From chapter "Pacifism, Part I"
The next pacifist argument is that the ends never justify the means. While adding the word almost just before the word never makes this true for many trivial ends—I would not, for example, be willing to destroy a landbase so I can magnify my bank account—it’s nonsense when it comes to self-defense. Are the people who spout this line saying that the ends of not being raped never justify the means of killing one’s assailant? Are they saying that the ends of saving salmon—who have survived for millions of years—and sturgeon—who have survived since the time of the dinosaurs—never justify the means of removing dams without waiting for approval from those who are saying they wish salmon would go extinct so we can get on with living [sic]? Are they saying that the ends of children free from pesticide-induced cancer and mental retardation are not worth whatever means may be necessary? If so, their sentiments are obscene. We’re not playing some theoretical, spiritual, or philosophical game. We’re talking about survival. We’re talking about poisoned children. We’re talking about a planet being killed. I will do whatever is necessary to defend those I love.
Those who say that ends never justify means are of necessity either sloppy thinkers, hypocrites, or just plain wrong. If ends never justify means, can these people ride in a car? They are by their actions showing that their ends of getting from one place to another justify the means of driving, which means the costs of using oil, with all the evils carried with it. The same is true for the use of any metal, wood, or cloth products, and so on. You could make the argument that the same is true for the act of eating. After all, the ends of keeping yourself alive through eating evidently justify the means of taking the lives of those you eat. Even if you eat nothing but berries, you are depriving others—from birds to bacteria—of the possibility of eating those particular berries.
You could say I’m reducing this argument to absurdity, but I’m not the one who made the claim that ends never justify means. If they want to back off the word never, we can leave the realm of dogma and begin a reasonable discussion of what ends we feel justify what means. I suspect, however, that this would soon lead to another impasse, because my experience of “conversations” with pacifists is that beneath the use of this phrase oftentimes is an unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions coupled with the same old hubris that declares that humans are separate from and better than the rest of the planet. Witness the pacifist who said to me that he would not harm a single human to save an entire run of salmon. He explicitly states—and probably consciously believes—that ends never justify means, but what he really means is that no humans must be harmed by anyone trying to help a landbase or otherwise bringing about social change.
I sometimes get accused of hypocrisy because I use high technology as a tool to try to dismantle technological civilization. While there are certainly ways I’m a hypocrite, that’s not one of them, because I have never claimed that the ends never justify the means. I have stated repeatedly that I’ll do whatever’s necessary to save salmon. That’s not code language for blowing up dams. Whatever’s necessary for me includes writing, giving talks, using computers, rehabilitating streams, singing songs to the salmon, and whatever else may be appropriate.
Setting rhetoric aside, there is simply no factual support for the statement that ends don’t justify means, because it’s a statement of values disguised as a statement of morals. A person who says ends don’t justify means is simply saying: I value process more than outcome. Someone who says ends do justify means is merely saying: I value outcome more than process. Looked at this way, it becomes absurd to make absolute statements about it. There are some ends that justify some means, and there are some ends that do not. Similarly, the same means may be justified by some people for some ends and not justified by or for others (I would, for example, kill someone who attempted to kill those I love, and I would not kill someone who tried to cut me off on the interstate). It is my joy, responsibility, and honor as a sentient being to make those distinctions, and I pity those who do not consider themselves worthy or capable of making them themselves, and who must rely on slogans instead to guide their actions.
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It’s pretty clear to me that our horror of violence is actually a deep terror of responsibility. We don’t have issues with someone being killed. We have issues about unmediated killing, about doing it ourselves. And of course we have issues with violence flowing the wrong way up the hierarchy.
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Erasmus’s statement,“The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war,” used to strike me as insane and cowardly (not that this was true of all Erasmus’s work). Now I just say I disagree.
Gandhi came out with a different version of this when he said, “My marriage to non-violence is such an absolute thing that I would rather commit suicide than be deflected from my position.” I guess there are ways I can understand this, in that there are things I would kill myself rather than do. But this statement seems inflexible to the point of insanity. Is he saying that if he had the opportunity to stop a rape/murder, but could do so only through physically stopping the assailant, he would kill himself (and let the other person be raped/murdered) rather than break his sacred vow to non-violence? Is he saying that if he had the opportunity to stop the murder of the planet, but could do so only through physically stopping the assailants, he would kill himself (and let the planet be murdered) rather than violate his sacred vow to non-violence?
