Friday, September 29, 2006

Matter and Spirit

Yesterday I met with fellow Humanists at our monthly Humanist Contemplatives Club. After a silent period of reflection, reading, and/or meditation, we had what I thought were one of our best conversations yet.

One point that I particularly liked was made by former Catholic Priest, Ron. We were all talking at one point about how some people like to split everything into two realms of experience. Tom said that we don't have different realms of experience, we just have our experience. I noted that, implicit in the materialist position is almost the necessity of a special kind of spirituality in which we think of Nature with a capital 'N'. By that I meant that, we know for a fact, through our first-person experience of consciousness, that something bizarre and amazing is going on - just by the fact that we have a sense of experience. If matter and energy is all we have reason to suspect exists, then that says something remarkable about matter. It says that, in certain circumstances or conditions, mere matter can become experience or experience consciousness. If that's true, then we have no way of knowing if some sort of rudimentary qualia or consciousness exists in other complex interactions of matter.

Then Ron said that, for we Humanists, perhaps the problem is that we haven't developed the vocabulary to discuss some of these things we're trying to discuss yet, and so we use outdated terms like 'spirituality' [or 'soul'?] as stand-ins. I thought that was a good point and added that, perhaps it is people such as the Humanist Contemplatives who might be among the ones to think about new vocabularies for discussing such things?

We also discussed many other interesting topics and how they related to our lives, but that's for another time.

In other news, I have recently learned that the American Humanist Association has approved my becoming a Humanist Minister. However, the full process won't go into effect until sometime around February of next year. I heard this through the grapevine, but I hear they're supposed to officially let me know soon. I'm very grateful to those who helped me along and gave their recommendations, and to Minister Ross Henry, who has offered to tutor me a bit on the various ceremonies Humanist Minister preside over (weddings, funerals, namings, celebrations, and so on).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Philosophy Roundtable

I have been asked to fill in for my friend, Humanist minister Ross Henry, in a philosophy roundtable. The discussion forum will be held San Jacinto college this December 2nd, moderated by Professor Thi Lam. I attended one of these in the past as an audience member and it was quite interesting. There was a representative of Christianity, Islam, Atheism, and Buddhism at the table, each of whom answered a variety of questions posed by the moderator and the audience. It was wonderful seeing audience members learning new things about other beliefs that they hadn't heard before.

This year they're going to have a chair at the table representing Humanism and Ross has flattered me with his referral. I'll do my best to represent that position, hopefully without interjecting my individual views which might be a little more specific than what one might call general Humanism (at least, not without notice to the audience). We have been told what the moderator questions will be, tentatively. Rather than answering them now, I figured I'd simply post them, and encourage readers here to explore answers for themselves. After the event I'll likely post a report, along with several of the answers the panelists gave...

1. Do you find the Divine Command Theory to be persuasive? Is it a viable ethical theory that one can use in the real world to resolve ethical problems? Are there any difficulties in its application?

2. Can one lead a morally virtuous life without belief in God? If so, how?

3. How can parents best teach their children about morality?

4. From your position, what is the meaning of life?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New Header & Name

You might notice the new header across the top. No worries - it's still the same weekly philosophy blog, but I've decided to change the name and the look a little. For one, this will help distinguish it from my philosophy site a little better. Secondly, I thought having a modern picture would emphasize that philosophy is not a matter of academia or history, but it's about how we live our lives, here, today.

Also, the reason I chose Philosophy Fridays is because I want to make it clear that new posts come out on Fridays from now on. Even before the recent lag, I had made a point to always put something up at least once a week, but it would fall on different days. But I've decided, for the sake of readers, to be regular about when the new post comes out so they know when to expect it. Of course, if you happen to like to read on Tuesdays or any other day, it'll still be here and can be read then too. In addition, that doesn't mean there might not be occasional short bonus posts on other days from time to time, especially if the timing is important.

