October 04, 2004

Rain Dance Practice

I don't pretend to be any great philosopher or deep thinker, but I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about pacifism (thanks Nic!), and I'm beginning to sort some things out in my mind. Bear with me a moment while I try to lay this out in some way that makes a little sense.

Some time ago, I remember hearing a comedian talk about Indians doing a Rain Dance. He was wondering if they had a practice first and if they did, and it didn't rain, then how did you know if you did it right?

Pacifism strikes me as offering that same dilemma. You resolve to be peaceful above all - the ideal - and yet when the other guy does violence against you, your only option is more peacefulness. In fact, maybe you weren't peaceful enough and if you'd only try harder then they would get the idea. Except the violence happens again and again, and each time you vow to do better.

The trap lies in believing that everyone is basically good inside. Love thy neighbor. So when he refuses to react accordingly to your peaceful nature (why doesn't he understand?), then you start to look for reasons. And since the problem couldn't be him (you must believe in him), then the problem is you or something else. Nobody likes to admit that they're wrong (but you resolve to try harder just in case), so the problem must be an outside influence. And since the violence is still directed at your side, then it's a simple leap to believing that the blame lies completely on your side.

In nature, a weakness is always exploited. The weakest members of a herd are culled out by predators. A flaw in defence is used by another as an opening to attack. It's instinctive, but refining the tactic is a learned behavior.

Being a pacifist makes you an easy target, but eventaully it is realized by "the bad guys" that you're useful in another way. You advocate for them, because you believe in them. They can't be evil, it must be us! PR is a learned behavior too.

Ghandi was able to use peace as a tool to achieve his goals. Martin Luther King Jr did the same. But in both cases, they were making their points against a culture and society that was already somewhat civilized. The British and American cultures already tended towards peaceful behavior. We've seen no such tendencies from the terrorists in today's world. You can't explain away shooting children in the back. How can you understand the ability to blow up innocent people during their prayers? There's not enough love in the world to change the mind of someone who believes that killing you is what his God wants him to do.

I really want to see peace in the world, and I hope that someday it'll happen (but I don't think it will for a long, long time, if ever). I hope that those who believe in pacifism keep their wits about them and don't fall into the traps inherent in their worldview. I hope for the best but prepare for the worst, because I've learned to be a realist in life. Sometimes, no matter how well you dance, it doesn't rain because it's just not ready to rain.

Posted by Ted at October 4, 2004 06:16 AM
Category: Square Pegs

Great essay, Ted.

Posted by: Susie at October 4, 2004 01:20 PM

Thanks for the link, Ted.

A few thoughts of mine (not necessarily representing any offical "pacifist" view)...

I don't believe that everyone is basically good inside, I believe that everyone has the capacity for good AND evil (not good OR evil, good AND evil.) That's why every time I have a non-peaceful, non-understanding impulse, from "That SOB in accounting screws up my timesheet every week, I wish they'd fire him" to the kneekjerk reaction to a terrorist act, I want to examine my reaction. Am I really going to improve things, or am I just looking for revenge?

Also, I think there's a big difference between being a pacifist and being weak, or worse, becoming a tool of the bad guys. One of the things I'm reading now is a Christian theologian, Walter Wink, who writes about how "turn the other cheek" has been completely misinterpreted. (The gist of it is here: http://www.witherspoonsociety.org/walter_wink.htm). Rather than explaining away violence, the challenge is to find ways to actively counter violence and oppression without resorting to the same methods. (And no, I don't have an answer for what those nonviolent ways might be in our current situation. I wish I did.)

Just like you hope pacifists avoid the trap of becoming tools of the "bad guys," I hope that people who feel that our only recourse right now is a violent one avoid the traps of vengence & bloodlust in the name of defense.

Posted by: nic at October 4, 2004 02:43 PM

Pacifism has always confused me.

What? You won't FIGHT, you won't DIE or you won't KILL for something in which you believe?

I can kinda understand the third, but the first two are just foreign concepts to me.

Reminds me of the one scene in "Field of Dreams,"

Terence Mann : I'm going to beat your head in with a crowbar until you leave.
Ray Kinsella : You can't do that.
Terence Mann : There are rules here? No, there are no rules here.
[advances with crowbar]
Ray Kinsella : You're a pacifist!
Terence Mann : [stops] Shit.

Posted by: Rob @ L&R at October 4, 2004 02:56 PM

First off: Great post, Ted. An instant classic, imho.

But nic's comment has me going now!

Terrence Mann - in that scene - was unconvinced and so he gave into Ray's assertion that he was a pacifist.
But Mann gave in in the end. All he had to say (to himself) was "I wish I had your pasion, Ray", and there it was.

Mann: Moonlight Graham.
Kinsella: You saw it!
Mann: What did I see, Ray?
...blahbiddy blah...
Kinsella: Did you hear a voice?! It's okay to admit it; it's what told me to find you.../i>
Mann: [looking at nothing while shaking his head he comes back] "Go the distance?"

Obviously, Terrance Mann wasn't remembering anything, he was hearing it right then even though we weren't. That was the moment he climbed aboard. From then on it was, once again, activism - not pacifism - that drove him.

I just love Field of Dreams. :)

Posted by: Tuning Spork at October 5, 2004 12:59 AM

It was a great movie...

My favorite:

Ray Kinsella : So what do you want?
Terence Mann : I want them to stop looking to me for answers, begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves. I want my privacy.
Ray Kinsella : No, I mean, what do you WANT?
[Gestures to the concession stand they're in front of]
Terence Mann : Oh. Dog and a beer.

Posted by: Rob @ L&R at October 5, 2004 09:19 AM

Nic, I knew that about you from our previous discussions. I think "pacifism" has been hijacked by self-hating apologists just as surely as Islam has been hijacked by radical terrorist factions.

Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr were true visionaries, and neither ever claimed that what was happening to their people was their own fault. Recognizing an injustice and still finding a way to non-violently counter it is walking a tightrope. Convincing others to follow your lead takes epic leadership.

Posted by: Ted at October 6, 2004 12:41 PM
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