steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

The New Pacifism

poliphilo recently published a post in which he declared that, although he had considered himself a pacifist, he now feels, given that he thinks attacking Gadaffi is justified, that he can no longer do so.

That seemed a fair analysis to me. If you believe that war is justified, then you may be right or you may be wrong, but one thing you're not is a pacifist. However, several people replied reassuringly, saying that pacifism comes in many "flavors", not all of which involve outright opposition to war. One commenter quoted from a longer definition: "the obliteration of force except in cases where it is absolutely necessary to advance the cause of peace".

I'd not heard this phrase, and wondered where it came from. A quick google shows that it appears in many places on the internet, including Wikipedia - and indeed several of the other places cite Wikipedia as their source - but I've not been able to find an author. (Perhaps someone out there can help?) The Wiki entry also distinguishes principled from pragmatic pacifism, noting of the former: "Principled pacifism holds that at some point along the spectrum from war to interpersonal physical violence, such violence becomes morally wrong."

Now, I'm no moral philosopher, but I have to say I think this all sounds like a load of hooey. Putting aside psychopaths, criminals and imperialists (three groups with a large intersection), pretty much everyone who goes to war thinks they're doing it to advance the cause of peace. By this definition Winston Churchill is a pacifist. Hell, George Bush Sr is a pacifist!

As for believing that "at some point along the spectrum from war to interpersonal physical violence, such violence becomes morally wrong" I'm not sure what that even means. Do principled pacifists think it's fine to kick the shit out of people one-on-one or to gun people down in small groups, but not to bomb a whole city? Or maybe it's the other way around? I've no idea - but it doesn't sound much like the pacifism I learned about as a wee Quaker.

It may seem trivial to get antsy about the meanings of words when people are dying, but as George Orwell noticed, words and mass-murder are intimately related. If we're allowed to call bombing pacifism now, can fucking for virginity be far behind?
Tags: current affairs, maunderings, misquotation
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