Pacifism and the Pacifistic: a Tale of the Politically Dead

Sadly, there are still some people — people within the activist left, even, who are pacifistic. When I describe someone as pacifistic, I do not only mean that they are intentional, explicit pacifists — though, yes, all pacifists are pacifistic. By ‘pacifistic’ I don’t mean that they are explicit pacifists, but that they are irrationally (in the instrumental sense) averse to violence. Perhaps an example will help.

I went to a protest, once upon a time. It was a protest against police violence. The object was to get in to see the mayor and make him aware of how we felt about the behavior of his armed goons. There were somewhere around 90 of us when I arrived at the scene. People were masked up, and they were passing a megaphone back and forth, aiming it at various windows inside the building where they thought that the mayor might be. It’s not actually clear to me, even now, what their criteria for deciding his location was.

Eventually, people made the decision to attempt to enter the building. However, there were two problems that we encountered in doing this. Both of them are illustrative of wider, more abstract issues. The first problem was that there were two police officers inside, guarding the entrance. They wore brown, demilitarized uniforms and had no visible guns. The second problem was that we lost about 2/3rds of the group, in the process of doing this — I counted around 30 after we were inside.

The first problem was interesting because there were so many of us relative to them — we outnumbered them fifteen to one. Still though, the group was stopped dead by the checkpoint, as though there were some invisible wall that we dared not cross. They started milling about, and passing the megaphone around to make speeches. Several demanded that the cops let us pass. Why make such demands? How would they stop us? If we all simply surged forward, we could have taken them. I did not go on my own, because I was sure that that would be a two-on-one battle and I would be arrested. It occurred to me that maybe others were having this thought, and we needed to coordinate a general push. I went around to those of them that I knew. They were fighters, all of them. One was even regularly mocked for his random, largely-pointless excesses. Another was known to give weapons training to other activists. These were, at least ostensibly, men of action with —if nothing else— reputations to protect. They each made their excuses, but encouraged me to rush through. They seemed optimistic, as though this were not a transparent cop-out on their part. Eventually, four more unarmed police officers showed up, but we still outnumbered them five-to-one.

The second problem is interesting because it raises the question of why those people were even there in the first place. They were almost all masked up! What was the point of masking up if you had no actual intent to do anything illegal? Is the black bandana a mere flag to fly? A simple uniform, devoid of non-symbolic purpose? As we walked past these people, these sidewalk-sitting faux-radicals, I spoke to them. I motioned and cajoled, telling them what we were doing, telling them to come with. Surely, after all, this was what they were here for. They must simply be motionless due to confusion. Some mumbled excuses. Most were silently confused, looking at me with a helpless awkwardness, as though I were speaking an unfamiliar language. Only one or two joined us as we went in.

Eventually, the police pushed us out of the lobby. Perhaps three or four of us gave some token resistance. The police seemed terrified of even this amount of push-back. One was heard muttering “…no, no, no, no, no…” over and over again, in a near-trance-like state. Simple shouts and face-coverings seemed to make their blood run cold. Still, it was not enough, and the protest was ended without much effort being expended on either side.

Before this day, I never much believed the rhetoric around ‘the-cop-inside-your-head’. I thought that was just a way for the overly edgy accused their political allies of cowardice. Now, though, I understand — the foremost weapon that authority, the state, and (most concretely) the police have is our fear of them, and our learned helplessness — our deeply-ingrained expectation that we can only act with their permission.

Thus, even though the majority of modern radicals abjure the idea of pacifism as ridiculous, they still act like pacifists do. They are afraid of the violence of authority, and —so much worse— afraid of their own violence. This will not do. We need to not just reject pacifism with our words, we need to also reject it with our actions. We have given up pacifism, and now we must give up being pacifistic.

All politics, including anarchist politics, is organized violence. Politics consists of theories about how society should operate, as well as the practice of making society operate that way. Society is an abstraction. It does not really exist. Individuals exist. This is true in much the same sense that a pile of sand does not exist, but the grains of sand do. “Society” is just the word that we use to refer to large groups of interacting individuals. To make any given individual interact or not interact in a certain way, you must either convince them to (or not to) interact that way or use some sort of material incentive. You cannot convince everyone of any given principle, even the most sensible one, which means every society ends up employing some material incentives: either the offer of a good, the offer of a service, or a threat.

