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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been reading Alexander Berkman's book What Is Communist Anarchism? and I came across this passage. It made me think of what we do when we refuse to participate in systems of animal exploitation, and how when doing a monstrous thing is what's expected of you and encouraged by your peers, not doing the monstrous thing requires far more courage. It requires far more courage to not shoot the gun, to not kill innocent civilians, when you're being ordered to do so and everyone's mocking you for hesitating...

Anyway, just thought I'd share this, as I liked it and thought it might generate discussion.
This was written in 1929.

"There are people who claim that war is good because it cultivates physical courage. The argument is stupid. It is made only by those who have themselves never been to war and whose fighting is done by others. It is a dishonest argument, to induce poor fools to fight for the interests of the rich. People who have actually fought in battles will tell you that modern war has nothing to do with personal courage: it is mass fighting, at a great distance from the enemy. Personal encounters, in which the best man may win, are extremely rare. In modern war you don't see your antagonists: you fight blindly, like a machine. You go into battle, scared to death, fearing that the next minute you may be shot to pieces. You go only because you don't have the courage to refuse.

The man who can face vilification and disgrace, who can stand up against the popular current, even against his friends and his country when he knows he is right, who can defy those in authority over him, who can take punishment and prison and remain steadfast - that is a man of courage. The fellow whom you taunt as a "slacker" because he refuses to turn murderer - he needs courage. But do you need much courage just to obey orders, to do as you are told and to fall in line with thousands of others to the tune of general approval and the "Star Spangled Banner"?

War paralyzes your courage and deadens the spirit of true manhood. It degrades and stupefies with the sense that you are not responsible, that "'tis not yours to think and reason why, but to do and die," like the hundred thousand others doomed like yourself. War means blind obedience, unthinking stupidity, brutish callousness, wanton destruction, and irresponsible murder."


In modern agriculture, people no longer need to violate the rights of animals themselves personally. Just like the soldier doesn't see the families he's destroyed from a distance, the average consumer doesn't need to see the things that might make her think twice about the choices she's making.
I think more than ever, we're constructing a world in which people don't have to look at the consequences of their lifestyle choices, the impact on the exploited. We have more access to information about such things perhaps, but we're getting better and better at pushing it away, covering it up... and when faced with it, when no escape is possible, we justify it by pointing to everyone else around us, people doing the exact same thing. What difference does it make, they'll say, if one person does the right thing when everyone else won't do it?
 

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Very nice OP! I very much agree with the connection you made. Have you read "A Language Older Than Words" by Derrick Jensen or "Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil" by Inga Muscio? They basically assert the same thing. Out of sight, out of mind. In this culture we have blinders on and suffer from severe myopia when it comes to our means of production and what our government does and why it does it. As long as we can get out pretty things, we don't care.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I haven't read those, but will try to keep in mind for later... My list of books to read grows far faster than I can keep up with, unfortunately.


This subject of ignoring what our governments and the corporations we support do is very closely tied to another conversation we're having in the 'Why Criticize Vegetarians?' thread. We all know it's wrong to actively harm or pay someone to harm someone else, but we tend to excuse ourselves when it's a matter of not helping someone we could have helped. We say it's not our fault in that case, that we aren't the ones doing the harm. But we are the ones choosing not to help, which I'd have to say still makes us morally culpable.

But, yeah, we might say, well, if it's non-vegan you know you shouldn't buy it, that you're directly supporting harm. But what about when something is harmful indirectly, or could be done in a non-harmful way but isn't? Like when you find out that poison's laid out around the fields of the otherwise cruelty-free production of a plant food you enjoy, to keep away "pests". Is it morally alright to continue purchasing such a product, because it could be produced another way, and it just so happens that it isn't? I don't know...
 

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Thanks!

"What I fear is being in the presence of great evil and doing nothing. I fear that more than death." -Otilia de Koster
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimberlily1983 View Post

The man who can face vilification and disgrace, who can stand up against the popular current, even against his friends and his country when he knows he is right, who can defy those in authority over him, who can take punishment and prison and remain steadfast - that is a man of courage. The fellow whom you taunt as a "slacker" because he refuses to turn murderer - he needs courage. But do you need much courage just to obey orders, to do as you are told and to fall in line with thousands of others to the tune of general approval and the "Star Spangled Banner"?

