Friday, November 14, 2008

Human Smoke Quotes

Someday, I'm going to write an essay titled "Why I am almost, very nearly a pacifist." I very much want to be 100% pacifist, and I always seem make the case for pacifism, but like anything else, I recognize it has it's problems. I'll say them out loud at some point, when my essay is done.

In the meantime, here's some more pacifism advocacy: Quotes from Human Smoke: The beginnings of WWII, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker, which PG suggested I read last summer.

Captain Philip S. Mumford, a former British officer in Iraq, joined the Peace Pledge Union. He gave a speech about why. “what is the difference between throwing 500 babies into a fire and throwing fire from aeroplanes on 500 babies? He asked.

“There is none.”
It was January 5, 1937

And one from Aldous Huxley:

Aldous Huxley was in Hollywood writing Ends and Means, an inquiry into the philosophy of nonviolence. It was 1937.

The international police force that people were clamoring for was a mistake and a misnomer, Huxley believed. “The police act with the maximum of precision; they go out and arrest the guilty person,” he wrote. “Nations and group of nations act through their armed forces, which can only act with the maximum of imprecision, killing, maiming, starving and ruining millions of human beings, the overwhelming majority of whom have committed no crime of any sort.”

An international police force was in actuality a force for international massacre. “If you approve of indiscriminate massacres, then you must say so,” he wrote. “You have no right to deceive the unwary by calling your massacre-force by the same name as the force which controls traffic and arrests burglars.”

Nonviolence was, Huxley thought, the only intergovernmental response to violence that had any practical chance of working. It worked with nations as it did with individuals:

"We have all seen how anger feeds upon answering anger, but is disarmed by gentleness and patience. We have all known what it is to have our meannesses shamed by somebody else’s magnanimity; what it is to have our dislikes melted away by an act of considerateness; what it is to have our coldness and harshnesses transformed into solicitude by the example of another’s unselfishness."

Violence made men worse, Huxley said; nonviolence made them better.

When I say war is evil, even when it's intentions seem to be good, what I'm saying is that violence makes people worse. War is indiscriminate, no matter who we are going after and what we are trying to accomplish.


Fingtree said...

My Grandparents were 'Dunker', from my Father's side. Here is a link to know more about Dunker's if your interested:
My Grandfather passed away in 2005 at 96 years old. Upon his passing, I learned a great deal about him from the Church that I never knew in all the years prior. He was a pacifist during World War II. He was ostracized for it here in Indiana and it caused him great difficulty in getting employment.
Upon reading more about the Dunker people and their beliefs, I found that the southern branches of Dunker's; Virginia, Carolina's, etc., resisted slavery as well in the 1800's.
My Grandfather was one of the kindest men I have ever known. To learn of his non conforming resistance, especially during the time of the "Greatest War" (if there is such a thing), made me violently proud.

Patrick Gabridge said...

Very helpful post, Dan. I struggle with trying to come to grips with how I feel about pacifism, especially if it's to come for me in a non-religious context. This helped.

Lazy Gal Tonya said...

I know when I realized there was no way I was a pacifist. After 911 we had that conversation about what would a pacifist do if they were onboard that plane that the terrorists intended to fly into the White House or Senate. If there is something that I personally can do to stop it? Even if that something is violence, I will do it. Just saying "this is wrong" would not have done a bit of good.

Dan S said...

Yea, that's a pretty good test case. It's like "What would you do if an intruder were in your house, violating your wife/daughter, etc." Of course I would do whatever was necessary to stop them.

A lot of pacifists distinguish between force, coercion and violence. For instance, police officers need to use force to stop bad guys, and pacifists (mostly) aren't against the need for police.

Violence is sometimes defined as indiscriminate or unnecessary force. So, that would allow for physically resisting hijackers and such.

But, I'm sure all the academics get thrown out the window when someone is actually faced with a life-threatening situation. And, I actually think that's OK.

That's my complicated answer to violence and pacifism: violence is wrong yet force is sometimes necessary. But if we get into the habit of justifying it, it becomes all too easy to do it indiscriminately.

PG said...

People seem to think they can deflate pacifism by making hypothetical cases where it would be deemed impractical. But nothing is pure, including our newly elected mongrel President-elect.

