Monday, March 28, 2011

Why be a pacifist?

"All the others. The others who spend their lives believing that we still believe. It is our task in the world to believe things no one else takes seriously. To abandon such beliefs completely, the human race would die. This is why we are here. A tiny minority. To embody old things, old beliefs. The devil, the angels, heaven, hell. If we did not pretend to believe these things, the world would collapse. [...] We are left to believe. Fools, children. Those who have abandoned belief must still believe in us. They are sure that they are right not to believe but they know belief must not fade completely. Hell is when no one believes. There must always be believers. Fools, idiots, those who hear voices, those who speak in tongues. We are your lunatics. We surrender our lives to make your nonbelief possible. You are sure that you are right but you don't want everyone to think as you do. There is no truth without fools. We are your fools, your madwomen, rising at dawn to pray, lighting candles, asking statues for good health, long life."

--Don DeLillo, White Noise

Why be a pacifist? When the world dismisses us as naive, ignorant, stupid, immature? Why be a pacifist, when our cry is dismissed, mocked, marginalized, and ignored? Why be a pacifist, when we turn to the liberal writers you've come to read for their insight and find some of them embracing military violence? Why be a pacifist, when there are evil people filling the world with brutality and blood and our beliefs feel utopian and ideals feel sheltered?

Because in this world, there needs to be somebody there to always preach an antiwar message to the others. There needs to be somebody there who will always be skeptical of war's aims, that will always fear war's consequences, that will always remind people of its costs. There needs to be people there to point out the horrors and atrocities of war. Somebody, even a very few, must be there to always reject the rationale for war, no matter how just or humanitarian it seems. There needs to be somebody that will reject war regardless of who calls for it. Somebody must be there to try and find other solutions (for nonviolence is not isolationist, not opposed to intervention but opposed to violent intervention). There must be somebody to claim that violence is always immoral.

If pacifists gain the power of decision making, then you can tell me how hopelessly naive and lost we are, how harmful or wrong-headed our beliefs are. But until then, while you are running things, we need to be here, rejecting violence and demanding peace.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wars do things you don't want them to do.

Matthew Yglesias on "The Mostly Hypothetical Case for Armed Humanitarianism:"

"I think it’s telling that enthusiasts for this kind of war typically have to make the case with reference to hypothetical success stories about military operations we didn’t undertake. These are useful cases to deploy in arguments, because since the intervention didn’t happen one doesn't need to wrestle with the potentially problematic consequences and downside risks. [...] I think it’s a problem when all your best evidence is drawn from scenarios that didn’t unfold." (emphasis mine)

One reason to oppose war, to avoid war, and to be skeptical of claims calling for war, is that wars almost always have unpredictable, unforeseen consequences. These unexpected consequences, which can be deeper, wider, and go on longer than war proponents' imaginations seem to grasp, are almost always negative. When you unleash a war, that war becomes a thing itself, going places and doing things you didn't know it would do and certainly didn't plan for.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Antiwar

Because shit like this happens every goddam time.

A pacifist cannot easily claim that without war, everything will be just fine. Jesus said "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword," shortly before being violently killed (many of his nonviolent followers were also violently killed; it was some time later that his followers quit practicing nonviolence). The world, in addition to beauty and love, is filled with evil and brutality. A pacifist does not look at the violence in Libya with blindness toward its awfulness, and does not suffer the illusion that Libya's problems will go away if left alone. But a pacifist knows not only the moral problem of attempting to use violence to stop violence, but also knows the practical problem of humanity, of atrocity, of blood.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Pleasure Argument

At Feministe, Jill makes the pleasure argument for eating meat:

"A lot of people also (and this is my personal reason) view food as a fundamental pleasure, and see it as something to be experimented with and shared and tried and tasted in all of its forms. The idea of removing a major source of food from the list of options isn’t going to fly if you believe that food is for something more than just to fill you up. But that pleasure-centered view of food — that it’s not just fuel, but also something that should nourish your body well and should be variable and exciting..." (emphasis mine)

The defense of a behavior based on its pleasure only works if it is a harmless behavior. If your pleasure causes no harm, then it is very easy to defend it. But if the behavior you take pleasure in does cause harm, then it is extremely difficult to defend that behavior on the grounds of pleasure itself. For example, if I were to argue that I view kicking elderly people in the shins as a fundamental pleasure, and see it as something to be experimented with and shared and tried in all of its forms, you would rightly recognize that regardless of how much pleasure I might get from kicking elderly people in the shins, I would be wrong to do it because of the harm it causes.