War paralyzes your courage and deadens the spirit of true manhood. It degrades and stupefies with the sense that you are not responsible, that "'tis not yours to think and reason why, but to do and die," like the hundred thousand others doomed like yourself. War means blind obedience, unthinking stupidity, brutish callousness, wanton destruction, and irresponsible murder."

In modern agriculture, people no longer need to violate the rights of animals themselves personally. Just like the soldier doesn't see the families he's destroyed from a distance, the average consumer doesn't need to see the things that might make her think twice about the choices she's making.
I think more than ever, we're constructing a world in which people don't have to look at the consequences of their lifestyle choices, the impact on the exploited. We have more access to information about such things perhaps, but we're getting better and better at pushing it away, covering it up... and when faced with it, when no escape is possible, we justify it by pointing to everyone else around us, people doing the exact same thing. What difference does it make, they'll say, if one person does the right thing when everyone else won't do it?
I agree with all of the above. In fact understanding this is very important even for those who are taking part in those battles.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimberlily1983 View Post

People who have actually fought in battles will tell you that modern war has nothing to do with personal courage: it is mass fighting, at a great distance from the enemy. Personal encounters, in which the best man may win, are extremely rare. In modern war you don't see your antagonists: you fight blindly, like a machine. You go into battle, scared to death, fearing that the next minute you may be shot to pieces. You go only because you don't have the courage to refuse.
This, however, makes me think that Alexander, like those "people" he is talking about, has obviously never fought in battles or talked to people who have. If you're a pilot or something, then sure I guess it's arguable. But even for modern infantry, you are still close enough to the fight for it to be very personal. Kicking down the door of a building in which there is, more than likely, a bunch of guys with AK47s ready to kill you, is anything but a mechanical experience. When I did it I was about to **** myself, and forcing myself to go through that door knowing I could be dead in a second was far from an easy task. And as far as killing the "wrong" people (whether intentional or accidental), I'd be willing to bet it's just as much of an issue today as it was when people were running up and bashing each other with clubs. Nonetheless, everything else he said in regards to standing up to criticism and disapproval of, often, everyone around you, is very much relevant. Yes, people in war can do very aweful things for the sake of conformity. But this guy, as right as we was about everything else, has aboslutely no idea what battle is like. In that regard, I'd put him right up there with William "There are no atheists in the foxholes" Cummings. A different perspective, but almost as naive.
 

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I'd like to add that a significant portion of the people in those battles that are large scale and long distance intentionally shoot high in order to avoid having to deal with the idea that they may have taken a life. Those who want to conform can miss on purpose and no one will ever know. This would not be possible in an up close and personal fight.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Quote:
Originally Posted by sequoia View Post

Thanks!

"What I fear is being in the presence of great evil and doing nothing. I fear that more than death." -Otilia de Koster
That's a great quote... very relevant to my lobster thread, too.
I know most people would think that a ridiculous thing to say (like lurkers on this site?), but to me the boiling of someone alive, including lobsters... it's so horrific a thing. And being forced to be a part of that, feeling compelled to not save them despite being physically capable of doing so... That was what made this different from the other animal products that are in the house I'm staying at. I can't save those animals, the best I can do is convince my parents to not buy so much of them. With the lobsters... I could have done more, I could have faced the consequences.


Quote:
Originally Posted by nomad888 View Post

This, however, makes me think that Alexander, like those "people" he is talking about, has obviously never fought in battles or talked to people who have. If you're a pilot or something, then sure I guess it's arguable. But even for modern infantry, you are still close enough to the fight for it to be very personal. Kicking down the door of a building in which there is, more than likely, a bunch of guys with AK47s ready to kill you, is anything but a mechanical experience. When I did it I was about to **** myself, and forcing myself to go through that door knowing I could be dead in a second was far from an easy task. And as far as killing the "wrong" people (whether intentional or accidental), I'd be willing to bet it's just as much of an issue today as it was when people were running up and bashing each other with clubs. Nonetheless, everything else he said in regards to standing up to criticism and disapproval of, often, everyone around you, is very much relevant. Yes, people in war can do very aweful things for the sake of conformity. But this guy, as right as we was about everything else, has aboslutely no idea what battle is like. In that regard, I'd put him right up there with William "There are no atheists in the foxholes" Cummings. A different perspective, but almost as naive.
While I've really enjoyed the books I've read and the people I've listened to on anarchism and socialism for how easy to understand they are, how clear they are with their message, I've found that sometimes things are simplified a bit too much and generalizations are made that perhaps shouldn't be. I agree with what you're saying, and I don't know if Berkman meant it to be just a generalization, recognizing that there would be exceptions, or not. Thanks for sharing your own personal experience: it certainly would require a great amount of courage to do what you did, regardless of whether or not the war you were taking part in (Iraq? Afghanistan?) was right or wrong.