Unfortunately, he does seem to be saying these things. Now it’s true that Gandhi perceived cowardice as worse even than violence (and please note that while I’m accusing Gandhi of fuzzy thinking, naïveté, and, as you’ll see in a while, misogyny, never would I accuse him of cowardice: the man was stone cold brave), saying, for example, “Where the choice is between only violence and cowardice, I would advise violence,” and “To take the name of non-violence when there is a sword in your heart is not only hypocritical and dishonest but cowardly.” Even more to the point—and if all of Gandhi’s words were this great he’d certainly be my hero—he said, “Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.” And here’s one I like even more: “I have been repeating over and over again that he who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honour by nonviolently facing death may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden. He has no business to be the head of a family. He must either hide himself, or must rest content to live forever in helplessness and be prepared to crawl like a worm at the bidding of a bully.”
But damn if he doesn’t follow this up with more of that old time pacifist religion. His very next paragraph is: “The strength to kill is not essential for self-defence; one ought to have the strength to die. When a man is fully ready to die, he will not even desire to offer violence. Indeed, I may put it down as a self-evident proposition that the desire to kill is in inverse proportion to the desire to die. And history is replete with instances of men who, by dying with courage and compassion on their lips, converted the hearts of their violent opponents.”
Let’s do a little exegesis. Sentence one: “The strength to kill is not essential for self-defence; one ought to have the strength to die.” Problem: Although this makes a good sound bite, it also makes no sense. The first clause is a statement of faith (why does this not surprise me?), logically and factually unsupported and insupportable yet presented as a statement of fact. The same is true for the second. Perhaps worse, if one of the purposes of self-defense is to actually defend oneself (to keep oneself from harm, even from death), then saying that self-defense requires the strength to die becomes exactly the sort of Orwellian absurdity we’ve all by now become far too familiar with from pacifists: self-defense requires the strength to allow self-destruction, and self-destruction requires strength take their fine place alongside freedom is slavery, war is peace,and ignorance is strength. His sentence would imply that the Jews who walked into the showers or laid down so they could be shot in the nape of the neck by members of einsatzgruppen were actually acting in their own self-defense. Nonsense. Now sentence two: “When a man is fully ready to die, he will not even desire to offer violence.” Once again, a statement of faith, logically and factually unsupported and insupportable yet presented as a statement of fact. I have read hundreds of accounts of soldiers and others (including mothers) who were fully prepared to die who sold their lives as dearly as possible. Sentence three: “Indeed, I may put it down as a self-evident proposition that the desire to kill is in inverse proportion to the desire to die.” This is actually a pretty cheap rhetorical trick on his part. Any writer knows that if you label something as self-evident people are less likely to examine it, or even if they do and find themselves disagreeing with it, they’re prone to feeling kind of stupid: If it’s so self-evident, how stupid must I be to not see it the same way? A far more sophisticated and accurate examination of the relationship between a desire to kill and a desire to die was provided earlier in this book by Luis Rodriguez. Oftentimes a desire to kill springs from a desire to die. It’s certainly true that the dominant culture—I’ve heard it called a thanatocracy—manifests a collective desire to kill self and other. But there is something far deeper and far more creepy going on with this sentence. Read it again: “Indeed, I may put it down as a self-evident proposition that the desire to kill is in inverse proportion to the desire to die.” Let’s pretend it’s true. It is Gospel. You have never in your life read anything so true as this. Now let’s ask ourselves whether Gandhi had a desire to kill. The answer is pretty obviously absolutely not. He said as much many times. What, then, does that mean Gandhi had a desire to do? If we take him at his word, it means he had a correspondingly absolute desire to die. He has an absolute death wish. Suddenly I understand why he would rather kill himself than break his marriage to non-violence. Suddenly I understand his more or less constant rhetoric of self-sacrifice. Suddenly I understand his body hatred (we’ll get to this in a moment). Suddenly I understand why Gandhi—and by extension so many other pacifists who are drawn to his teachings—was so often so little concerned with actual physical change in the real physical world. Pacifism as death wish. And don’t blame me for this one, folks: it’s nothing more than a strict literal interpretation of Gandhi’s own text. Gandhi repeatedly stated his absolute desire to not kill, and stated here explicitly: “the desire to kill is in inverse proportion to the desire to die.”
