As I pointed out in Part 1 of my series on pacifism for Political Jesus’s synchroblog, I outlined why pacifism as a viable philosophy in western culture is almost nonexistent. It’s become a incidental personal choice along the lines of choosing to be a vegetarian. It gets discussed at parties but has no real-world impact.
I suspect that this is the kind of pacifism Sarah Moon had in mind for her posts on the subject. I agree that it’s off-putting that modern pacifism seems to manifest as a private belief that never factors real life experiences. These people tend to qualify their beliefs in a defensive manner (i.e. they’re a pacifist except for situations X and Y – because surely no one is foolish enough to be a pacifist in all situations).
But I think focusing on the state of pacifism among privileged white people ignores the fact that the philosophy still thrives in the places it has always thrived: wherever the threat of violence is a daily risk, and the consequences of pacifism are measurable and severe.
In this sense pacifism presents a paradox: wherever hawkish anger and danger are elements of daily life, pacifism will blossom. If you think about the world’s greatest pacifist movements, all of them existed in situations where death or imprisonment where likely consequences of their beliefs. We see pacifism burn bright in Iran’s failed 2009 protests, the protests leading up to and after China’s Tianamen Square massacre, MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, Gandhi, and of course Jesus, whose arguments for peace are so much more powerful given His trial and crucifixion. It’s sad to admit, but pacifism needs martyrs. Without genuine persecution or hostility, pacifism becomes an innocuous lifestyle choice, and in the hands of the privileged it becomes an abstract exercise in hypotheticals.
Pacifism in a real sense has always been the philosophy held dear and lived out by the powerless and unprivileged. We see pacifism espoused with newfound vigor by a Pope raised in a culture where poverty and meekness were the norm. So in a sense I don’t think that privileged pacifism is ever representative of pacifism, even if its adherents are sincere in their beliefs.