Please let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Humanism on Stoicism

The following was a talk titled, "Stoicism And Rational Psychology" by Frederick Edwords, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. It was prepared for the Humanist Association of Massachusetts and delivered Sunday evening, February 14, 1993, at the Harvard Science Center. Many thanks to Mike Darley, who I know through the Houston Church of Freethought and the Humanists of Houston, for bringing it to my attention...


"To be a philosopher," said Thoreau, "is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically."

Yet that's often what we Humanists have overlooked in many of our activities. To solve some of the problems of life, or help others solve them, in very practical and down-to-earth ways, is, in the final analysis, what I think the Humanist philosophy was developed to accomplish. After all, Humanism can be defined as a commitment to the use of reason and observation in the service of human need and interest in the here and now. And, as such, it is an ethic that aims at what thinkers ancient and modern have termed "the good life." For Humanists, the good life is one where reason is the tool and happiness the goal -- happiness both for ourselves and others.

Now, if modern Humanism were to trace its roots to some particular ancient philosophical system, what system would that be? Well, given our heritage in the freethought movement, there is a tendency to choose Epicureanism. It's founder, Epicurus, challenged the religious traditions of his day, declaring clearly that the superstitious fear of hellfire was a major cause of human misery in the here-and-now. That sort of thing warms the hearts of the debunkers among us. But did the Epicureans, or their Cyrenaic forebears, have the right idea on how happiness is attained? I don't believe they did.

Contrary to the teachings of these ancient hedonists, it seems that happiness can rarely be attained directly, through a forthright pursuit of a well-balanced set of pleasures. Happiness is rather like "wellness." Its prerequisite is an absence of disease. And when it came to providing that prerequisite, to relieving the diseases of the mind, and even of society, it was the ancient Stoics who often proved to be the best philosophical doctors.

Bertrand Russell, in his book The Conquest of Happiness, set forth the Stoic dictum in modern terms. "I believe," he wrote, "unhappiness to be very largely due to mistaken views of the world, mistaken ethics, mistaken habits of life..." Following Russell's lead, 1971 Humanist of the Year Albert Ellis has taken a similar approach. In his Rational-Emotive Therapy, which he freely acknowledges as humanistic and rooted in ancient Stoicism...

And it was for this purpose that the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote his essay On the Shortness of Life. In that essay, he drew attention to the fact that people often don't get their lives in order in anything like a timely way. He wrote:

The majority of mortals complain bitterly of the spitefulness of nature, because we are born for such a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live. Yet the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.

And he added, "our life is amply long if ordered properly."

What Seneca meant here was that people would do well to have more concern for the values and priorities of life. He was urging his readers to reconsider their goals, to reassess themselves, to give the truly important things more time, and to act now.

We can we look around us today and see many people living life on what might be called the "deferred payment plan." Children commonly say, "Just wait until I grow up." Students can't wait until they finish school and leave home so they can begin to live as they like. When young people date, they look forward to the time when they will be married. Then they'll be happy. When married they look ahead to owning their own home. Then they'll be happy. When winter comes, they look to Spring, or to the day they can move to California. If they have children they say, "When the kids grow up and leave home, then we'll be able to do what we want." Of course there's still the job. So they look to retirement as the time to live. Seneca denounced this attitude in the strongest language:

Are you not embarrassed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? . . . What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point which not all have even attained!"

Seneca believed that we can live now, every day, can find our meaning and joy at this time, not some other. Don't wait for happiness, he argued, create it.

Albert Ellis has written much on not worrying about what other people think. So did the [stoic] Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who, in his Meditations said:

Constantly observe who they are whose approval you seek, and by what principles they are guided. For if you look to the sources of their opinions and appetites, you'll neither condemn those offenses they give nor desire the approval they withhold.

