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Derrick Jensen, “Love Does Not Imply Pacifism.”

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“Love Does Not Imply Pacifism.”
by Derrick Jensen

“The people in power will not disappear voluntarily; giving flowers to
the cops just isn’t going to work. This thinking is fostered by the
establishment; they like nothing better than love and nonviolence. The
only way I like to see cops given flowers is in a flower pot from a high
- William S. Burroughs

“Many hundreds of pages ago, and now for me many years ago, I wrote that
this book was originally going to be an exploration of when
counterviolence is an appropriate response to the violence of the
system. In fact what has become this book was supposed to be nothing
more than a pamphlet in which I took the main arguments normally
presented by pacifists and examined them to see if they make any sense.
Here now is that pamphlet.

Here are some standard lines thrown out by pacifists. I’m sure you, too,
have heard them enough that if we had a bouncing red ball we could all
sing along. Love leads to pacifism, and any use of violence implies a
failure to love. You can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the
master’s house. It’s far easier to make war than to make peace. We must
visualize world peace. To even talk about winning and losing (much less
to talk about violence, much, much less to actually do it) perpetuates
the destructive dominator mindset that is killing the planet. If we just
visualize peace hard enough, we may find it, because, as Johann
Christoph Friedrich von Schiller tells us, “Peace is rarely denied to
the peaceful.” Ends never justify means, which leads to Erasmus saying,
and pacifists quoting,“The most disadvantageous peace is better than the
most just war.”

Gandhi gives us some absolutism, as well as absolution for our inability
to stop oppressors, when he says, “Mankind has to get out of violence
only through non-violence. Hatred can be overcome only by love.” Gandhi
again, with more magical thinking,“When I despair,I remember that all
through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have
been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in
the end, they always fall—Think of it, ALWAYS.”Violence only begets
violence. Gandhi again, “We must be the change we wish to see.” If you
use violence against exploiters, you become like they are. Related to
that is the notion that violence destroys your soul. If violence is
used, the mass media will distort our message. Every act of violence
sets back the movement ten years. If we commit an act of violence, the
state will come down hard on us. Because the state has more capacity to
inflict violence than we do, we can never win using that tactic, and so
must never use it. And finally, violence never accomplishes anything.

Let’s take these one by one. Love leads to pacifism, and any use of
violence implies a failure to love. If we love we cannot ever consider
violence, even to protect those we love. Well, we dealt with this
several hundred pages ago, and I’m not sure mother grizzly bears would
agree that love implies pacifism, nor mother moose, nor many other
mothers I’ve known.

You can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. I
can’t tell you how many people have said this to me. I can, however,
tell you with reasonable certainty that none of these people have ever
read the essay from which the line comes: “The Master’s Tools Will Never
Dismantle The Master’s House,” by Audre Lorde (certainly no pacifist
herself). The essay has nothing to do with pacifism, but with the
exclusion of marginalized voices from discourse ostensibly having to do
with social change. If any of these pacifists had read her essay, they
would undoubtedly have been horrified, because she is, reasonably
enough, suggesting a multivaried approach to the multi-various problems
we face. She says, “As women, we have been taught either to ignore our
differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion
rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no
liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an
individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of
our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do
not exist.”We can say the same for unarmed versus armed resistance, that
activists have been taught to view our differences as causes for
separation and suspicion, rather than as forces for change. That’s a
fatal error. She continues, “Survival is learning how to take our
differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never
dismantle the master’s house.”

It has always seemed clear to me that violent and nonviolent approaches
to social change are complementary. No one I know who advocates the
possibility of armed resistance to the dominant culture’s degradation
and exploitation rejects nonviolent resistance. Many of us routinely
participate in nonviolent resistance and support those for whom this is
their only mode of opposition. Just last night I and two other
non-pacifists wasted two hours sitting at a county fair tabling for a
local environmental organization and watching the—how do I say this
politely?—supersized passersby wearing too-small Bush/Cheney 2004
T-shirts and carrying chocolate-covered bananas. We received many
scowls. We did this nonviolent work, although we accomplished precisely
nothing. But many dogmatic pacifists refuse to grant the same respect
the other way. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of the
dogmatic pacifists I’ve encountered have been fundamentalists,
perceiving violence as a form of blasphemy (which it is within this
culture if it flows up the hierarchy, and these particular
fundamentalists have never been too picky about reaping the fiscal
fruits of this culture’s routine violence down the hierarchy), and
refusing to allow any mention of violence in their presence. It’s
ironic, then, that they end up turning Audre Lorde’s comment on its

Our survival really does depend on us learning how to “take our
differences”—including violent and nonviolent approaches to stopping
civilization from killing the planet—“and make them strengths.” Yet
these fundamentalists attempt to eradicate this difference, to disallow
it, to force all discourse and all action into only one path: theirs.
That’s incredibly harmful, and of course serves those in power. The
master’s house will never be dismantled using only one tool, whether
that tool is discourse, hammers, or high explosives.

