Archives for posts with tag: pacifism

He was a young teen and had been a patient of mine for at least a year. He had a long history of aggression, both verbal and physical. He expressed a lot of aggressive fantasies. But he was also a very smart and sensitive boy. At times, when he spoke it sounded like beautiful poetry.

He was hurting and vulnerable, a time that could produce a lot of aggressive posturing or that could produce some real talk about the real things that were bothering him. On this day, he told me proudly about his plan to end the Iraq War. His knowledge of military strategy was impressive, I must admit.

His aggressive fantasies, however, only fed his black and white thinking as well as his use of real aggression. I was not trying to encourage this. Seeing that I was not responding he said, “Dr. MacKenzie, isn’t that a great idea?” I responded with a couple of statements like, “You’ve given this a lot of thought” and perhaps even an interpretation, “Sometimes when we feel out of control of our lives, we like to feel very very powerful.”

He was a very persistent kid, though, and he was really proud of the elaborate combination of air, land, and sea forces that would win us the war. “Come on, you’re not answering the question. What do you really think?”

I knew that this boy respected me and considered me an important person in his life. He had very little peace in his life. We’d had many many conversations in the past like this one. I wanted to try a different response but I knew it was risky. I replied, “I am a pacifist.”

I’ll never forget the look on his face of incredible disappointment. I explained to him that I thought that finding peaceful solutions to world problems should be a goal of our country, that I knew it was unrealistic to expect to avoid all war, but that I was concerned that aggression was used so readily. There were additional reasons that had nothing to do with my self-disclosure, but he stopped seeing me within a month or two.

Pacifism is not a dirty concept but as a word it is treated as such. Pacifism is not “passivism”. Peace making is an incredibly active process requiring lots of planning, reflecting, listening, understanding, persistence and just plain work. It is also not being a door mat. Pacifism is about relationships, respect, and getting along. It is about justice and equality.

I know there are some people who believe in pacifism as an absolute. I don’t. I believe that it is a relative concept and further, that it is relatively neglected.

I think most people would agree that military force should not be the first line solution to a problem. War is often an act of domination. But it is often an act of desperation, if you really think about it. But it is often treated as a ready solution. And probably part of the reason for this is that we have a military at the ready all of the time. We have a war machine. Where is our peace machine? We don’t have one that is nearly the size, scope, and organization as our military.

Today, we commemorate D-Day, when Allied forces stormed the beach at Normandy, contributing to the end of WWII. So many sacrifices were made by so many people because the world had turned completely upside down.

How better to honor those losses by working harder not to repeat them?

 

 

I have a Ph.D. in psychology. This is a science degree. I was a researcher for many years, following the scientific method to answer empirical questions. Before starting a study, there is also rigorous review of research involving human participants by ethics committees, which are comprised of both academic researchers and community members. I also have a number of peer reviewed research publications. The peer review process requires that other researchers in the field (and they shouldn’t be your buddies, by the way, that would be a conflict) review an article and not only weigh in on whether the article should be published but also make sometimes very extensive recommendations about changes to be made in the writing, the logic, the conclusions, or even the type and amount of statistical tests that are performed. And by the way, the authors’ names are taken off of the article by the journal editor and the authors are also not told the names of the reviewers.

It is not a perfect system. It is not totally devoid of bias. But it a systematic process, with built in checks and balances, carried out by in my experience, very smart and dedicated people. I find it extremely powerful that at the basis of statistical testing is the possibility that a hypothesis is wrong. Mathematically, each hypothesis is tested against the null hypothesis, which to make a long story short means, “Researcher, you are wrong. What you thought made a difference, made no difference.” So while an individual researcher might be arrogant, the basic assumption of statistical testing is still steeped in a kind of humility.  In sum, carrying out science involves the hard work of employing logic, making predictions, gathering evidence, and working as a scientific community to continually build a systematic understanding of the world.

