Pacifism and the male hormone problem
Richard Parncutt

September 2015, revised November 2015

Richard Parrncutt ICMPC 2012
My 1989 book "Harmony" was dedicated "to the pacifists", which was inspired by my personal experience of German pacifism during a research year in Munich in 1983. Since then there has been an awful lot of irrational violence in the world that could have been prevented by courageous pacifism. With the continuing conflicts in many parts of the world and their enormous death tolls, nothing could be more urgent than pacifism.

The basic idea of pacifism in any conflict situation is this: Stop fighting and start negotiating. Negotiation is always better than violence that causes the deaths of innocent people. That is such a blatantly obvious statement you would think everyone would understand it. But there are lot of stupid people out there it seems.

Well, perhaps "stupid" is the wrong word. Instead, people seem to let their negative emotions take over. In an interesting twist on "If it feels good do it", those who promote the idea of military intervention as a form of conflict resolution feel that their anger (or the anger of the citizens they represent) justifies violence, just as a rapist feels that his sexual desire justifies rape.

Take the "war on terror" as an example. The attacks of 9/11 were responses to US imperialism and militarism in the Arab world. Al-Qaeda was angry about US support for violence against Muslims in areas such as Palestine, Somalia, Chechnya, and Kashmir, the presence of US troops in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia. Of course, nothing could possibly have justified that attack on the US, just as nothing can possibly justify US attacks on other countries. The US has bombed 24 countries since 1945, and many of these attacks were far worse than 9/11. Both sides were guilty, so a rational response would have been to improve security in appropriate manner, and then to investigate the causes of the problem. Find out who is angry with whom, and why.

That is what "military intelligence" should be about. Evidently, it is not. Maybe the psychologists are responsible? I just checked the Wikipedia page on "intelligence" and it contains no reference to wisdom, morality or ethics(November 2015). Nothing of the sort! So you can be "intelligent" and not care if your actions are causing millions of deaths? Maybe that is because cognitive psychologists like to compare humans with computers? Hmmm. But I digress.

After 9/11, it was immediately obvious to anyone with a head and a heart, or merely with the slightest idea of history, that fighting back in that situation would just make the matter worse, but that is exactly what George W. Bush and his international allies did. Every military adventure in the "war on terror" increased the number of Islamic extremists who were prepared to die for their cause. That was the US's main achievement! The result was ISIS, and a general increase in the number of terrorist attacks all over the world. The "war on terror" created ISIS (by which I mean that without the war on terror, there would be no ISIS). The problem is still getting worse, with no end in sight unless the men (no women, to my knowledge) responsible for this tragic farce come to their senses and start implementing rational pacifist policy. The main culprits should be tried by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Men and their hormone problem

All of that makes you wonder why so many people think that "women are victims of their hormones". Obviously, men have a bigger problem with their hormones than women, because the negative consequences of men's hormone problem (anger leading to violence) are much greater. The hysterical response to 9/11 was one of countless examples. That was male hysteria, I hasten to add.

I am not only talking about testosterone. Relevant hormones include the catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine)
that are secreted by the adrenal medulla, and the glucocorticoids that are produced by the adrenal cortex, when we get angry - as part of the fight-or-flight response. These hormones cause more problems in men than women due to their greater physical strength, coupled with culturally transmitted glorifications of male violence. If the world was run by women, there would surely be less irrational violence, which is why pacifists are often also feminists.

Once we realise that angry men are victims of their hormones, we can respond to their anger in a more rational manner. Responses to male violence should not exacerbate their hormone problem, because that generally increase the probability of further violence. Instead, the challenge is to understand the cause of the anger, and to address that problem. That is a pragmatic policy that can be implemented at many levels from women in difficult domestic situations to countries in difficult international situations, including responses to terrorist attacks.

While trying to understand anger and violence in this way, we must avoid the trap of condoning violence. Violence is always wrong, and there is never any excuse for it. Being a victim of one's hormones is never a good excuse. After 9/11, many naive Americans (both leaders and voters) were angry and wanted revenge, but that does not excuse the violent response of a "war on terror", nor can those Americans claim in retrospect that their hormones were responsible for their irrational behavior.

When anger comes up, the first thing to do is try to understand it and think about how the anger could be released safely, without hurting anyone. It is not a good idea to ignore an angry reaction to an unfair decision, because that anger might then explode into violence. To cite a famous example, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was one of the causes of fascism and World War Two. Germany was forced to accept responsibility for the loss and damage caused by the war. In fact, Germany was no more or less guilty than the other powers; Germany had merely lost.
It was very unwise (to say the least) of Britain and France to sign a treaty that was so obviously unfair and made another war more likely. 

It follows from these arguments that politicians need some training as therapists, or at least an understanding of basic therapeutic principles. That would put them in a better position to address the anger of leaders and citizens of countries, including their own, with the aim of avoiding violence. It is ironic that the US
responded so irrationally to 9/11, although (at least according to cliché) so many Americans (including political leaders) visit their therapist regularly. What do they talk about?