It is a Humanist dictum that this life is all and enough. We will pass this way but once and no one can guarantee any paradise waiting just beyond the grave. This is probably our only shot. But the possibilities of this life are sufficient to give meaning to our existence. For it is in the context of this life that we love, laugh, experience nature, pursue goals, and enjoy triumph. And to better enjoy these things we cultivate courage, bear adversity, and rise up from the ashes of failure. Yet so many do give up the good life. They join ascetic religious orders, political mass movements that put all the benefits ahead to future generations, adopt creeds of excessive self-denial. The price people pay in adherence to such ideas, devotion to charismatic leaders, and involvement in fanatical crusades is staggering. Seneca could have had such people in mind when he wrote:

They spend life in making ready to live! They form their purposes with a view to the distant future; yet postponement is the greatest waste of life; it deprives them of each day as it comes, it snatches from them the present by promising something hereafter. The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon tomorrow and wastes today.

Many ex-fundamentalists have found this out too late, often regretting sacrificed years. This can lead them into a frantic effort to make up for lost time. For example, when an article on Fundamentalists Anonymous, an organization for ex-fundamentalists, appeared in an issue of Penthouse magazine, the positive response from ex-fundamentalists was overwhelming, since so many were reading the magazine to catch up on some of the living they had earlier missed.

Humanism, on the other hand, is a philosophy for today, for the here and now world of our senses and aspirations. It is an ethic that puts life first, death last. It is a way of life that finds joy in a spring flower or the crash of waves on the seashore, in a momentary human encounter or the purr of a kitten. It is a focus that includes purposeful goals, meaningful pursuits, and high aspirations...

Bertrand Russell in The Conquest of Happiness, referred to "zest" as "the most universal and distinctive mark" of the happy individual. People with this quality, Russell argued, are those who come at life with a sound appetite, are glad to have what is before them, partake of things until they have enough, and know when to stop.

To some, this vision sounds a bit like Omar Khayyam:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!

Which comes close to the hedonistic doctrine Humanists are accused of advocating: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Or, as Mad magazine once put it –

A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou--
Pretty soon I'll be drunk, fat, and in trouble.

But we needn't take Omar the Tentmaker literally when it comes to all that drinking and carousing. The physical pleasures are far from representing the whole. For the Humanist there are also the pleasures of an unfettered mind making new discoveries, solving problems, and creating. There is the enjoyment of art, music, dance, and drama. There is the joy of helping others and the challenge of working to make the world a better and more peaceful place. And, of course, there are the joys associated with love and family. The Humanist seeks the enjoyment of as many of these as reasonable, and cannot do so if an over-focus on just one overtakes life completely.

In this, we are clearly at one with the ancient Greek ideal of wholeness and the integration of life. For example, in the ancient Olympic games, competition included not only athletics but drama, music, poetry, and philosophy. And the whole combination was viewed as a religious event. The Greeks put it together and did it all. So can we.

Such a worldly and good-natured view of life that claims no ultimate knowledge....is radically different from conservative Christianity, which has sometimes called this world a veil of tears, has seen pleasures as vanity, and seems to find the goal of human life beyond the grave. Such believers might quote Ecclesiastes --

Better a good name than costly oil,
the day of death than the day of birth.
Better to go to the house of mourning
than to the house of feasting;
for to this end all men come,
let the living take this to heart.
Better sadness than laughter,
a severe face confers some benefit.

As an antidote, Robert Louis Stevenson offered these words in his Christmas Sermon:

Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality: they are the perfect duties. If your morals make you dreary, depend on it they are wrong. I do not say, "give them up," for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better men."

Yet, now we can ask, if this good life is to be the goal, is it a goal accessible only to the affluent, the intelligent, the educated? If so, then we are advocating a way of life only for a relative few of the world's people.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Threads on Violence

Last week I had a particularly ‘philosophical’ day and it's had me stumped for a while; thus the delay in posting. Several different threads of thought emerged at once, and the contradictions between them made me question my ideas about violence and pacifism. After considering these ideas for a while I finally came up with something presentable, even if tentative:

Thread 1: Pacifism as Impractical
I have long held that pure pacifism is impractical. While I greatly admire the nobility, good intentions, and self sacrifice of notable pacifists, I think these good people are simply making an error in reasoning. While I respect pacifists, I have condemned pacifism as actually being unwittingly unethical. This, because it is a prescription for eternal human enslavement by whomever is not a pacifist. It is a behavioral algorithm, if you will, that guarantees only the most vicious and brutal will lead humanity.