I love doing science. I’m no  longer a researcher so I am not engaged in conducting it anymore. But I like to think of myself as an extremely logical person, a scientific person, a person who despite the fact that I am passionate with strong feeling and quick thoughts, tries to examine questions in the time it takes to do so, think about evidence to support my initial judgments, and make revisions as I go.

I am also a person with a strong faith in God. And again, I am not a traditionally religious person but I do have strong faith. God cannot be seen directly, anyway. God cannot really be measured. A belief in God is not scientific. The way I have thought about this is that there are some questions that are subject to faith and others that are subject to science. The existence of God is not a question, at least at this time, that is subject to scientific inquiry. But I have faith and experience God through the love people express for each other and nature’s majesty the latter of which includes Earth and the wide expanses of the universe.

Today, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was a truly tragic and horrible event during particularly turbulent and violent times in our country’s history. People die for no good reason all of the time. It is easy to get desensitized to it. But thinking about JFK, a charismatic, young, idealistic, and good looking president grounds us and reminds us of the horror of violence.

I think most people in the U.S. would agree that there is too much violence in our country. But after that agreement, things tend to fall apart. Today I was reminded of the National Rifle Association slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” I hate that slogan. And as you know, I hate very few things. But I hate it and it’s not just because I disagree, as do most Americans, with the extreme positions of the NRA.

I could go through the illogic of the slogan. It’s not an either or situation. People with guns kill people, both a person and a weapon are usually necessary. Yes, people still get beaten to death with someones bare hands and feet, but this is a minority when all violence related deaths are considered. A tool is usually used and guns are an extremely fast and effective way of killing someone.

There has been systematic research on guns in this country. I could give you all kinds of statistics about how having a gun in one’s home increases the risk of gun death. I could quote all kinds of evidence that our current gun control laws are insufficient in truly protecting people. I could also give you really obvious logic like do people really need assault weapons for duck hunting? Or do you really want to follow the logic of Ted Nugent? I mean have you listened to him? He makes no sense.

I could give you data. Because guns, their use, and their impact are observable. They are subject to scientific inquiry. And yes that inquiry can be subject to bias and given that NRA successfully lobbied to defund grant funding through the Centers for Disease Control (they have a section of injury prevention) on any studies that involve guns, we will unfortunately get less information about a problem that most all of us would agree exists. Too many people are getting killed by people with guns.

But I could not convince most of the people I’d like to convince with logic and data. Because many people have decided that this question is one of faith, not one of science. So there’s really no way to argue. And it doesn’t matter that there is supposed to be a separation of Church and state. A religious belief, by a powerful lobby, in highly unrestricted gun access and ownership is held to not be questioned and is incorporated into law.

As a general rule, I avoid discussing politics especially the politics that get intertwined with religious belief. It’s not so much that I disagree with everyone. I just find that whether I am discussing these issues with a person who agrees with me or not, there’s an incredible intolerance for people who express a different view point. And not only is there intolerance, there is name calling, “morons”, “un-American”, “not real Americans”, “Bible thumpers”, “idiots”.

And then I just come out of the conversation fighting harshly judgmental views. I try really hard not to be harshly judgmental because it is incompatible with love and respect. And I add “harshly” because we are supposed to be judgmental; we make hundreds perhaps thousands of judgments in a single day. But the best judgments are those that are fair, safe, and respectful to ourselves and to others.

You may agree with me. You may disagree with me. If you’ve gotten to this part of this post, I thank you for your kind attention. In any case, I have faith in God. I have faith in the power of  love. And I believe that violence is a problem in our society. And in my work, I help parents and children to use alternatives to aggression. In that sense, I work on the “people” part of the NRA slogan. Along with my husband, I work to teach Zoe how to live as a loving, peaceful, fair, and respectful person. I continue to try to live in this way myself. I am not always successful. Nobody is, there is conflict in life. But I hold peace as an ideal to which I continually strive. To me, that is my personal practical brand of pacifism.

People, let’s get to work.

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George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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