But that isn’t even what bothered me most about his paragraph. Sentence four horrified and appalled me: “And history is replete with instances of men who, by dying with courage and compassion on their lips, converted the hearts of their violent opponents.” If Gandhi’s statement contained a shred of evidence to support it, the Nazis would have quickly stopped, domestic violence would cease, the civilized would not kill the indigenous, factory farms would not exist, vivisection labs would be torn down brick by brick. Worse, by saying this, Gandhi joins the long list of allies of abusers by subtly blaming victims for perpetrators’ further atrocities: Damn, if only I could have died courageously and compassionately enough, I could have converted my murderer and kept him from killing again. It’s all my fault. Nonsense. Many killers—and nearly all exploiters—would vastly prefer intended victims not resist. The overwhelming preponderance of evidence just doesn’t support Gandhi’s position.
And his position leads him into (even more) grotesque absurdity. During World War II, as Japan invaded Myanmar (then called Burma), Gandhi recommended that if India were invaded, the Japanese be allowed to take as much as they want. The most effective way for the Indians to resist the Japanese, he said, would be to “make them feel that they are not wanted.” I am not making this up. Nor am I choosing one out-of-character statement. Gandhi urged the British to surrender to the Nazis, and recommended that instead of fighting back, both Czechs and Jews should have committed mass suicide (death wish, anyone?). In 1946, with full knowledge of the extent of the Holocaust, Gandhi told his biographer Louis Fisher, “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.”
This is—and all you pacifists can get your gasps out of the way right now— both despicable and insane.
The insanity continues. If you recall, Gandhi said, “Mankind has to get out of violence only through non-violence. Hatred can be overcome only by love.” By now you should be able to spot the premises that, like any good propagandist, he’s trying to slide by you. Violence is something humankind “has to get out of.” Nonviolence is the only way to accomplish this. Hatred is something that needs to be overcome. Love is the only way to accomplish that.
These premises are statements of faith. They are utterly unsupported and unsupportable in the real world, and they are extremely harmful. Let’s go back to the same basic example we’ve been using. A man breaks into a woman’s home. He pulls out a knife. He is going to rape and kill her. She has a gun. Perhaps if she just shows him by shining example the beauty of nonviolence, perhaps if she dies with courage and compassion on her lips—or if she offers herself to the butcher’s knife or throws herself into the sea from a cliff—she will convert his heart and he will realize the error of his ways and repent, to go and rape no more. Perhaps not. If she guesses wrong, she dies. And so do the rapist’s next victims.
Gandhi’s statement reveals an almost total lack of understanding of both abusive and psychopathological dynamics. His comment is one of the worst things you can say to anyone in an abusive situation, and one of the things abusers most want to hear. As I mentioned earlier, among the most powerful allies of abusers are those who say to victims, “You should show him some compassion even if he has done bad things. Don’t forget that he is a human, too.” As Lundy Bancroft commented, “To suggest to her that his need for compassion should come before her right to live free from abuse is consistent with the abuser’s outlook. I have repeatedly seen the tendency among friends and acquaintances of an abused woman to feel that it is their responsibility to make sure that she realizes what a good person he really is inside—in other words, to stay focused on his needs rather than her own, which is a mistake.” I want to underscore that Gandhi’s perspective is, following Bancroft, “consistent with the abuser’s outlook.”
Too often pacifists have said to me, “When you look at a CEO, you are looking at yourself. He’s a part of you, and you’re a part of him. If you ever hope to reach him, you must recognize the CEO in your own heart, and you must reach out with compassion to this CEO in your heart, and to the CEO in the boardroom.” It’s revealing that none of these pacifists have ever said to me, “When you look at a clearcut, you are looking at yourself. It is a part of you, and you are a part of it. If you ever hope to help it, you must recognize the clearcut in your own heart, and you must reach out with compassion to this clearcut in your heart, and to the clearcut on the ground.” The same is true for tuna, rivers, mountainsides. It’s remarkable that pacifists tell me to look at the killer and see myself, while never telling me to look at the victim and see myself: they are telling me to identify with the killer, not the victim. This happens so consistently that I have come to understand it’s no accident, but reveals with whom the people who say it do and do not themselves identify (and fear).