Thread 2: Jesus and Escalating Cycles
In a recent presentation I gave at the Houston Church of Freethought, I stressed the importance of Compassion. In one section on Compassion for enemies, I stated that “we must face up to the fact that there are times when compassion should be given when it is not deserved.” In a blog post called “Forgiveness Is A Gift To Ourselves” I noted Biblical scholar James Robinson who said that Jesus’ teaching that we love our enemies and not return violence for violence was revolutionary because he realized that forgiveness for violence was the only way to break an escalating cycle of it. I then noted Professor Axelrod’s computer simulations which proved the most successful behaviors are those which included the possibility of forgiving wrongdoing from others.

Thread 3: The Muhammad-Violence-Ethic (MVE)
I recently saw a program on the History Channel called Decoding the Past. The specific episode was called “Secrets of the Koran”. This documentary covered the origins of the Koran’s teachings in the story of Muhammad. It noted that many have called the Koran a violent book, and provided a quote saying that Muslims should fight non-Muslims. But then the program noted this behavior was only in response to being attacked and provided another quote showing that if an enemy wants to be peaceful, that Muslims should be peaceful as well. The Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed a local Muslim cleric, Imam Naser Khatib, on violence and the Koran, who said that the Koran says people should be peaceful to non-Muslims, but it says that if they try to “fight you or kick you out of your homeland” then you should fight back.

Thoughts On These Threads
There is debate over what the passages in the Koran really say, what they mean, and what they inspire. But none of that is relevant to my topic. The fact is, you have two approaches to violence in the Jesus-Violence-Ethic (JVE) and the Muhammad-Violence-Ethic (MVE), as I have termed them here (even though both ethics have been expressed by other people before them).

The completely pacifist JVE states that we should never use violence, turning the other cheek, while the MVE states that we should be violent only when others are violent toward us. I suppose another “ethic” (if you could call it that) might state that we should always use violence whenever it suits us and the most powerful should get their way. Perhaps I’ll call this the Extreme-Violence-Ethic (EVE). Seen in that light, the MVE could be viewed as a middle-ground attempt to allow for the use of violence, but only in certain ethical conditions, while the JVE discards it altogether, regardless of conditions.

One of the more remarkable things is that Muslims are not the only ones who operate by the MVE. In the vast majority of cases, and certainly in the case of major governments, nearly the entire world operates according to the MVE even if they haven’t received it from Muhammad – including nearly all devout Christians. I have heard voices critical of Islam say that Muslims make war in nearly every nation they inhabit. But, could our own adoption of the MVE in the West be a reason why the globe, in general, has known so much war?

Meanwhile, very few people have actually lived according to the JVE; Christians included. Even the pacifistic Buddhists have their history of past and present warriors. I heard one modern rationalization for this by the Christian author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren. He said on the Fox News television program DaySide, that there are personal ethics and government ethics. This sounds very similar to the Muslim cleric Khatib’s response when asked about the extremist Wahhabis sect. He said despite what the Wahhabis believe, “the decision to go to war or not is by the hand of the caliph, and we don't have a caliphate right now.”

I’m not sure what the biblical justification is for the distinction between the personal and government ethics that Warren claims. By all modern (and decent) models of political authority, as the U.S. founding fathers believed, authority flows from God to man, and then from man to the State. The State cannot therefore have ethical authority that hasn’t been given to it by man, and man cannot give what it doesn’t have. But it is not surprising to see a modern Christianist with a medieval view of politics (in which authority allegedly flows from God, to the State, to man).

The absence of practicing the JVE among Christians leads one to wonder just what a Christian meaningfully is, apart from whatever’s going on inside their skulls. President George W. Bush claims to be a Christian and many conservative Christians seem to talk about Bush as though he were some sort of prophet. However, Matthew 7:16 says of false prophets that you will ‘know them by their fruits’. Certainly, Bush doesn’t live by the JVE. In fact, he doesn’t even operate by the MVE like the rest of Christianity and the world. The BVE (Bush-Violence-Ethic) states that you use violence if there’s a chance another might use it against you in the future (see Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine which I haven’t read, but have read of).

