Date: December 16th, 2016
I am an absolute pacifist. (I love making playlists, so I made one for absolute pacifism: I Am An Absolute Pacifist on Spotify. Music is an excellent way to express the deepest of emotions.)
For anyone technical enough to want the exact definition of the word, the definition of “pacifist” is “someone opposed to violence as a means of settling disputes” according to vocabulary.com, and dictionary.com defines it as “a person who believes in pacifism or is opposed to war or to violence of any kind.”
I care about everyone. I am emotional. I find killing to be an unjustifiable, yet forgivable, act. I am just as “pragmatic” as anyone – I am an intellectual, and a philosopher, and that doesn’t mean I can’t be a fighter (to me, being an absolute pacifist means I will never kill anyone, but there’s still a multitude of painful things I can do to a person if necessary). I understand about “doing what needs to be done” – it is simply that I have found that there is never only one way to get it done.
The reason I write about all this now is because this past Wednesday, I had my last Model UN class of the semester. We talked about what’s been going on in Aleppo, Syria (obviously) and what happened in Rwanda a while ago (our Model UN class often goes historical, possibly so we have the benefit of discussing things in retrospect). We talked about political turmoil, and the causes and effects of it.
The teacher brought up an interesting hypothetical situation. She told us to imagine these events, in order: 1. Suddenly, a majority of U.S citizens cannot find jobs. 2. The economy goes downhill, and even those who have jobs leftover from before begin to lose money. 3. Welfare and other “poverty buffers” start to lose their power. 4. Food, shelter, and any form of stability become rare to all U.S citizens, except for the elite; just as rare.
The teacher then asked us to describe what would happen to society. (It was, and still is, my personal opinion, that nothing would happen to us per se, we would all just become libertarian farmers. Think of it this way: we all need food. So food needs to be farmed. Even if something was wrong with the food, it would be someone’s job to fix whatever’s wrong.) A consensus of opinion among the class was that “shit would hit the fan.” Utter chaos would ensue, and the U.S would become an abrasive, hostile environment (if it isn’t already). U.S citizens would “go back to nature” in the worst way possible – starving, desperate, and afraid, we would lose empathy for others and become not “humans” but “Homo sapiens sapiens” – the difference between the two, my friends, is that one is our name, and one is the name of a species of creature. (And just now I realize – crap, that is exactly what would happen!) A creature who not only kills for food, but kills those who have food to take it from them. A creature who succumbs to revenge until there is nothing left. A creature who sees their own world as the only world there is.
I spoke up. I said, as a sort of argument against the idea that every person would turn into this creature, “A few years ago, I made a promise. The promise was to never kill anyone, and to never let anyone die. It was a fail-safe mechanism. Even if I forgot why I made that promise, even if I ‘wasn’t myself,’ I would remember the promise itself. With that in mind, I doubt I would succumb to that kind of behavior.”
And almost everyone in that class proceeded to chime in with some variation of “You can’t do that.”
Yes I can.
One girl was very polite about it. She was very careful to mention that “I don’t really know for sure what you would do because I’m not you,” but the basis of her argument was a non-verbal “Yes, I do know what you would do because you’re only human and you can’t escape that.” (Try me.)
The most common argument against my being a pacifist in times of crisis was that “a crisis is a crisis and you can’t think it away.” Growing up, I was always told to write like the person reading has no idea what you’re talking about, so – what they mean is that when you’re starving, desperate, and afraid, you lose the ability to think rationally. They’re saying I might be an intellectual now, viewing the situation from outside, but if I were experiencing it, I would behave differently from what I think, because what I think I would do has no bearing on what I would actually do.
That’s what the fail-safe promise is for.
I know that crises tend to push people to the brink. I know that prolonged crises can change people to a point where it’s hard to go back to their “standard” form. I know that I could be fine today but dangerously mentally ill tomorrow. And for crying out loud, I know that people tend to look out for themselves only when it comes down to it!
But you know what else I know?
I know that “morality” isn’t just some philosopher’s concept floatin’ up there in the ether. It is right here, right now. Empathy is your ability to recognize that yeah, other people’s lives suck too. You lose that; you become…scary. Let me give you all an example:
Zombie apocalypse. You and your group are wandering the streets, properly armed, yet in need of food. Your best friend’s little brother has a fever, and all the medicine has been contaminated, so he needs a little extra food if he’s going to make it through the coming winter. You come across another group, and you recognize the leader. This guy bullied you when you were in high school together. He’s still a bit of a dick, you can tell. And they’ve got all the food you need, plus a little more. You want their food and whatever supplies they have, but you know you can’t share, and you don’t want anyone trailing you looking to get back what you took from them. So after some consideration, you decide to kill almost all of them – or at least try and leave some of them for dead – but spare the little girl.
Okay, now read this excerpt, from the little girl’s POV, an hour after:
. . .
I shake Mommy’s shoulder. “Mommy, mommy, wake up!”
She doesn’t wake up. Her skin feels cold. I try again, and again, no results. I notice the dark red marks all over her chest, and remember what the man who left with all our things said: “Hey, kid…we only did it cause we had to. You’ll understand when you’re older.” Did what, did what, what did they do? Did they send Mommy, and Georgie, and Sam up where Grandpa went last year?
Mommy, Georgie, Sam, Wendy, Michael…no one responds when I call their name. Why let me stay here? My mother, my brother, everyone who took care of me, I needed them to help me, I needed them to give me hugs and tell me everything’s going to be okay, and now their skin is cold and they can’t say anything anymore.
What will I understand when I’m older? That everyone I loved is worth less than a few strangers?
. . .
This girl will take one item off each body left behind, a trinket or bandana or scrap of fabric, use her sewing needle and thread to put them all together – it is her hobby, after all – and then head off to the west with the memorabilia in tow. She won’t come across any humans for three more days, during which she will discover 1) she’s a good squirrel huntress, and 2) she’s afraid of the dark. She is 4 now. At 16, after all the zombies are gone and humanity is (relatively) safe again, she will give herself little scratches on her arms, hating herself for not remembering what her mother was like.
I’m not saying that “a few strangers” (the little girl’s name for your group) deserved to starve to death. I’m not saying that one little kid, the brother or the girl, was more important than the other. I’m saying…empathy, my friends, is here and now, it is no fairytale. The little brother and the little girl are both very human, and they both have their own unique perspectives.
It is time you realize that if you’ve got a little brother, someone is the little girl.
I am against the death penalty. Most often related specifically to the death penalty, another argument against absolute pacifism is that I “don’t know what really happened.” This is bullcrap. (I would say the s word, but children are watching.) Yes, I love to educate myself, I love to learn, and I do need to learn more, but not for that reason! I know what happened! Morgan Geyser (didn’t kill anyone but tried, very nearly succeeded), Austin Myers (technically did not kill, helped to kill), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (yes, he killed, very directly) – all these people – I know what they did! I know what happened! I know, I know, I know, I know!
I will remember my promise. I will tattoo the promise on my frickin arm if I have to. I will never kill anyone, or let anyone die.
I will always be an absolute pacifist.