Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Good Example of the Practicality of Pacifism

Pacifism annoys me in a particularly unique way. Unlike other philosophical ideas, it's suicidal in the most naive and quickest way, and I cannot project what kind of rationale pacifists maintain to hold such a belief. I argued on my other blog in my essay Dr. Dolittleism in Foreign Policy why such a belief is so dangerous, and was prompted by an example I saw in a Saturday morning cartoon. Since then I've noticed an even better example in the Japanese anime One Piece.

The scene involved Franky, a man who turned himself into a cyborg after being nearly fatally injured and left for dead in a garbage dump. In the present, he had been abandoned in a wintry place called "Genius Island" and was in danger, for his supply of cola -- he's fueled by cola -- was running low. Surgeons managed to restore him by restoring him with tea, but comically it changed his personality from a rambunctious surfer to proper gentlemen, which his rescuer didn't like. In an attempt to return his old personality the person threw him out into the wild to confront dangerous animals, in hope it would bring his high-energy personality back.

Strangely, as part of his gentlemanly nature Franky had become a pacifist as well. When a cyborg gorilla started beating him up Franky only resorted to talking to him, ignoring that the animal was not open to reason. As the fight went on Franky kept getting constantly punched in the face, having his sentences interrupted and peace negotiation efforts cut off again and again. The gorilla simply did not respond at all to Franky's words. Eventually Franky became infuriated, the tea inside him boiling, and he swung around the gorilla like a mace at the surrounding vicious animals, thus promptly ending the violent confrontation in one fell swoop.

I wish this scene had been animated by the time I wrote that essay for my other blog, for it would have made a much better example. It illustrates how nonsensical attempts at calm and respectful peace negotiations are when your enemy isn't open to reason, and how quickly and more rationally the problem is solved when your opponent leaves you no other option. 

I forgot who said this or what the exact words were, but to paraphrase a saying: If the notion that violence begets more violence were true, then we'd (Americans) still be fighting the Japanese and the Middle East would be peaceful. The opposite is true, and Americans are going to keep dying in our present wars until that is fully understood.


  1. There is one aspect of pacifism with does make sense: not performing certain acts that are so violent, so malevolent, that doing them will turn the actor (and those involved in approving of and making the act possible) hateful of himself, other people, and of life as such; acts so bad that they would cause such anxiety, stress, and misery that the person would not care to live anymore or would turn to violence and unprincipled action out of his new-found malevolence.

    For example, I cannot think of any situation where I would dump acid on a person's face or cut someone's fingers or toes off. Even in an emergency self-defense situation, where it was the quickest, surest thing in reach to do, it could destroy a person; both outcomes are bad, but people don't recognize that doing it is just as bad if not worse than letting yourself be harmed or trying to defend oneself via a less sure but not malevolent action; if in such a situation, I think the proper thing to do is try to find any other option of defending oneself. I could easily imagine a person doing such an act, even in self-defense, becoming so horrified with what he did that he kills himself not too long afterwords.

    There could be a nuclear bomb about to go off and the person with the key-code to turn it off is captured. It would be better for the world to end than to do certain awful things. Doing those violent, torturous acts would, in time, destroy the world anyway. Accepting those types of tortuous-violent acts as okay, even in those types of situations, would morally corrupt and destroy society and turn it into a malevolent, nihilistic, unprincipled society.

    I think that is the aspect of pacifism that people properly sympathize with; not doing such awful things that will destroy them in the long run.

    Things like waterboarding are on the borderline; I'm not sure if I'm okay with waterboarding, but for now I guess I might be okay with it while I make my mind up. Acid dumping and cutting off toes and fingers--no. Sleep deprivation and other similar things I think are acceptable in extreme cases where a person is a violent criminal and very likely has information about terrorist plans. I think there is a limit though even with more benign torture.

    Any criminal has to be allowed to think, breath, sleep, eat, read, etc., to be given a fair chance at reforming, while in prison. That's the only way a society improves; even the worst criminals, while alive in prison, are human beings with the capacity for good, and to give up on them is to evade and ignore a correctable, if difficult, problem. People can temporarily do bad things, but it is impossible to existentially renounce morality, sensual pleasure, and joy-based values and goals. Good and bad are not neutral or automatic. Good is normal; it has to be chosen, but it is normal, and not an arbitrary construct.

  2. I'm not sure where you're getting these examples of acid dumping and cutting off fingers from, but the issue of how to use violence is very context-sensitive. You ultimately need to use whatever amount of force is necessary to get the aggressor to stop attacking you, and that unfortunately sometimes mean death, if that iss the only solution. If anything, such tactics would be better for human society in the long-run, not worse, because if you sacrifice yourself to an aggressor then he can just go on attacking and killing more innocent people, whereas the appropriate amount of force, whatever it need be, would end his reign.

    For example, one thing I've heard is that the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan during WWII saved more lives than it killed. The bombs ended the war, so while the isolated attacks caused more damage than guns could do in one fell swoop, an alternative scenario would bear a longer war that in the end equals more lives lost. Instead the war was ended promptly, and now we're on peaceful terms with Japan.

