"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Mar 13, 2012

The blind-violence of pacifism

I survived child molestation, severe and seemingly unending abuse, rape, being locked in closets and tied to ground for days on end, group homes, youth detention centers, involuntary commitment, foster care and being a ward of the State. I came out with strong views about what being passive, peaceful, pacifist and non-violent will get a person.

The first time I listened to a rape from across the group home sleeping hall, I had to choose between helping a person whose face I couldn't see, and getting a beating so bad I'd not only get punished for bringing attention to the house, but for costing the budget for my hospital care. I didn't exactly see it in those terms, at age fourteen, but I knew getting heroic wasn't going to earn the affection of the house staff. Or the raping rapist fuckers.

So, I chose to turn over and "ignore it," like all the other small kids who hadn't fully learned what it meant to be mean, self-reliant and vicious-as-a-defense. (I got there quick enough.) That was hard to abide in one's own self. The memory still cuts, and I'm not that boy anymore. Turning the other cheek was rational. It preserved my relative well being. But, it perpetuated the local system. Fucking hell, it did.

Anyway, I came up with a clear enough view of human depravity, cowardice and self-preservation. And of what and how much it takes to make the depraved suffer enough that they re-learn their essential cowardice. Those who've formalized their cruelty panic when it becomes personal, again. They lose their grip, because the grip has got them in its embrace. It's civilization itself, and it soothes and coaxes and coddles those who enforce its dicta.

The minority* of white, comfortable motherfuckers with vacation homes and private land lecturing the victims, the poor, the damaged, the abused, the raped, the herded, the harassed, the imprisoned, the exploited, the evicted, the institutionalized, the penalized and the discarded on what are and are not appropriate responses to victimization - that shit is rich. Literally. It takes a comparatively rich motherfucker to confuse the play-acting, submission rituals and lying of "civilized" society with any end to institutional depravity, inequity and the hierarchies which profit from the same.

You stop it by finishing off the people doing it and living off the proceeds of human suffering. You do the work, and leave it done and behind you.

And I say it's blind-violent to suggest otherwise. Pacifism is violence, itself. It's violence maintained by the posture of self-congratulation and ostrich avoidance, leaving the actual labor of resistance to people who can stand the smell of shit, usually because they've had their whole lives rubbed into the sewage of human cruelty. It's the privilege of the over spiritualized and the self-absorbed, lording over the victims of the system itself; a system which produces the safe protest as a distraction. A system which breaks a body down into persona and parts, and leaves the ghost of passion's disappearance behind as added insult, as the reminder of defeat.

It's the screechy embarrassment, this cluck-clucking faith of the fattened calf, at the refusal of the damned to learn its strictures and superstitions, to accommodate themselves to the small comfort of a moral superiority, in lieu of the materiality of a satisfying vengeance.

It's a preservative, this pacifism. It guarantees that those who feel strongly act weakly. That they codify cowardice into a prescription for self-regard. It negates rage. It mollifies hatred.

And leaves certain that those who do the worst suffer the least.

* - globally; most people lack the "civilized" self-deceptions about "civilized" goodness, talky-preachy pacifism, or the effectiveness of "witnessing for the truth" and other sentimental pap


Will Shetterly said...

Most pacifists will come to a point where they'll use violence. They just choose to be a lot slower to rely on the favorite tactic of violent shitheads.

But I gotta put up my usual quibble about "white": what color do you think Gandhi and King were?

The Red Queen said...

I've never understood pacifism exactly. I've never been one. I am a firm believer in self-defense however (thanks to a similar childhood). And "non-violence" is never actually non-violent. It's just choosing to allow the violence to happen in a very public way.

Jack Crow said...


The majority of people who've taken umbrage with my anti-pacifist position, over the last two years, have been white people. It's not that I've never ever encountered non-white pacifists, it's that they haven't bothered to lecture me from the position of rec'd wisdom and spiritual purity.


Being a deeply flawed man, I try to recognize where my personal overlaps the communal and public. I imagine I fail to do so, often, coming up short with the vim usually reserved to card games and russian roulette.

But, not when it comes to "non-violence." Those of us who've been involuntarily inducted into the fellowship of the violated body are in the right here: we know that the fuckers only stop when they physically can't manage to cause suffering anymore.

brian said...

while mlk and gandhi were obviously not-white in life, the images of them that have circulated and been venerated after their deaths -- their ghosts, or the way their images have been appropriated and used -- are definitely white.

but you know, once you die, THEY can make your image into anything.

