Philosophy Weekend: Rebuilding

When I write about the damages caused by rampant militarism, I’m afraid some readers think I’m just making noise, just enjoying the sound of my own voice. I wish to assure everybody who reads my blog that I would never bother writing about a political problem if I didn’t think the problem had a real and viable solution.

It’s not really your fault if you’ve become so discouraged with political debate that you’ve decided antiwar activism is just another form of noise. Perhaps you’ve thought hard about the future of our planet and concluded that we’re simply stuck with the problems that have plagued us so terribly in the past. Maybe you subscribe to the widespread belief that war and mass violence are so deeply enmeshed in basic human nature that we must continue to allow military masterminds to spend our money, waste our resources, kill strangers in our name. If so, I believe you’re missing something important that’s changing around you.

But how can I write about pacifism without sounding like a naive, hope-filled fool? And how can I bolster my arguments for pacifism when there are so many common misunderstandings about what pacifists believe? These are the problems that have been bugging me recently — bugging me so much that I have thought seriously about killing this whole Philosophy Weekend series, and giving up on my mission to tackle the toughest ethical and practical questions that matter so much in the world today. I often feel so hopeless that I can’t imagine going on.

But, well, I think I’ll slap myself back into productivity by remembering how I get through tough problems that often frustrate me as a software developer. When I find myself stuck inside a mess of code that doesn’t work and appears to be beyond repair, I sometimes make a wise decision to simply start fresh, to rebuild my foundation. This technique has been a lifesaver for me, and I know it has for other software developers too. Start over, back out, throw it all away, rebuild the foundation from the ground up! Electrons are free; software developers have infinite chances to wipe away mistakes and start anew. In this way, software developers have it much easier than, say, heart surgeons or airline pilots.

Well, ethical philosophers have it easier than heart surgeons or airline pilots too. I have been writing about the psychological, sociological and historical roots of militarism on these weekend blog posts for nearly four years now, and even though I’ve made some progress I know I’ve also occasionally painted myself into corners, lost my own logical thread, outlasted the patience of my readers.

It’s time for me to rebuild my foundation, and I’m starting today. The two basic truths I wish to support are these:

  1. World peace is not only possible but probable, and we need to get behind the cause. Despite the apparently bleak outlook for pacifism in the year 2014, the likelihood of a decisive and successful global awakening of peace-loving people around the world may be much stronger than it looks.
  2. War is a fraud. Militarism is a fraud. There is no intelligent reason why we must continue to support this blight.

How do we build a consistent and logical foundation upon which these important truths can be presented and supported? Most importantly, how do we lay out a framework for a wide belief system that supports pacifism and also achieves a level of solidity and consistency that will allow us to defend these truths against many passionate and stubborn doubters?

Well, I think we have to start by examining the nature of truth itself. (I can hear some people groaning at this idea, but in fact a philosopher must always begin by examining the nature of truth, so as to establish a sturdy and repeatable method for building truths upon truths and reaching important conclusions.)

The first step in my fresh start is to state my purpose, and I’ve now stated it with the two numbered statements above. Next weekend, I will try to ground the structure I have in mind by naming three great philosophers who can stand as pillars for a logical, consistent and complete expression of a pacifist philosophy. These are three well-known names whose work, taken together, creates a synthesis that can support the important principles of pacifism, and that can provide strong and credible answers to the “frequently asked questions” (e.g., “What about Hitler?”) that pacifists are always asked.

Interestingly, while the three philosophers I’m going to cite are well-known and well-regarded by other philosophers, I don’t believe any of them are well-known as pacifists. However, all three were intrinsically pacifistic, and at least one of them defined himself as such. I’d be curious if anyone can guess the three names I have in mind, or if anyone has choices of their own that they’d like to nominate for these positions. Please post a comment if you have a suggestion you’d like to share.

I’ll present the three names next weekend, and I hope we’ll be able to build upon this until we have succeeded in creating a structure that’s sturdy enough for us to stand upon.

4 Responses

  1. Sounds good Levi….looking
    Sounds good Levi….looking forward to it. I suppose I’ll just throw out the first three people who came to mind:

    Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell.

  2. Hey Wo! I like all three of
    Hey Wo! I like all three of those people very much, but the three names I will present next week are more academic and less literary than Ferlinghetti, Vonnegut, Orwell.

  3. Looking forward to next weeks
    Looking forward to next weeks essay. Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and Mahatma Gandhi would be my three guesses.

  4. Hi Bruce — there’s no name I
    Hi Bruce — well, there’s no name I’d place higher on my personal list of favorite pacifists than Mahatma Gandhi. However, none of these three names are on the specific list of philosophers I have in mind. I think of Gandhi as an activist and spiritual leader more than a philosopher. I need to learn more about George Bernard Shaw myself, and have been meaning to (thanks for the reminder).

    As for Bertrand Russell — well, he was a great pacifist and a great philosopher, but I find his pacifism more convincing than his philosophy, and in fact one of the three names I’ll present next week was a close friend and associate of Bertrand Russell’s who ended up becoming one of the chief critics of Russell’s philosophical system, though not a critic of Russell’s pacifism.

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