However, when one is prepared to use violence, violence is more likely to occur. It is very easy for the idea of "self-defense" to transmute into the "preventative self-defense" of the Iraq war, i.e. not self-defense at all.

The pacifist prepares for nonviolent action and response, with faith and acceptance. If the pacifist does resort to a violent act in that hypothetical airplane, it's just something that will have to be defined and determined at a later date.

brownie said...

Allow me to make a slightly different point, but with all the same justifications:

What is the difference between throwing 500 babies into a fire, throwing fire from aeroplans onto 500 babies, and aborting 500 babies? Answer: There is none.

Until pacifists oppose abortion on moral grounds, there will never be any true pacifists.

PG said...

They aren't babies yet. They are fetuses. Catholic dogma opposed male masturbation for similar reasons. Have you ever killed millions of potential babies by destroying some seed?

I am pro-choice and pro-life. But I'm pretty sure the Afghan child killed by U.S. bombs counts as a person, as does the convicted killer on death row.

brownie said...


A pretty lame argument if you ask me. The same argument made by the nazi's about jews. "They're not human beings, they're vermin. So it's okay to slaughter them."

Anyway "fetus" is just a word for a stage of human development. It's still a HUMAN. Its not a chicken or an eagle or a hippo or an ape. It's human. With human DNA, that will become nothing but human. "Fetus" is no different than "infant" "toddler" "adolescent" "adult" or "senior citizen," other than the stage of human life that particular human happens to be in at that time. Killing a "fetus" is no more morally defendable than killing a "toddler"

PG said...

Killing a "fetus" is no more morally defendable than killing a "toddler" -- Sorry, I can't agree.

PG said...

I will never have to face the question of abortion, personally. I'm male. And I've had a vasectomy.

Have you ever been confronted with the decision yourself, brownie?

Personally, I did make the decision to adopt a child.

So it is a little bit disturbing to me that you are so willing to accuse others for decisions made in cases where there is much ambiguity and doubt.

Don't just ban or condemn abortion. Work to alleviate adverse circumstances of health and poverty.

To say pacifism is impossible as long as there is abortion is a way of eluding one's personal confrontation with the morality of violence.

It is no less rationalization than the way some women, in some circumstances, may rationalize their decision to have an abortion.

Dan S said...

I would guess many pacifists are anti abortion. I would guess most religious pacifists are.

Brownie, if you are against the destruction of anything with human DNA that could lead to a baby, then PG is right - don't spill any semen, because one of them could eventually lead to a baby, and then you'd be a babykiller.

It's silly to say there's no difference between a one-hour old, two-celled fetus, and a walking, talking toddler. Obviously there is a tremendous difference.

Some people draw the line at viability. Others at a beating heart. It's certainly not a black and white issue, regardless of your strong feelings on the matter.

On the other hand, the fact that war is indiscriminate and leads to death of actual black and white humans shoudl not be terribly controversial.

brownie said...

To this: "to say pacifism is impossible as long as there is abortion is a way of eluding one's personal confrontation with the morality of violence"

I simply say...Huh? Violence is violence. Whether its aimed at the adult, child or unborn. So as long as people continue to wage war on the unborn, pacificsm is just an -ISM, and a pie in the sky ideal, and not a viable way of life.

Sperm alone could not lead to a baby and is naturally ejected by the body. The same is true of the egg. Only when they come together is a new, unique, viable life formed. We need to affirm and recognize this fact. And just because there is difference between two human lives doesn't mean one is less valuable than the other. Again, I refer to the nazi scenario.

That said, I have nothing but the greatest respect for those who have taken it upon themselves to aid (unwanted?) children is this world (dan, pg, many nameless others).

PG said...

At first, I was sure Brownie made no sense whatsoever. But I'm rethinking it. I think he/she means that both war and abortion should be made illegal.

PG said...

Brownie wrote: "So as long as people continue to wage war on the unborn, pacificsm is just an -ISM, and a pie in the sky ideal, and not a viable way of life."

This is illogical in so many ways, I am flummoxed.

Who is waging war on the unborn? Am I? I don't think so.

brownie said...

I mean we as a society, or a people, or as a species, not you personally. But I do think those who are ambigious about it, or passive about it, or those that support the "right" to abortion are at least partially to blame for the "war".