I find it interesting that you agreed with Berkman's saying that war means blind obedience, that it inspires an attitude of not feeling responsible for your actions in a sense because you're just following orders. Is this how you felt / how you feel when you serve/d? Is it something you think is a good thing (because one could definitely argue that, that it's necessary to fighting a war successfully, perhaps?)? I can't imagine that being a good thing, myself; my sense of autonomy, my moral responsibilities... that's all very important to me, to my sense of self... It's not that I couldn't fight if it was what I deemed necessary for a situation - maybe I could - it's just that I don't think blind obedience is a good thing. I think one should act from one's own initiative... we can all agree that something is best, and all do the same thing, but we should never "shut off" our reasoning capacities, or our conscience, etc. and blindly follow orders. What do you think?
 

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Difficult question, and one that gets more difficult the more I see and the more I think about it. The time for contemplation is before I go to war or after I get back from it. But during, it isn't an option. A bunch of individuals, however well educated and enlightened they may be, is no match for a group of nationalistic, blindly obedient followers with a charismatic leader using them as a single, well organized entity with a common purpose, even if that nationalism and that purpose is completely arbitrary and the followers ignorant. Thus, society needs large groups of obedient followers to fend off opposing groups of obedient followers. We have to trust that the ones giving the orders are doing so with the right intention. Meanwhile, back home we need skeptics constantly questioning those leaders so that if they do not truly have society's interests at heart, their corruption is brought to light.

This is a very simplistic answer for a very complicated problem, but the point is that we all play our rolls and balance each other out. A society that is unbalanced will eventually either tear itself apart or be conquered by an opportunistic adversary taking advantage of its lack of unity. Without some degree of individuality life really isn't worth living, but evolution (in this case cultural evolution) has a way of punishing societies without a common purpose,
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I don't know if you're right about a bunch of individuals being no match for a group of blindly obedient followers acting as one. I hope you're not, certainly, but I fear you might be. It certainly seems that it works that way, anyway...
But it seems to me that what's necessary is acting as one, not so much the blind obedience part. So that fully educated individuals could choose to act as one, for a common purpose. Getting that, though, might be the hard part: getting a bunch of educated individuals to agree on what should be done. If it's clear cut and any educated individual can see what it makes sense to do, great, but what about when it's not so obvious?


While I'm a libertarian socialist / anarchist, and would like to see a completely different society than what we have, within our current society, with warring nations, etc. I like at least the idea of what you're saying, that ideally corruption would be rare, and skeptics on the home front would be shedding light on that, the people would protest, things would change, and so on. But it seems more like the different groups completely ignore each other, oftentimes. We have our skeptics, philosophers, political scientists, etc. and they've got their fans at home, but then the other side thinks them naive, utopian, cynical, etc.: irrelevant with regards to real world matters where there's a job that needs done now, a war that needs fought, etc.

It seems that we often don't so much stifle free speech (although the same effect is produced by not providing a platform for it sometimes, by denying access to privately owned media, etc.): with failing education systems and mass entertainment everywhere you look, it's more that it's counted on that people won't be interested in taking the time to learn about any viewpoint or information that's too complicated to be summarized within a couple of minutes. Let the intellectuals have their say: everyone's too busy or otherwise preoccupied to care, and would rather distract themselves with other, more pleasant things.
So even when corruption is exposed, as it often is, it often doesn't matter much. We all say, "yes, big business is corrupt", or "government is at it again" but nothing changes.
 

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My previous post was a bit simplistic for the sake of expressing my point, but may have made things seem a bit more black and white than they really are. There are well educated people in the ranks of blindly obedient groups, and there are plenty of idiots that manage to make their way through ivy league universities. Who is or is not enlightened is a relative concept. No one is ever wrong in their own eyes, thus anyone with an opposing viewpoint is by default less enlightened.

That said, I keep starting to type a response and it never seems to express the right idea lol, so instead of expanding I'm going to give yet another very simplistic response.