So to defend eating meat on the grounds that food is supposed to be pleasurable is to implicitly claim that your individual pleasure is more important than the life and suffering of an animal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Offering Peace

Should a pacifist eat meat? There are of course many sources, and many expressions, of a pacifist ethic. But if one is practicing nonviolence, does it not seem strange to rely on violence against animals for one's daily living?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

By their actions

I grew up believing that public education is a social good, and that teaching is a noble vocation that serves the social good. I can't help but feel that the contingent in power in Wisconsin right now simply does not believe this. When they consider making massive, deep cuts to public education a viable solution to a budget problem (when they see any tax increases as a bigger social problem than serious funding cuts to education), and when their actions show how little they respect teachers (some public professionals have been exempted from their attack on collective bargaining rights, after all; those professions they evidently do respect), it's hard to believe they even think what we do is important.

Whose side?

"I don’t believe God picks sides in politics. I believe God calls us to be on His side."

--Scott Walker, quoted in Matthew Rothschild's "Scott Walker Believe He's Following Orders from the Lord"

The Republican Bible is repeatedly filled with passages showing that God is on the side of the rich and powerful. Weirdly, the Bible I've read says exactly the opposite.

I don't need to take seriously the claim that the Republican Party is about Christian values--not when its primary goal is to enact policies that benefit the rich at the expense of everybody else. Whether it's working to eliminate governmental environmental regulations so that industries can pollute the air, land, and water the rest of us share, or staunchly opposing tax increases and instead cutting and eliminating institutions and programs for social good (Amanda Marcotte notes, "Consider that the top 400 wealthiest Americans have a combined wealth that’s almost equal to what the bottom 153 million Americans have. Consider that Republicans are saying that’s not enough, and they will do whatever it takes to break working people and turn this country into a banana republic"), Republicans are squarely on the side of the rich and powerful. Gross economic inequality is of no concern.

This is not a partisan attempt to claim that the Democratic policy platform is sanctioned by God--but then, Democrats rarely claim that it is.

Peter Laarman in Religion Dispatches:

"It is simple class violence, waged (as always) by the powerful against the vulnerable. It’s nice, I guess, that Scott Walker loves Jesus. He’s clearly not acquainted with the Jesus who lifts up the lowly and pulls down the powerful from their thrones."

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Rather than..."

I agree with Monica Potts (and others) who have criticized attempts to criminalize exposing animal cruelty on farms: there's something cracked in punishing X for exposing Y's sins. But this sentence sticks out, too:

"What's interesting here is the lengths people will go to in order to avoid responding to consumer demand. Because they're increasingly aware of the violations against animals we commit in the name of feeding ourselves, a growing number of American consumers are calling for changes in the way we produce meat. Rather than respond to that demand [...] companies try to use their power and influence to get out of changing." (emphasis mine).

Let me borrow Potts' structure to make a different, but related point:

What's interesting here is the lengths people will go to in order to avoid giving up meat. Because of efforts to expose and reconsider the problem, they're increasingly aware of the violations against animals we commit in the name of feeding ourselves. Rather than respond by giving up meat, many people try to use their influence as advocates and consumers to reform and improve the system in order to get out of changing their own habits.

Industrial agriculture (through its political enablers) indeed appears to be taking efforts to avoid making changes. But in advocating for reform of a system, a system they could choose to abstain from if they were willing, many consumers are also taking efforts to avoid making changes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On Being a Leftist Christian

Most of the ethical, political concerns that I believe my religion requires (concern for the poor, opposition to war, striving for social equality, care for the environment) are today more likely to be concerns shared by secular minded folk, while religious minded folk (at least politically) often seem opposed and even hostile to these concerns.

So to see goals that I consider deeply Christian goals be achieved, it is better for society to become much more secular.