Look at the example of pacifiscts who become consciensious objectors. If everyone was a CO, there would be no war. If everyone recognized that abortion is just as morally detestable as war, then it would also cease to exist. I think being anti-abortion is morally related to pacificsm in every way. And in all my discussions about it over the years no one has ever made an argument for it that I found morally defensible.

I've said my Peace.

PG said...

Well, you might think of it this way. Can you outlaw war? If you do, will that stop it from happening?

Or, can you personally refuse to participate in war?

Maybe you would like to prevent other people from having abortions or being gay, but it is not really something that can be legislated.

But to blame pacifism because there are abortions seems like an easy-out for someone who doesn't believe in nonviolence as a viable reality in the first place.

brownie said...


To respond:
1 No.
2 No.
3 Yes.
4 Gay? I'm talking about abortion.
5 I'm not blaming pacifism for abortion, I'm blaming pacifists for supporting it. To me it seems hypocritical; to be against violence except when it comes to the unborn.
6 And finally, I DO believe in non-violence as a viable reality, but I DON'T believe it will come to pass as long as pacifists support violence against the unborn.

PG said...

I'm writing this on the fly. I hope it's coherent. Glad to learn you do support nonviolence.

Gay rights and abortion rights always seem to go hand in hand in these debates, because they have become political wedge issues, misused with no regard to the people they directly impact.

Finally, the assumption that -- because abortion is legal -- people "support" abortion is false. Do you propose that abortion be illegal?

Believing abortion should be a legal possibility is not the same as "supporting violence against the unborn." Far from it.

I can work to alleviate abortion without denying the right to legal abortions.

PG said...

This is making me late for work.

Making abortion illegal will not end abortion; it will just create criminals.

Protesting to make abortion illegal is a cop-out. It's the easy solution for people unable to do the hard work to alleviate the conditions that often lead to abortion.

brownie said...

If laws just create criminals, then lets just chuck them all, then there'll be no need for prisons, police, lawyers, judges, etc., and we'll save all those tax dollars, and we can use them to allieviate those "conditions" that lead to bad behavior. Of course, I'm being obtuse.

Our country's laws should be based on whether they serve the social good, as long as they conform with our country's constitution and principles. My favorite is in the Declaration of Independence, our first national document. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that man is endowed with certain inalienable, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..."

Notice that life is listed first. And that the right is also inalienable. So self-evident was this right to our founders that it didn't really even get much of a mention in the constitution. Unless one counts the amendent that states we are to be secure in our persons.

That's not a cop-out, just a sound moral decision to protect human life in all its forms.

PG said...

Originally, the line about "pursuit of happiness" read "property." This is a capitalist system, after all, a system of Mammon above all.

I wish they would decriminalize hard drugs. That's another system that just creates criminals, furthers poverty, keeps an underclass, and benefits capitalism.

The problem, Brownie, remains that you are dictating faith, ultimately. A fetus is not a toddler. Individual women may have multiple reasons for having an abortion, and you cannot prescribe a blanket solution (illegality). It is between a doctor, a woman, and God, not you. Your use of this issue becomes political, like drug laws, a way of maintaining power and control. I repeat, if you want to alleviate the problem, work to change the conditions of poverty and ignorance. Legislating against abortion is the lazy and heartless way out. It may give you a high and mighty soapbox upon which to flaunt something, but it doesn't help, it won't end abortion, and it is a diversion, not a solution.

brownie said...

A fetus is not a toddler, this is true. But then again a fetus is not a refrigerator or moldy bread or roadkill either, to be tossed away at a whim.

Cordially, I must say you're overreaching your bounds of knowlege too. You don't know anything about me or what makes me tick, though you have assumed a great deal and spouted it as fact (or at least a stereotype). I don't make any assumptions about you because I don't know anything about you, so please don't assume that you know me. Thanks.

I'm not dictating faith, because I don't have any left. Murder is illegal in this country, and I think abortion is murder. So I'm just following a logical train of thought. Nothing to do with faith.

For me, this is not about power or politics or even legislation. I'm more interested in the morality of it. I don't have to be a thief to make a moral judgement on whether theft is wrong, yet that seems to be what your implying by saying that I've never had to decide whether to carry a baby to birth or not. Besides, it's only sidestepping my points. Or my questions.