I've seen good people, and I've seen a lot of really, really bad people (good and bad being yet another unrealistically black and white term used only for the sake of brevity), and unfortunately education seems to have very little to do with it. If this is true, then it unfortunately follows that it is an inseparable part of our nature. I used to theorize about which types of government I thought were best, but I've reached the point where I don't believe there is a realistic solution to most of the problems we have, at least not a permanent one. It all goes back to the beginning of agriculture and "civilized" society, and the introduction of surplus. As long as there is surplus, there will be greedy people to fight over it. I am optimistic towards life in general, and I am a genuinely happy person, but I am not optimistic towards human nature in general.

Aside from casual discussion, I simply don't concern myself with politics anymore. My deployment days are over as the result of a minor injury, though I still have a couple boring years left on drill status, and my viewpoint on life at this point can basically be summed up with Ghandi's "You must be the change you want to see in the world." Thus, I don't necessarily look at things in terms of systems anymore, but concern myself only with my own actions. In other words, I believe in social responsibility as a personal value, and freedom as a state of mind, but am somewhat disillusioned at the idea of either Democracy or Socialism. I'm going to live my life with the intention of bettering society and helping others, but I'm not going to waste one second telling others that they should do the same or criticize them for not doing the same. If people like what they see, they can follow. If they don't they can do something else. In the end, I'll let evolution decide who was right and who was wrong. That's not to say I believe we should live without government or some type of system, but I just don't feel like concerning myself with it anymore. I'll leave that to people a bit more idealistic than myself.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Yes, it is a problem when talking about these subjects. I think we all end up simplifying our arguments a little bit, despite our best intentions. I sometimes catch myself trying to list every exception, every counterexample I can think of, but it becomes too wordy and awkward.


Your attitude sounds sort of anarchist/libertarian to me (the valuing of freedom and personal responsibility), although you sound like you prefer to not go with labels. As for not being interested in trying to reform or convince people, I can understand that. I definitely like to try to convince people of what I believe in - and am open to people's efforts to change my mind about things; I'm stubborn, but if I'm wrong and can be made to see that, I'll admit that as I care more about being right in actual fact than seeming to be right while not being right. But I also have my doubts about how much change I can personally effect on society, and so for me it's also more about making my beliefs/values (in anarchism, socialism, veganism/AR, etc.) known, and whoever thinks that makes sense can go with that, can pick up a torch...

I don't think it's true that so long as there's a surplus there will be people to fight over it. I think it's that so long as there's scarcity (real or artificial), people will fight over whatever resources are available. If everyone had plenty, I think the incentive to fight for the surplus would disappear. Why hoard when there's plenty to be had, no chance of running out? When your every need is already being met, and will be in the years to come?
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimberlily1983 View Post

I don't think it's true that so long as there's a surplus there will be people to fight over it. I think it's that so long as there's scarcity (real or artificial), people will fight over whatever resources are available. If everyone had plenty, I think the incentive to fight for the surplus would disappear. Why hoard when there's plenty to be had, no chance of running out? When your every need is already being met, and will be in the years to come?
I'll meet you halfway on this
True, if there is scarcity, people will fight out of a need for survival. But let's face it, most of the things we fight over nowadays are not exactly necessary for survival. With surplus came greed, and people today fight over greed, not survival. Thus, my original statement can be changed as follows: "If there is scarcity, people will fight over what little there is. If there is surplus, people will fight over the excess."

I've come to the completely unoptimistic realization that unless some unimaginable catastrophic event sets us back to pre "civilization" where we are, once again, living as small groups of people off the land instead of off an unnecessarily complex greed based society (otherwise known as civilization), the fighting will continue. And since this is extremely unlikely to happen regardless of what system is set up, the fighting will contue.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Hmm, I don't know. Personally, at least, I have no desire to fight people for things that I don't need. I want the basic things I need in order to thrive, and that's pretty much it. I'd like enough money to have healthy food, a nice place to live in, decent clothes, the ability to travel a bit, have a few nice gadgets... and that's about it.
I think most people are like this, although admittedly many are not. But I think we have to look at why those people want more, why there's such a drive to compete and bring down others in order to be on top, and I think that it boils down to the fact that those are the values of a capitalistic society: we're bombarded by ads telling us to want things we wouldn't otherwise want, we learn that to make it to the top you must crush others...

So I agree with you about scarcity (people will fight for the little there is), but I think people will only fight over the surplus when the culture denies a fair share to some, all the while encouraging them to want more and more. It's not that I believe human nature to be good and pure, but to be malleable: you get what you put into the system. And with capitalism, what you get is a lot of greed, selfishness, etc. I think a different social system would result in human beings that act very differently from those we see around us today.
 
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