Wednesday, 16 April 2008
peace is the way
I am a pacifist, but what exactly do I mean by that? I know that war is wrong, but what is the right response to aggression, or to interpersonal violence? What do I mean by peace?
Peace is not simply the absence of war, nor is it a state - it's a process of dialogue and the active resolution of conflict. One saying that particularly affected me was A J Muste's "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." This neatly encapsulates the idea that peace is not a state but a process or a journey; a process of engagement and dialogue. In order to dialogue effectively, one has to enter into the viewpoint of the person one is dialoguing with, and be open to them, even to the extent of being prepared to adopt their point of view; but for the dialogue to be truly mutual, they have to be equally open. If there is a conflict of viewpoint, the parties need to seek truth and reconciliation, not blame. The truth and reconciliation process in South Africa involved all parties acknowledging what they had done to each other (on both sides of the divide), and both asking for forgiveness, and giving it. Both sides had to recognise that they had done wrong things, and only when that truth was out in the open could they move on and begin to heal.
If this process of mutual understanding, dialogue, tolerance and forgiveness does not occur, then the situation begins to slide towards warfare. But can war ever be justified? If my country was invaded, would I take up arms against the invader? No, because if I did the particular enemy soldier that I killed might be a conscript who was unwilling but couldn't get conscientious objector status, or a guy who joined the army because he didn't have any other prospect of employment and then regretted it. And anyway, non-violent resistance is more effective, particularly if you don't have the firepower for a war (which presumably you wouldn't if you'd just been invaded). Gandhi wrote a lot about how satyagraha (non-violent resistance) works and why it works; it is still a process of resistance, using civil disobedience and actions like the breaking of unnecessary or unjust laws (like curfews, or the salt monopoly).
What about individual violence? I am not sure about this one - personally my first instinct is flight rather than fight; but if one of my loved ones was being attacked, i don't know how I would react. But saying that this slight inconsistency doesn't make me a pacifist is like attacking vegetarians for wearing leather shoes. It's just that both pacifism and vegetarianism make people uncomfortable, so they have to try and find an inconsistency in order to make themselves feel better.
Certainly my conviction that peace is the way leads me to engage in dialogue and conflict resolution activities as much as possible; because pacifism is not just a matter of going on anti-war marches, it's about living my values of peace, understanding and forgiveness every day (even though I sometimes get it wrong), and actively seeking to engage in dialogue with groups with whom I might otherwise be in conflict. Being a pacifist doesn't stop me getting angry about injustice, either - it leads me to seek to channel my anger into a constructive process for change, rather than getting depressed or lashing out. Anger is a good emotion, and it is a pity that it is generally so taboo; provided it is used effectively, and allows space for a response (either of apology, restorative justice, or explanation) it can be a very necessary warning signal to others that they are treading on your corns.
How does this relate to my Pagan spirituality? I guess it's my conviction that all life is sacred, which is a part of my Pagan world-view, but I'm not sure which came first; did my conviction that life is sacred lead to my Pagan worldview, or did my Pagan worldview lead to my conviction that life is sacred? I think the ethics came first, actually. I'm not a pacifist because a deity told me to be; I am a pacifist because I see it as the best way to remain in harmony with the Tao.
I am also convinced that social justice and environmental concern are pre-requisites for peace; the fair and sustainable distribution and use of the world's resources would go a long way to helping to prevent war.