
I am a nonviolent pacifist who’s also well-versed in at least two forms of martial Arts (Wing Chun and Aikido). Being a pacifist doesn’t mean you allow to yourself to be abused for nothing, it means meeting hatred with compassion. It means not meeting force with force, but using the force of hatred and transforming THAT.
One last thing: Theodore Roszak, professor of history and director of the Ecopsychology Institute at California State University, once commented: “People try nonviolence for a week, and when it doesn’t work, they go back to violence, which hasn’t worked for centuries.”
What Roszak means is that violence, even when it succeeds, has major side-effects.
A violent struggle will tend to bring about more destruction of life and property. The difference does not arise because nonviolent struggles are aimed at ‘nice’ enemies.
The difference arises because, in a violent struggle, the violence of each side goads the other to greater violence. Also, each side uses the violence of the other side to justify its own violence.
But I’ll leave at that. Again, I find it preposterous, given the historical and contemporary factual record, that anyone would champion violence and label nonviolent struggle a pathology in the same breath. SMDH
“Violence…hasn’t worked for centuries.”
That quote is so mind-bogglingly stupid that I’m disappointed that you saw fit to use it.
Violence has been THE prime mover of history. Your own nation wouldn’t have existf without it. You say violence is cowardly? Go say that to George Washington. Go say that to any of the others who stood up violently and victoriously to tyranny.
You love Gandhi? Fine. Did his alleged non-violence stop the Brits from starving three million Indians to death in 1943?
“Actually, collaboration is natural as well, and the point people sometimes make, that violence is somehow part of an evolutionary adaptation is not based on any science at all, It’s merely a belief. The science actually says the opposite, that humans evolved through collaboration, not violence.”
You speak of the two as though they are mutually exclusive – as I posted earlier in response to your article, they’re not.
“As a Latino, I always find it quite funny to see US citizens hold him up as an example, often cleaving to a one-sided myth of the man. while Che engaged in violent means, he also utilized nonviolent means. for example, he engaged a radical critical pedagogy that eventually resulted in raising the literacy rates of Cubans from being the worst among Latin@ nations to the best.”
I’m familiar with his works – and I also know that the existing Cuban government had to be destroyed (a violent operation) for any of those changes to be implemented! I’ll haply confess that the warrior does eventually have to give way to something else, but before any new order is introduced the old has to be removed (which is never a peaceful process).
“I have documented that 80% of war casualties are women and children. If, knowing this, you still foment for violent means, then you’re a coward.”
You never get tired of banging this tin pot – a variation of the “violence begets violence” argument I call “the argument from collateral damage.” Take a good look at the kind of force I’ve been advocating from the start: primarily I focused on preparation for conflict with repressive powers (the state in particular) – in other words, the kind that are going to be violent no matter what you do (meaning there will be extensive collateral damage and loss of civilian life *regardless* of whether or not you pick up a gun and fight back).
Tell me why you think I published that survival guide a couple months back? Because civilization as we know it is drawing to a close (due to the onset of peak oil – the resource that makes life as we have come to know it possible is running out) and it’s very likely that a police state so powerful it would make Nazi Germany look a pussy will arise and exterminate those the state considers the “excess population” (either by directly killing them off or by starving them to death). You speak of these war casualties as though they can be prevented when the Four Horsemen have already left the stables!
I don’t like it nor do I look forward to any of this, but it’s all out of my hands – all I can do is sound the alarm and hope those who hear prepare for the coming darkness…
“I am a nonviolent pacifist who’s also well-versed in at least two forms of martial Arts (Wing Chun and Aikido).”
Not to ridicule your skills or anything, but I doubt that’s going to be enough for what’s ahead – I spent a couple years studying hapkido/tae kwon do myself, but found out how woefully inefficient these arts were in real combat scenarios when I first started militia training (my combat instructor, a disgruntled ex-marine, had me unlearn it all and replaced my old training with a combination of Marine Corps Martial Arts Program [MCMAP] and krav maga).
You may be able to hold your own against a common street tough, but I doubt that you’d fair well against a fully-trained agent of the state’s military or paramilitary forces – let alone a five man fireteam. If I were you, I’d find some one skilled in military hand-to-hand combat techniques and learn all I could from him to shore up any weakness your style might have against their kind…
Here is the violence taking place on Wall Street
Yes, that has not escaped my attention – just yesterday I saw a video of NYPD paramilitaries (yes, as far as I’m concerned the police forces are paramilitary organizations) corner about a dozen female protestors behind an orange barrier and then mace them without any provocation at all.
And this kind of shit is just the tip of the iceberg – these paramilitary operators have been known to do things that make this particular action look like a Sunday picnic!
Yet again, you have managed to captivate my interest with another great write up. I find it all highly interesting. Please keep up with more of the awesome posts I look forward to your next one.
Pacifists, and conflict avoiding corporate managers retaliate against people who: retaliate against original aggression, or who organize defense. Pacifists hate defense.
Examples: gun control activists, attacks against grooming gang protestors.
Every time terrorists kill innocent civilians, pacifists start hunting for patriots voicing their concerns about sources of terrorism.
For decades, hollywood movies were teaching us to not harm those who want to kill us. The last 5 minutes of every movie is the same: the good guy has a grip on the bad guy but lets him go saying “we are better than him”.