We need a better balance between mind and body. What a wonderful world it would be if men who are violent toward their partners
talked to a good therapist about their inner personal conflicts and the anger they feel toward their partner or perhaps toward women in general. What a wonderful world it would be if the politicians involved in violent conflicts talked to a good therapist about their inner personal conflicts and the anger they feel toward enemy countries, cultures or "races" - or if they just sat quietly in a room for a few hours with the leaders of enemy countries and meditated about their international relationships (or about nothing at all, for that matter).

Pacifism and liberty

Hormones are involved in violent behavior at all levels from individual to global. Consider domestic violence. Because men are generally physically stronger than their female partners and children, they are more likely to get away with violence, if there is no external system in place to prevent it. This form of violence is the cradle of sexism, for without it, women and men might have equal social power. So strategies to stop this violence belong to the foundations of feminism.

Violence is part of a definition of slavery. Unjust working conditions only become slavery when people are forced by violent means to work, or not to leave. In a world where domestic violence is not prevented, women can become slaves to their male partners. The solution is a form of pacifism. A pacifist will typically argue that violence - whether in the home, the workplace, or anywhere else - is never justified except in self-defence or in the defence of weaker participants (provided there is a good chance the violent strategy will work).

This has enormous ramifications for the American concept of liberty. Liberty is the opposite of slavery. If Americans want liberty, they need pacifism. Violence not only leads to more violence - it also leads to restrictions on liberty such as border controls and infringements of privacy. That is what happened after 9/11, and the ultimate reason was American militarism in the Arab world, followed by the insane Western response to 9/11. If people are angry about so-called "intelligence agencies" (FBI, CIA, NSA, DIA) getting access to private information and keeping security files on individuals (as if the US admired communism and wanted to emulate it!) then there is just one long-term solution: pacifism. We must address the ultimate cause of the problem.

People versus money

For decades, the main motivation for American military involvement in Iraq has been money: Blood for oil. That raises the outrageous question of the value of a human life, in monetary terms.

Billions of dollars are spent on arms, not to mention the cost of war in human lives. In Iraq and Syria, for example, if just a small fraction of that money had been spent on persistent, creative, generous negotiation, perhaps combined with economic sanctions, many of the problems could have been solved in advance. If that investment had been made before the conflict began, or at any time during the conflict, and the negotiations had continued for as long as it takes (open end!), the conflict would never would have become as serious as it did, and the US would not have such an enormous national debt to pay off.

It follows that even if you don't care about human lives, and obviously some people really don't, war still does not make economic sense. If you want make money out of other countries, the best way to do it is peacefully. Of course CEOs in the arms industry are making a lot of money out of conflicts, which can explain a lot of irrational hawkishness in politics. But the voters and countries that politicians represent certainly do not make any money out of conflicts. Instead, they are presented with the bill, and forced to pay it over many years.

Irrational militarism and the "clash of cultures"

In 2011 and 2012, Russia and China vetoed UN Security Council resolutions that would have threatened the Syrian government with sanctions, if the violence against the protestors (opposition) did not stop. The resolutions had been drafted by western countries and were perceived by other countries as biased. That was a dramatic failure of negotiation, and it should have been followed by further negotiations that delved deeper into the issues behind the vetoes, and how to resolve them. It was clear at that time (and not merely in retrospect) that the lives of millions of innocent Syrians depended on the outcome of these negotiations. Millions! But the UN security council essentially gave up. Even without the security council, other countries could have unilaterally promoted quasi-endless negotiation to end the conflict, which would have been in their own interest (which in a pacifist viewpoint cannot be separated from everyone's interest - we're all in this together). Politicians could easily have convinced voters of the virtues of such a policy.

As a Western person I can only feel shame for the actions of Western governments. Selling or giving arms to the rebels is no solution. The Syrian opposition has received various kinds of support - military, financial, political - from the United States, Britain and France, which has just promoted the violence. Of course the Syrian government and its allies have also been doing outrageous things, but we have to start by taking responsibility for our own actions.
The only solution is to mediate a ceasefire and a new agreement, and to keep doing that, again and again and again, until rationality prevails.

Those self-proclaimed "realists" who feel important when they say "pacifism doesn't work" and then wheel out their "realistic" arguments should be soundly contradicted. The answer to such arguments should always be something like "Yes we can" or "If something is not impossible, it is generally possible". These are realistic answers, because negotiation is always better than violence. That is because human lives are always more important than money or power. We should just ask those "realistic" hawkish "patriots" what is more important to them - their life or their money. To those who call for their copatriots to join them in "holy wars" against "evil foes" we should say this: Of course it is a good thing to love one's country. It is good that patriots want to save the lives of their fellow citizens and improve their quality of life. From a pragmatic viewpoint, pacifism is the best way to achieve that goal in the long term, because as a rule violence just breeds more violence. So let's all express our love for our country and copatriots by promoting pacifism.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was nothing short of insane, even from a militarist viewpoint. Those who appeared repeatedly on our TV screens at the time with arguments to justify the invasion were quite simply lying. It was obvious from the start that the invasion would cost a hundred thousand lives; in fact, it cost a million. Those people died so that the US could have control over gulf oil. What could be more scandalous than that?

No wonder there is so much hatred of the US in the Middle East. The Islamic State is just one example of that hatred. As a rule, violence just breeds more violence. That's why we so urgently need pacifism.

Pacifism: General principles

Negotiation is always better than fighting, even if it seems to go on forever. Take Israel and Palestine for example. The case seems completely hopeless, and has done so for decades. But that does not mean the problem is solved by fighting! No matter how hopeless a situation may become, and no matter how long it drags on, negotiation is always preferable to violence.

Another fundamental principle of pacifism is that violence should only be used in self defence, which justifies the existence of armed forces for that purpose only. Self defence can, by definition, only happen on or near one's home territory; it is never self defence to lauch and "pre-emptive" attack against a country that is planning to attack you. If all countries adhered to that simple principle, there would be no war. Humans being rather stupid, however, and men being victims of their hormones, world peace is not going to break out anytime soon. Just imagine if the US military came home and restricted their activities to defending their homeland. What a wonderful world that would be.

Meanwhile, there is nothing to be lost, and a lot to be gained, by following the principle of violence only in self defence. It would mean that all countries (including the USA) would end their policy of military interference in the conflicts of other countries. Instead, if they had an interest in the resolution of foreign conflicts, they would invest creatively in diplomacy and negotiation.

The US "military-industrial complex" costs taxpayers enormous amounts of money. In return, it is steadily undermining American security by increasing anti-US anger all over the world, ISIS being the most extreme example. The "military-industrial complex" is achieving exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to achieve. This is over-the-top insanity. The way things are going, further attacks like 9/11 are likely in coming years.
The only way to reduce the probability of such attacks and improve security is to apply rational pacifist principles, as outlined in this text. Most people employed in the "military-industrial complex" could be doing more useful things, such as promoting sustainable energy.

The Second World War is often quoted as a case in which pacifism would not have worked. What if the US has not intervened in the war in Europe? I don't think this is a strong general argument in favor of military intervention in the conflicts of other countries. First, the Second World War was in part caused by the unfair resolution of the first. If the European powers had had any idea of pacifism, neither of those two wars would have happened. Versailles was a profound failure of negotiation. Second, it was not clear in advance whether the Allied invasion of Nazi Europe would succeed. If it had not, it would have made matters worse. While the allies were planning D-Day, the Nazis were working on nuclear weapons. Luckily, they were too slow. Sometimes, military intervention achieves humanitarian goals, but usually it does not, and trying to achieve humanitarian goals by military intervention is generally a very risky business. In the long term, violence generally causes more violence.

I am not arguing for a pure form of pacifism in which no form of violence is morally justified. If I am attacked while walking down the street, or if my children are attacked, I may respond with violence, if I believe I can effectively protect myself or my children in this way, just as a country may defend itself with violence. But that does not mean I should carry a gun. Pacifism must be pragmatic. We must always think of the consequences of our actions, and avoid the temptation of being too idealistic. The aim is not a pacifist utopia, but a world in which people regard human rights as our highest good and for that reason reject violence in most cases.

The implications are clear: disarm and dismantle the "military industrial complex", which obviously wields undemocratic power. Negotiate global limits on international arms trading, just as limits have been negotiated for nuclear weapons. Don't give up, because nothing could be important. Don't stop talking about it just because people say it is "unrealistic". For decades before the Berlin wall came down, Western Germans were publicly dreaming of reunification, even though it seemed completely impossible, and then suddenly it happened. Peaceful resolutions to international conflicts are always possible if people have the courage and persistence to keep talking about them. We should never stop envisaging a world without arms trading and military interventions, just as we  also envisage world without poverty or the death penalty.

Of course it is necessary to stop selling arms to terrorists and their supporters. But most countries
involved in current international conflicts, including the US, have facilitated arms sales to terrorists. A more important problem is the anger and violence that breeds terrorism in the first place. The solution is to suppress the entire global arms industry. Not manufacturing arms and not contributing to foreign conflicts will not only save millions of lives - it will also save billions (trillions?) of dollars in public money. We should be investing that money in peace studies, diplomacy, cultural exchange, intercultural communication, medical and humanitarian aid to war zones, development to reduce or eliminate poverty, sustainable energy to slow climate change.

Never give up. Never accept violence as an acceptable means of resolving conflict. Courage conquers fear, but violence creates it. If you care about children, the future is more important than the past, planning with foresight is more important than tradition, and long-term solutions are better than short-term fixes. Pacifism is about the future and the world that our grandchildren will experience after we die. If you care about that, never stop negotiating. That's it, really.

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