Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thoughts on Contextual Pacifism

Let contextual pacifism be a rejection of any form of violence or war where the means to control the effect of war or violence from the agent(s) disperses beyond control of the agent(s) in question. This dispersion requirement conceptually grounds what type of contexts justify pacifism. As such, any form of violence that can be restricted to a smaller locus between agents and the victim has a greater chance of not dispersing, actually controlled, and therefore might justify smaller uses of violence in different contexts.

In war, the effects of agents will always, I think, cause unnecessary suffering. The missile misses, the magazine emptied into a building where the enemy and a family were, and the nerve gas hit a windstorm blowing into the civilian areas. The larger an area of effect, and the larger the amount of people, the more organization will break down between the agents and targets to the point where innocent people will get hurt. It's as if entropy enters into these organized activities exemplifying what Clausewitz called "the fog of war." The entropic breakdown of war and its effect of killing civilians is the wrong-making property of initiating war.

Smaller contexts seem intuitively more plausible. If I am at a bar and someone finds me revolting (probably my sense of humor) to punch me, then I certainly have the right to block the punch, arm bar the attacker and say enough is enough. If I am a police officer and in the heat of longstanding struggle, I have to shoot an armed perpetrator in the leg (all things being equal: I'm a good shot, I won't miss etc.), then it seems reasonable. Moreover, if someone during a hostage situation is becoming more and more of a danger to himself and the hostages, a sniper can kill. What makes these contexts different to me is that we can be reasonably confident about how we control the means of our agency in conflict.

It might seem like I've taken a back-step for any general pacifist will be appalled by my thoughts, and I could be accused of being logically untenable in that I accept violence in smaller forms than largely organized ones. Do these contextual differences really explain the moral rightness and wrongness of war generally speaking? My answer is yes. When military leaders want to justify just causes as an offset to a gain to initiate a war, they are more confident in the means to direct their own troops than they should be. The gain is illusory in that their confidence blinds them to the fact that the value of human life is worth risking for the better world. Yet, that is not so. In addition, massively organized troops differ in context than a Seargant of 22 years in New York who has to order his SWAT team take out a lunatic with a gun. The sniper can be accurate. He doesn't have the fog of war looming over him.

In conclusion, my contextual consideration preserves intuitions about self-defense and the defense of others we legitimate in our normal civilian life. We often take these intuitions and put them on the legitimacy of war. That is a mistake. As I think it conceivable and reasonable, we should see the fog of war as a wrongmaking property that eventually will transgress against others, contributing unnecessary suffering in the world. For that reason, smaller contexts of violence seem more plausible to justify than those plagued by the chaos of war itself.

1 comment:

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