I have many other problems with the pacifist use of the idea that force
is solely the dominion of those in power. It’s certainly true that the
master uses the tool of violence, but that doesn’t mean he owns it.
Those in power have effectively convinced us they own land, which is to
say they’ve convinced us to give up our inalienable right to access our
own landbases. They’ve effectively convinced us they own conflict
resolution methods (which they call laws), which is to say they’ve
convinced us to give up our inalienable right to resolve our own
conflicts (which they call taking the law into your own hands). They’ve
convinced us they own water. They’ve convinced us they own the wild (the
government could not offer “timber sales” unless we all agreed it owned
the trees in the first place). They’re in the process of convincing us
they own the air. The state has for millennia been trying to convince us
it owns a monopoly on violence, and abusers have been trying to
convince us for far longer than that. Pacifists are more than willing to
grant them that, and to shout down anyone who disagrees.

Well, I disagree. Violence does not belong exclusively to those at the
top of the hierarchy, no matter how much abusers and their allies try to
convince us. They have never convinced wild animals, including wild
humans, and they will never convince me.

And who is it who says we should not use the master’s tools? Often it is
Christians, Buddhists, or other adherents of civilized religions. It is
routinely people who wish us to vote our way to justice or shop our way
to sustainability. But civilized religions are tools used by the master
as surely as is violence. So is voting. So is shopping. If we cannot
use tools used by the master, what tools, precisely, can we use? How
about writing? No, sorry. As I cited Stanley Diamond much earlier,
writing has long been a tool used by the master. So I guess we can’t use
that. Well, how about discourse in general? Yes, those in power own the
means of industrial discourse production, and those in power misuse
discourse. Does that mean they own all discourse—all discourse is one of
the master’s tools— and we can never use it? Of course not. They also
own the means of industrial religion production, and they misuse
religion. Does that mean they own all religion—all religion is one of
the master’s tools—and we can never use it? Of course not. They own the
means of industrial violence production, and they misuse violence. Does
that mean they own all violence—all violence is one of the master’s
tools—and we can never use it? Of course not.

But I have yet another problem with the statement that the master’s
tools will never dismantle the master’s house, which is that it’s a
terrible metaphor. It just doesn’t work. The first and most necessary
condition for a metaphor is that it make sense in the real world. This

You can use a hammer to build a house, and you can use a hammer to take
it down. It doesn’t matter whose hammer it is. I’m guessing that Audre
Lord, for all of her wonderful capabilities as a writer, thinker,
activist, and human being never in her entire life dismantled a house.
Had she done that, she could never have made up this metaphor, because
you sure as hell can use the master’s tools to dismantle his house. And
you can use the master’s high explosives to dismantle the master’s dam.

There’s an even bigger problem with the metaphor. What is perhaps its
most fundamental premise? That the house belongs to the master. But
there is no master, and there is no master’s house. There are no
master’s tools. There is a person who believes himself a master. There
is a house he claims is his. There are tools he claims as well. And
there are those who still believe he is the master. But there are others
who do not buy into this delusion. There are those of us who see a man,
a house, and tools. No more and no less.

Those in power are responsible for their choices, and I am responsible
for mine. But I need to emphasize that I’m not responsible for the way
my choices have been framed. If someone puts a gun to my head and gives
me the choice of taking a bullet to the brain now or watching twelve
straight hours of Dennis Miller, I don’t think I could be held entirely
responsible for taking the easy way out and telling the person to pull
the trigger. That’s a joke (sort of), but the point is a serious one. I
want to be clear: I am responsible for the choices I make. I am also
responsible for attempting to break the confines which narrowly limit my
choices, whenever and wherever possible.

The next argument I’ve often heard for pacifism is that it’s much easier
to make war than to make peace. I have to admit that the first ten or
fifteen times I heard this I didn’t understand it at all: whether war or
peace is harder is irrelevant. It’s easier to catch a fly with your
bare hand than with your mouth, but does that mean it’s somehow better
or more moral to do the latter? It’s easier to take out a dam with a
sledgehammer than a toothpick, but doing the latter wouldn’t make me a
better person. An action’s difficulty is entirely independent of its
quality or morality.

The next ten or fifteen times I heard this phrase it seemed to be an
argument for violent resistance. If I want to live in a world with wild
salmon, and if I’m all for doing this the easiest way possible, they’re
telling me I should make war. Certainly we have enough difficulties
ahead of us in stopping those who are killing the planet without adding
difficulties just for the hell of it.

The next ten or fifteen times I heard it I started going all
psychotherapeutic on those who said it, wondering what it is about these
pacifists that causes them to believe struggle for struggle’s sake is
good. Sounds like a martyr complex to me. Or maybe misplaced Calvinism. I
don’t know. But after I heard it another ten or fifteen times I decided
I just don’t care. The argument is nonsensical, and I don’t want to
waste time on it that I could put to better use, like working to bring
down civilization. If all they’re saying, by the way, is that oftentimes
creativity can make violence unnecessary, I wish they would just say
that. I would have no problem with that, so long as we emphasize the
word oftentimes.”


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