Will Shetterly said...

Jack, you gotta know your enemy. Obama ain't white, y'know.

I should've added that, as usual, I agree with much of what you say. There are people who use pacifism to oppress. Don't get me ranting about Tibet under the Dalai Lamas.

Brian, sure, but Gandhi's and King's words and deeds were nonetheless fully consistent with non-violent resistance, a term that I find more useful than pacifism, which too many people confuse with a philosophy of passivity.

brian said...

will, very true about their words and deed. what i meant is that, now that they are dead and the counter-revolution to their movements have been successful, they have now be appropriated as white. and by white, i dont mean skin color, but mean white=empire.

in that sense, obama is a white as they come.

Will Shetterly said...

Brian, the language of race has gotten really, really strange. I noticed it sometime before I saw Things White People Like, which was actually Things Rich People Like, as anyone who knows any bougie black or Asian folks can verify.

gamefaced said...

obama isn't white?
news to me..

Andrew not the Saint said...

Obama is black, or rather - beige, in nothing except his skin color. Read his fuckin biography, does that seem to you like a black man's life?

mp said...

again, meh. the idea that pacifists don't know anything about violence, or that it's just moral preening is absurd. it's a violent world, jack. i don't blind myself to it. but violence is never anything but a tool of compulsion, an imposition of power. one of the more disturbing aspects of your blog and blog posts is the consistent desire for violence against a wide swath of people. the old communist saw, breaking the omelets, etc. i don't think it helps much in the way of winning folks to anarchism. actually, it feeds the stereotype of anarchists as numbskulls ready to shoot and kill whoever. in short, these polemics are the cops' best friends.

Will Shetterly said...

Andrew, Obama didn't have a white man's life either. He had his life--the life of someone brought into the 1%, which is all about the color of money. Seriously, what is a "black man's life" today? Poverty? There are twice as many poor white folks as poor black folks, which was true in King's day, and the 1% has its share of black folks. This ain't to say racism is over--but Obama had to have encountered some racism in his life, because there isn't a traditional racist out there who would think he was white.

Jack Crow said...


"...violence is never" is where you failed. Just plainly failed. The woman who stabs her attacker in the throat isn't imposing anything from a position of power. Full fucking stop.

As for being a voice for anarchism or an ambassador for a better human race: fuck that shit. The moment a person decides on an image campaign for an anarchist existence, he or she ceases to be an anarchist.

mp said...

re: "violence is never." i accept that criticism. self-defense is self-defense.

burning universities is not self-defense from rape.

as for the "voice for anarchism." just by defining when and how a person ceases to be anarchist, you are playing that role, and it's the basis of all your polemics.

"for a better human race," you might reread your berkman. i don't agree with everything he says, but i don't doubt his anarchist bonafides either.

mp said...

oh, god, i just pulled a small-time appeal to authority. not really my style. my point, i guess, is that the idea of defining an anarchist is fucking hard, and i don't find it as easy as others to say that only some approaches to anarchy can be called anarchist. the current "banishment" of anarchists based on, what, that they don't accept all the correct theories or approaches of their bloghosts is just silly.

Jack Crow said...


I don't really spend a lot of time caring about who is or is not an anarchist. The word loses its value the moment you try to assign it to tangible relations between more than two persons, as a bellwether for right conduct.

I hope its evident by now that my acceptance of violence as legitimate is tangled up in a reflexive willingness to avoid the idea of right conduct itself.

And I can spell out any number of hierarchies which, by being hierarchies, can't possibly be an-archies. But, it gets a whole lot more difficult, immediately after that, to tell you what is anarchist, in the positive.

That's not the aim of my arrow, anyway.

For so long as it interests me, and when I'm not interested in the yumminess of low hanging fruit, I'd rather wobble-whimble about what ought not be than waste breath prescribing how others should live.

Violence is part of that larger outlook - and it does connect burning the university down to a woman stabbing a rapist fuck in the throat. The connection is intimate, it's human flesh, it's lives which are lost by living them.

How the victim strikes back is beyond judgment. That the victim gets to strike back - that's what intrigues.