So far as psychopaths, Gandhi ignores their first characteristic: a “callous unconcern for the feelings of others.” Far worse, he fails to understand that some people are unreachable. He wrote Hitler a letter requesting he change his ways, and was evidently surprised when Hitler didn’t listen to him.
His statement also ignores the role of entitlement in atrocity. I can love Charles Hurwitz all I want, I can nonviolently write letters and nonviolently sit in trees, and so long as he feels entitled to destroy forests to pad his bank account, and so long as he is backed by the full power of the state, within this social structure, none of that will cause him to change in the slightest. Nor, and this is the point, will it help the forests. Similarly, so long as men feel entitled to control women, loving them won’t change them, nor will it help women.
There’s yet another problem with Gandhi’s statement, which is that he has made the same old unwarranted conflation of love and nonviolence on one hand, and hatred and violence on the other.
There is a sense in which the last sentence—and only the last sentence—of his statement could be true, with some significant modifications. Instead of saying, “Hatred can be overcome only by love,” we could say, “If someone hates you, your best and most appropriate and most powerful responses will come out of a sense of self-love.” I like that infinitely better. It’s far more accurate, intellectually honest, useful, flexible, and applicable across a wide range of circumstances. But there’s the key right there, isn’t it? Within this culture we’re all taught to hate ourselves (and to identify with our oppressors, who hate us, too, and call it love).
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This leads to the next line by Gandhi often tossed around by pacifists: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall—Think of it, ALWAYS.” You know how there are some people whose work you’re supposed to respect because everyon
e else seems to? And you know how at least with some of these people your respect fades over time, slowly, with each new piece of information that you gain? And you know how sometimes you feel you must be crazy, or a bad person, or you must be missing something, because everyone keeps telling you how great this person is, and you just don’t get it? And you know how you keep fighting to maintain your respect for this person, but the information keeps coming in, until at long last you just can’t do it anymore? That’s how it was with me and Gandhi. I lost a lot of respect when I learned some of the comments I’ve mentioned here. I lost more when I learned that because he opposed Western medicine, he didn’t want his wife to take penicillin, even at risk to her life, because it would be administered with a hypodermic needle; yet this opposition did not extend to himself: he took quinine and was even operated on for appendicitis. I lost yet more when I learned that he was so judgmental of his sons that he disowned his son Harilal (who later became an alcoholic) because he disapproved of the woman Harilal chose to marry. When his other son, Manilal, loaned money to Harilal, Gandhi disowned him, too. When Manilal had an affair with a married woman, Gandhi went public and pushed for the woman to have her head shaved. I lost more respect when I learned of Gandhi’s body hatred (but with his fixation on purity, hatred of human (read animal) emotions, and death wish this shouldn’t have surprised me), and even more that he refused to have sex with his wife for the last thirty-eight years of their marriage (in fact he felt that people should have sex only three or four times in their lives). I lost even more when I found out how upset he was when he had a nocturnal emission. I lost even more when I found out that in order to test his commitment to celibacy, he had beautiful young women lie next to him naked through the night: evidently his wife—whom he described as looking like a “meek cow”— was no longer desirable enough to be a solid test. All these destroyed more respect for Gandhi (although I do recognize it’s possible for someone to be a shitheel and still say good things, just as it’s possible for nice people to give really awful advice). But the final push was provided by this comment attributed to him: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall—Think of it, ALWAYS.” This is as dismissive as his treatment of his wife and sons. It’s as objectifying as his treatment of the young women he used as tests. It’s as false as his advice to Jews, Czechs, and Britons. The last 6,000 years have seen a juggernaut of destruction roll across the planet. Thousands of cultures have been eradicated. Species are disappearing by the hour. I do not know what planet he is describing, nor what history. Not ours. This statement—one of those rallying cries thrown out consistently by pacifists—is wrong. It is dismissive. It is literally and by definition insane, by which I mean not in touch with the real physical world.
Further, even if it were accurate—which it absolutely isn’t, except in the cosmic sense of everything eventually failing—it’s irrelevant. So what if the tyrant eventually falls? What about the damage done in the meantime? That’s like saying that because a rapist will eventually die anyway we need not stop him now.