Is it even possible to be pacifist?
Pacifism is defined by Google as the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.
What does that mean in practice?
To start, violence is to be avoided if at all possible. Here’s the problem: How do you avoid violence? How do you prevent it? How do you stop it?
And ultimately, can you have peace without violence?
To solve problems without violence—that is, to refuse to use violence to solve problems—is impossible without the threat of violence. The potential for violence must exist even if it’s only there as a last resort, when all else has failed. There must be some recourse.
Violence is that recourse.
It’s always there, lurking in the shadows, ready to show its ugly head … if it must.
So what of violence outside of direct interactions with others? If you live in the woods far from other people, is that the life of a pacifist?
I don’t think it is. Why?
Because to exist—that is, to breath in air and demand your continued survival—is to throw yourself violently against the world. It’s violent because to exist is to sustain your life inevitably by way of aggressing against some other life. Whether it’s plants, bacteria, animals, whatever.
We live and breath because our biological ancestors at various stages in the past took life from other living beings, consumed their life, killed for all kinds of reasons … On and on.
Like it or not, your life today is sustained through the consumption of other life. Your body does not convert solar energy into sustenance. You must consume to survive.
And where aggression doesn’t rise to the surface, it’s always there in the background. The miracle of humanity is in how we’ve been able to tame our violent natures just enough to work together, collaborate, and build systems that improve our lives.
That doesn’t mean the aggression goes away. This is the insight of Christianity: We all carry within us this torch of aggression—it’s called “original sin.” While a bit too vague and distasteful in our modern anti-religious times, “original sin” captures the spirit of what it means to live. You and I are violently alive.
The capacity for aggression is in all of us and it is there because it has led to our survival over countless eons of existence.
Know it. Accept it. And remember that we’re always at risk of backsliding into our more violent tendencies. This potentiality exists in all of us.
To deny it is to ignore the nature of your existence.
To exist is to aggress.