The offer of any good is only meaningful if you can actually withhold the good if you want to. If you are unwilling (or unable) to use violence on the individual to stop them from taking the good, they can always eventually take it. Even if you are especially clever about withholding the good (for example, placing it inside a locked box and refusing to tell them the combination), they can always use violence on you (for example, beating you with a hammer until you tell them the code) if you are not willing to use violence to stop them. They can also eventually brute force through whatever non-violent defenses you have (for example, they can weld their way through the box) if you refuse to stop them.

The offer of a service can always be turned against you too, as violence can be used to make you give up said service for free. If you refuse to, or cannot, defend yourself you are liable to be enslaved whenever convenient; all due credit to the late, great Fred Hampton for the paraphrase. A threat is something that a pacifist (being someone who has publicly stated their refusal to engage in violence) can never credibly make.

Therefore, pacifists (and their unconscious kin, the pacifistic) are powerless over whatever portion of people they cannot convince to follow their ideals. Because of this, pacifism is nothing more than a public announcement by the pacifist that they will be subject to the whims of whoever is good enough at violence to beat out all other competitors to the ownership of said pacifist.

Excepting the pacifists themselves, society is composed of mutually-violent individuals attempting to use their violence to organize society however they see fit: along capitalist, communist, anarchist, fascist, ect. lines. All politics is the outcome of the process whereby factions of these violent individuals agree on how they would like to use — or withhold — their violence to affect society.

Thus: all politics, including anarchist politics, is organized violence. As pacifists are incapable of having an effect on the outcome of this organized violence, it is a contradiction in terms to say that pacifists can be political. Pacifists must either admit that they are lying, admit that they are incapable of having political opinions, or loosen their pacifism — at least to the minimum level of attempting to convince others to do violence on their behalf.

Pacifists, especially liberal pacifists, commonly do this. They will protest with the intent of implying that, if their protests are ignored, someone would engage in violence to accomplish their supposedly peaceful ends. They will vote, with the intent of causing new laws to come into being that will be enforced (violently) by police. They will strike, with the implication that someone will defend them if they are attacked. Still, though, they deny their own ability to engage in violence and attempt to deny what they are doing — and, of course, minimize their own political potential.

The pacifistic, though they do not make the same pronouncements as the pacifists, will suffer the same fate. The pacifistic currently will fight the fash, as the fash are as yet mostly devoid of the symbols of authority. They must go beyond that, and fight the police as well. They must give up the hangovers of liberalism, and see the world as it truly is: a grand struggle, one that they do not have the ability to escape. The pacifistic must join in, or else they will be just as useless as the pacifists.

In analogue to Marx’s concept of alienation of labor, let me put forth my own — the parallel idea of an alienation of violence. This is a product not of living in a capitalist society, necessarily — but, rather, of living in any statist society — regardless of its economic organization. If one is punished for defending oneself, if one is constantly told that one can expect for agents of the state to protect them from violence, and if one is told that what agents of the state do is never violent but instead only looks like it… well, one can easily come to the idea that violence could never impinge on one’s life. You might think that you are incapable of exerting violence (having been taught that you will be immediately stopped) and that others are incapable of exerting violence on you (for much the same reason). From there, it is easy to see how someone might come to the conclusion that their capacity for violence is not a part of them — they could easily come to see violence as a very occasional thing to be avoided, rather than an intrinsic part of life.

Denying their part in the violent struggle that is intrinsic to life, they deny their own existence — the pacifist is passive — and, thus, the state apparatus consigns yet another victim to learned helplessness and living death. For those of us still living, still proudly violent, we are consigned to hear them still — to listen to these ghastly pleas from the politically-dead to join them in their passive nothingness and pointless lifestylism.

The pacifistic are those that listen to these siren-songs, even as they deny doing so publicly. They are those who have not yet killed the cop-inside-their-heads, though they say they hate him. They are those who are alienated from their violence. They are those who have not broken free from their learned helplessness. The funny thing about learned helplessness, though, is that it often only takes one counter-example to banish the teaching. In India, to this day, they often use tamed elephants to conduct logging operations. However, most of these elephants are caught as babies, and shackled with iron bonds as they grow. A baby elephant can’t break these shackles, but an adult one easily can. The elephant doesn’t know that, though. It just knows that it’s never been able to break its bonds before. Sometimes though, an adult elephant does break its bonds, on accident. When that happens, it becomes very hard to control the elephant. This generally results in some dipshits who thought they owned an elephant dying.

The Anatomy of Escape
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
Free Markets & Capitalism?
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist