Let’s start this by making it very clear, I am not by any remote stretch of the imagination anything resembling a pacifist. Violence is, in fact, sometimes the answer. Sometimes, it’s the only answer, other times it’s the most efficient answer, and denying that is just dumb. Violence is a tool, and like many tools, can turn very nastily on those who employ it. So it’s not an answer you should run to by default, or one you should employ without a lot of thought toward collateral damage and cascading effects, but on occasion, it is what’s needed. Everything I say below should be read with the full knowledge that it’s being said by me, thinking on the subject as I do. Apply salt accordingly.
Pacifism is not about conflict, but about violence. It’s grounded in the belief that violence is never the answer, or that it’s never an acceptable answer, or that it’s impossible to determine the circumstances under which it is an acceptable answer and the risks associated with it are too high to countenance mistakes. Pacifists can resist; their means of resisting are constrained, but that constraint can be an effective tool as well. Images and stories of power inflicting violence on the non-violent weak are extremely potent. Pacifism is not about conflict avoidance, running from a fight, or idly hoping things will get better. It’s a tactic, a guidebook, a means of enabling a concept of optimal engagement in a conflict. Like bravery and fear, one cannot be a pacifist in the absence of conflict.
I am not a pacifist, I disagree with their fundamental approaches to conflict resolution. But I have a lot of respect for them. Thus far, our differences come out strictly in rhetoric and big-picture framing,* not day-to-day assessments or choices. I rather hope that continues to be true.
For those of you who have misconstrued pacifism into an excuse to go home and whine about how mean people are, and how stressful you find it to engage with people who disagree with you, the word you are looking for is coward. You do not get to say, “The world is ending because those people there are destroying it, so I am nobly going to go over there, shut my eyes and do nothing,” and keep your dignity.
Coward. Own it. Stop giving real pacifists a bad name.
* i.e. my worst case scenario is that after going all the way to deploying violence we still lose, while theirs is that we utterly lose, but haven’t tried violence. And I can’t get through the day without threatening to shoot somebody in the face.