Stephen Kahn

Posts Tagged ‘War’

Moral equivalent?

In Hard to tell on October 5, 2011 at 3:39 am

I mentioned my frustration with Bev’s pacifism to one of the sort of leaders of Transition Whidbey (a group which seems to strive to be a functioning anarchy). I said something along the lines of, “I don’t keep weapons in my house (like some 4th Amendment fanatic) except for the pellet rifle I use to pot the occasional rabbit, but I would not expect a sheriff’s deputy to have to carry out his job without a weapon.”

Her response was along the lines of, “Guns always create more problems than they solve.”

While this argument might have some merit as a general philosophical statement, I find its use as an unassailable law of social science frustrating and unpersuasive. There are indeed times when a bullet placed into a dangerous person (say a homicidal maniac) is the best response.

There is another difficult issue we need to consider, and that is the problem of motivation and inspiration. When I was a college English major, I read (with some weariness and lack of enthusiams) some of the writing of Henry James. It wasn’t until much later, when I got around to reading Varieties of Religious Belief by Henry’s brother, William James. The James gang were a couple of bright bulbs, and William pondered the issue of why young people (mostly young men) are so inspired by the prospect of fighting and dying in war. James argued that humans need something as thrilling and inspiring as fighting to exercise their spirit. Humans have wrestled with the problem of human violence for thousands of years, and I have no solution, so I will move my blog on to another topic and let James provide the last word on the subject (after a brief introduction).


In Hard to tell on October 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I started out with good intentions this week. I would be positive and peaceful. Here on Whidbey Island, people are sure we can live in peace and harmony and adore nature. Once a month I go to the Transition Whidbey potluck. TW in a way is a little grim because they think things are going to get dicey when we run out of oil, but their slant on preparing for surviving such events is to “re-skill” and grow and preserve food and all work together so the collapse of civilization if it comes will be green ad cheerful and we will all sit and stroke our friendly chickens as they cheerfully lay eggs in our laps.

Our twice-a-week local newspaper is mostly upbeat and positive, telling us about good local events and activities. However, for the last several months the front page of most issues have provided coverage of a scandalous murder story. In a convoluted and peripheral way the hair salon where I get my hair cut is involved, though I am not worried about my hair dresser being careless with scissors near my head

I subscribe to Harper’s Magazine. A few months ago it carried an article arguing for pacifism. For many people skeptical of pacifism, a common slogan is “What about Hitler and the Holocaust? It was necessary to take up arms to defeat the Axis powers during World War II.”

The author of the Harper’s article argued that the Jews could have been rescued without going to war. I am still skeptical, but the article was well written and well argued. I wasn’t really convinced, but it was the best argument for pacifism I remember coming across.

At the time I read it, I was involved with a Transition Whidbey project to start a local credit union. I was working with two people, Duke and Bev. (Duke has since died.) It was clear to me that both were quite opposed to war. Duke had served in the Korean War, and Bev (who like me has Jewish ancestry) had demonstrated against the Vietnam War.

I called attention to the article to Bev thinking she would be pleased to see a strong pro-pacifistic argument. Her response was something along the lines of I don’t need to read it. I am completely against war no matter what. I dropped the topic but I am not convinced by the I am against violence no matter what argument.