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Why I Don't Follow Gandhi All the Way

December 25, 2013, 8:00 AM

I'm sometimes asked if I'm a pacifist.  There have been times in my life when I've called myself a pacifist, but then I meet real pacifists and realize that I'm not or I read the writings of real pacifists. Gandhi talks about creating peace armies, for example, that consist of women and children. When India was worried about being invaded by Japan in the late 1930s Gandhi said that this army of women and children could go out in front of the Japanese and basically allow the Japanese to slaughter them until the Japanese started to feel really bad and laid down their arms.  That was Gandhi’s vision.

I have enormous adoration for Gandhi, but I found that to be horrific.  That seems unacceptable to me.  That’s carrying a moral principle of nonviolence too far.  I do think that there are situations where violence has really been -- I don’t know if it’s necessary -- but really difficult to avoid, where not using violence might be more immoral than not.  There are crazy people out there.  There are sociopaths.  There is always the possibility of violent apocalyptic cults.  A true pacifist doesn’t even think there should be police forces.  I can’t agree with that.

So I think we need to envision a radically demilitarized and disarmed world where war between nations is unlikely, but still there would be some kind of very minimal armed forces for self-defense for policing purposes.  Violence would only be used if absolutely necessary.

There would not be the kind of glorification that we have of military adventures that we have right now.  So maybe it could be carried out on a kind of international basis with a peacekeeping force organized by the United Nations.  

Total pacifism I think doesn’t recognize that there will always be dangerous, violent people even if there are just isolated sociopaths that need to be dealt with somehow.  My hope is that that will be really a minimal problem in the future once we get rid of state sanctioned violence.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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