Pacifism and Morality- an argument between two friends

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My friend Jack is a valuable guy to know. Jack is that guy on Facebook always posting links to things like news and activism when everyone else is inviting you to secret warehouse parties. On the big important issues, we agree. Nazism, bad. Misogyny, very bad. Abbott- don’t get him started.

But where we differ is in how we think the evils in this world should be confronted.

Jack was with me one day in St Kilda when I was assaulted by two men. I was shaking with fear, he was shaking with rage. After the fact he said he was glad he didn’t completely lose it and start a fight. I was glad too. Glad that I’m more of a drop the backpack and call the police kind of girl. Glad I didn’t have to see what was already a deeply unpleasant incident become one that defined the rest of his life. And although that day I was the victim, I saw no need to settle any score with those men beyond calling the police.

Then last week two Australians facing decade-old drug smuggling charges were executed by firing squad in Indonesia. If I weren’t attempting to maintain a veneer of impartiality I would say murdered. But that’s because I’m a pacifist. Jack saw justice being served by the barrel of a gun. I didn’t argue the point. Once again, I kept my opinion to myself.

Jack and I have also talked about Baltimore. I’ll be travelling to Maryland in five weeks and I’ve lived in the states for more than a decade of my childhood. I would say that yes, I feel a connection, and yes, I am angry. No, there are no excuses for the atrocities being committed by the police in the US. No, I do not believe in staying silent and doing nothing.

But again, I’m a pacifist. I believe in resisting tyranny just about any way you know how to without drawing your weapon. I believe in economic sanctions and sit ins and stand ins and refusal to cooperate. So I spend time reading truthful news, news made by the citizens of Baltimore who are on the ground living through this. I donate some money from my pay. I boycott Wholefoods Inc., who have supplied nice organic turkey on rye not to the citizens of Baltimore helping to clean up after the looting, or to the thousands of peaceful protestors, but to the police.

But last night, Jack messaged me one more thing. One more thing and this time I decided I couldn’t stay silent anymore for the sake of a friendship.

Some of Jack’s friends had performed what they saw as a gallant act of street justice, descending upon a Nazi supporter at a demonstration in Melbourne and beating him until he was piled into an ambulance.

Finally, I argued.

I told him that violence breeds violence. I told him the boy’s friends will only look to retaliate.

He told me pacifism breeds compliance, that doing nothing puts our rights in danger.

I can’t believe he really thinks that. As though the only way to challenge an opinion you don’t like is to beat it into compliance. I told him not to act as though his options were all or nothing, violence or silence.

He told me that extremism forces the powers that be to the ground. I told him any ape on the street can give in to their anger and beat someone up. It takes a more articulate person to get their ideas across without having to back them with force.

The fight went on. What was said doesn’t really matter. Jack conceded that I made him think, I’m not sure if he did it from a genuine sense of revelation or if he just tired of the verbal joust.

If he isn’t tired, I am. I sat there, staring at my computer screen, and felt an overwhelming tiredness. Because these views are coming from someone I know, someone I believe to be a guy worth listening to most of the time.

When a tragedy occurs I cringe, I feel sadness, I want to look away. I feel like I already know what’s coming next. Anger. Anger from every corner of my social media from the familiar faces of people I work with, went to school with. People now deaf to cries for mercy, people looking for retribution and blood. Smiling profile pictures belie the vicious status updates they give.

I know I’m only nineteen and I lack experience in this world, so as a general rule I don’t like to put my name to any absolute statements just yet. But I can say with a great deal of conviction that I am a pacifist. That I believe in life in prison and rehabilitation and having a system in place to truly deal with our criminals. A noose is an easy, immoral, and irrevocable solution. I hold absolutely no faith in a justice system which incorporates capital punishment. I truly and genuinely believe it is self-evident that violence breeds violence. Every child of three on the playground knows this. That it is not okay to hit back. Yet somehow, as adults, we forget.

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