    I don't think it's true that someone would automatically become mentally agonized in committing certain acts of violence out of necessary self-defense, such as dumping acid on someone. If that were true, then wouldn't a great portion of our army been mentally disturbed? Our ideas drive our emotions, so how a person would react to a particular situation depends on his ideas. A person with pacifist ideals may become distraught at having killed another in self-defense, even if he were objectively justified, but someone such as I would feel no moral guilt, because I hold the conclusion that for whatever I did, the aggressor backed me into a corner and forced me to do it.

    But regarding self-defense, again, it's a very context-sensitive issue. When meeting a thug in an alley it might be best to flee. When dealing with someone who has hostages, the better course might be to snipe him. An armed robber might be able to simply be arrested and put in prison for reform as you said. But in situations involving war, you need to go all-out with physical force to break the morale of the enemy, otherwise lives will continually be lost by endless fighting. A swift, devastating blow is better than a slow, massively deteriorating struggle.

  3. I read something on the topic of torture today that I'm curious of your thoughts on. From today's David Brooks column ( in The New York Times, describing a recent Syrian torture victim:

    "By now you have probably heard about Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. He was the 13-year-old Syrian boy who tagged along at an antigovernment protest in the town of Saida on April 29. He was arrested that day, and the police returned his mutilated body to his family a month later. While in custody, he had apparently been burned, beaten, lacerated and given electroshocks. His jaw and kneecaps were shattered. He was shot in both arms. When his father saw the state of Hamza’s body, he passed out."

    "The State Department’s Human Rights Report has described the regime’s habitual torture techniques, including pulling out fingernails, burning genitals, hyperextending the spine, bending the body around the frame of a wheel while whipping the victim and so on."

    Do you think this type of torture would be okay to do to captured Islamic terrorists with information of terrorist plans, even if just in circumstances where there's little time? Is there a certain line of depravity that shouldn't be crossed? Is there any line that shouldn't be crossed, even towards information-holding terrorists?

  4. Within the context of that example I think it is of course immoral since the government was doing it as a sick punishment rather than for extracting information, but for a person holding terrorist information it's a different matter.

    If it were, say, a peaceful American who had the information but refused to give it up, then I'd say the government would have the right to imprison him for withholding information vitally important for national security, but not to have any right to physically harm him since he's not guilty of violating any one's rights and there's no evidence that he'd potentially do so, so I'd say either imprison him in a safe environment -- not with dangerous criminals -- until he either gives the information or serves a proper sentence for what is essentially betrayal to the country.

    A terrorist with information of terrorist plans, on the other hand, not only has information vital to national security, but is also guilty of either violating rights -- up to actual murder -- or planning to, and should be considered a wartime enemy with no rights and therefore someone who can morally be tortured to extract that information, unless he voluntarily gives it up before such means become necessary.

    However, I've given thought to your position and grant that perhaps a benevolent society might just not be able to stomach some forms of torture, unless the military could condition operatives to be psychologically stronger. Nonetheless, there are still forms of torture that are far less gruesome than the ones you quoted above, and can still be utilized to push a terrorist to his mental limits without mutilating him or causing him to go insane.

    Waterboarding, for instance, can be horrifying, but it's primarily psychological. From what I understand, what happens is that the subject is restrained and blindfolded, and then has a strong stream of water poured on his face at an angle, partially going up his nose I think. It doesn't inflict any bodily harm, but it supposedly induces a panic reflex that makes the subject feel as if he's drowning, even though he's not and intellectually knows he's not. It qualifies as torture, but is hardly gruesome. There's probably other tactics equally or more psychologically pressing, such as sensory deprivation, extreme temperature discomfort, and so on that doesn't leave the subject physically damaged for life, but still imposes extreme mental stress.

    All in all, this is a very sophisticated military question. Torture would be moral to extract information from wartime enemies without rights, but it's definitely a question what *forms* of torture are *practical*. I think pulling out fingernails and teeth, and hyper-extending the spine would be moral forms of torture, but a benevolent society would possibly, maybe probably, devise other forms that would be mentally extreme but at the same time not impose long-term bodily or mental damage. Waterboarding, for instance, is excruciatingly stressful and could cause a suspect to crack and divulge the information the military needs without long-term damage on his health.

    Still, while a society may desire to avoid gruesome forms of torture, they might still be necessary. For instance, the military could have classes of torture where they move on to more and more damaging forms only as the suspect proves resistant to the lesser forms, or they could skip right to the most intense tactics if they were in an emergency such as trying to prevent an atomic weapon from being launched within less than a day.

    I haven't read the book yet, but perhaps you might be interested in war theory reading such as *Nothing Less Than Victory*, written by Objectivist philosopher John Lewis.

  5. That's one of the 10,000 books I'd like to read but don't have time for. I have read a very good excerpt from it on appeasement to Germany in World War II, printed in The Objective Standard, and listened to his lecture "The Failure of the Homeland Defense: The Lessons from History" ( posted on ARI's website.


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