Is it moral to terminate a pregnancy? Is a pacifist who abhors violence being hypoctrical by not opposing, or at least decrying, abortion as an act of violence?

PG said...

OK, I give up. Abortion is an act of violence. You win. You have made the world a better place.

All I know about you is that you are faithless but a moralist, which strikes me as strange.

And I think you would have been better off protesting the dead and innocent Iraqi toddlers, collateral damage in an illegal war, than protesting women who do not think the way you do.

So, all I ask is one thing. Keep abortion legal. Not everyone has the same definition of morality that you do.
Some of us oppose killing done by the government for purposes of greed, killing done in our name. When the government forces people to have abortions (as was done in China), then I will join you on the protest line.

Dan S said...

Brownie, if a fetus is fully human and killing it is murder, then do you advocate putting in jail copules who have in-vitro fertilization? After all, they combine dozens of sperm-egg combos in petri dishes, but then only use a few of them to actually bring a child to term.

According to your logic, in-vitro fertilization is murder.

brownie said...

No, I advocate outlawing abortion. Still, your scenario is an interesting one I haven't given any thought to. Get back with me on that one after I've formed a more thoughtful opinon. (If you're really interested)

Glad you saw the light, because I am right. ;-) But I didn't win. As long as innocents are slaughtered for someone's selfish convience, and ageism runs rampant, no one wins.

Also, I agree that being both faithless and moral is a strange condition, but not a terrible one. I and others reap the benefits of having a non-violent, caring person around (not sure what those benefits are exactly, but there must be some), while not having to put up with annoying prostelytizing and nit-picky dogma spouting. I'm nit picky, just not about religous dogma.

Is this conversation over? Hmmm. If it is, I'll be gracious and let you have the last word.


PG said...

Thank you for letting me have the last word.

Many people use the abortion issue to deflect focus on other issues of government sponsored violence, specifically the illegal Iraq war. (I have not heard you mention the war, but I'm presuming -- given your pro-life stand -- that you see it in as black and white terms as I do. It is wrong.)

I have been and remain both pro-life and pro-choice.

Abortion should remain legal, as should contraception. Abortion results in the cessation of potential human life, as did my vasectomy.

The End

Fingtree said...

Wow, just noticed the banter here from this post, good stuff.
What I have always found interesting regarding the abortion issue:
Margaret Sanger: One of the most interesting American's in my book, founder of birth control as we know it, had to withstand so much in her time from the moral controlling system that has not changed much through time. Though they have had to change their tactics and have had 'abortion' (Roe vs Wade)to displace the root issue.
The problem is that this country, as promiscuous and filthy as it is, wants also to be religiously pure and moral at the same time. It's the same problem with war, you cannot worship both God and Mammon, it just doesn't fly. Yet, we do it.
When the Catholic church has a problem with handing out condoms on moral grounds, it becomes hypocritical to their issue with abortion. When someone says that killing a fetus is wrong and that killing in war is just, it is hypocritical.
The root of the problem to me is: Religion itself and the interpretations of it by man. The guilt associated with religions teachings by man, like, sex is dirty, while at the same time plastering it all over the television. This guilt, that is generated from religious pedagogics, is played out within the human subconscious and processed. Natural tendencies of sexual activity take place and are acted upon, these then are subject to religion's interpretation of promiscuity and people are judged within these parameters. Margaret Sanger's hardships of her day have always been hard for me to understand, how there could have been opposition to her cause, her cause made such perfect sense to me and was perfectly reasonable. There was no Roe vs Wade in her day. The only explanation is man's guilt himself through religion that is at the root. Also, man's chauvinist tendencies of control over women too.
Sorry, this is all off the cuff, I would have done better to think about this more before ranting, but as usual, time is always a premium.

Fingtree said...

By the way, Margaret Sanger's auto-biography is one of the best reads you will find of an interesting and respectable American in American history.

Fingtree said...

Just a smirch of smudged jizzum jelly on a bed spread of intimacy, could reveal carnal knowledge so valuable that history may repeat itself. Should repetition occur, two pigs in a blanket playing monkeyshine pranks to the beat of: "Shock the Monkey", would dispel all affliction associated with Pentecostal penitence.

Anonymous said...

and then ther's mental masturdation