But all of these issues of what the Koran really says, why Christians live by the MVE rather than the JVE, political matters, and what Bush is, are distractions in my search. That is, the search for the truth when it comes to the proper violence-ethic. To glimpse it, we must look above and beyond such transient issues.

My question now is this: Has the MVE that the entire world operates on been proven a failed experiment? Can we say that any of our previous wars were ever really won? How can we consider WWI to have been won if it set up the conditions which lead us to WWII? How can we say that WWII was won when it gave us conditions which lead to the Cold War and the conflicts in the Middle East? All of these names and titles we give conflicts distract us from the reality that we have been in one long conflict throughout our history, from neighbor to nation, with only brief and sporadic pauses. Given Earth’s history of war, we must eventually wonder when someone is finally going to win – win in a way that leads to lasting peace? It seems to me that humanity’s experiment with the MVE has been a failure, and our continued use of it may spell our demise.

Does this lead us back to the JVE - to complete pacifism? One obvious figure that comes to mind whenever pacifism is discussed is Mohandas Gandhi. When one reads of Gandhi’s life, his sacrifices, his simplicity, his strength, and his values, how is it not possible to love this man? Upon his death, Albert Einstein remarked, “Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.” More to the point then, how can one not want to become more like that which one loves?

This alone, least of all the puzzles of our time, is enough to give reason for me to seriously reevaluate the merits of pacifism; this time absent what may have been a nearly glib dismissal in my earlier years. But how can I ignore the seemingly obvious conclusion that pure pacifism will allow the vicious to overrun the world and rule it in their vicious way?

Consider examples of pacifist movements which have succeeded, such as in Gandhi’s India. Surely pacifism has not worked in all cases; but then, neither have all wars been won. Still, if that seemingly obvious conclusion of the futility of pacifism were true, the fact that it ever worked is remarkable. Why did it?

Axelrod said that the most successful programs were those with a combination of forgiveness and retaliation. When discussing this with a friend, and wondering about pacifism, he asked, “What happened to the programs that always forgave?” I told him I imagined they’d been less successful – probably along the lines I describe in Thread 1 above.

But do these computer simulations really capture all of the subtleties of the real world? It seems to me by the descriptions I’ve read that the simulations look at survival rates of the individual units and compares those with differing behaviors. Or, perhaps they look at which behaviors become more widespread as an indicator of selective success. They might even measure the overall survival of a population of those with a shared behavioral program.

In all of these cases, it seems to me that one important factor might be absent from the simulations. That factor would be the emotional effect of inspiration through example; i.e., the ‘human heart’. It could be that, logistically speaking, pacifism doesn’t work, but in practice it can work because people are inspired by the example of others, and feel empathy for others’ sacrifices. It might also be the case that sympathy for the non-violent by third parties creates pressures on the violent to stop, making him look like the bad guy even when his position is the correct one. Perhaps it might be the case that pacifism is illogical, but because people are illogical, it can work? If so, some might say, “let us all be illogical together, in peace”. Maybe there is some other explanation for the examples of success in pacifism?

Still, there seems to be something noble in a person willing to fight for a just cause or to vanquish malicious people who would otherwise harm the innocent. How can we ignore what seems to be the noblest of character in these actions? The encompassing factor in both heroic fighting and pacifism seems to be self sacrifice. Both of these tactics include a willingness to give up one’s life and safety for a higher cause. There are many ways to sacrifice.

Likewise, both noble fighting and pacifism also have an ugly side: both also involve sacrificing others. In noble fighting there is the inevitable harm that comes to innocent bystanders as conflict ensues. Similarly, it’s one thing for a pacifist to sacrifice his own life, safety, or freedom for a cause, but this nearly always makes a sacrifice of his neighbor, who often shares in his fate - lacking the pacifist’s aid in resistance or suffering retribution for the pacifist’s passive resistance.

Perhaps, then, it isn’t the use or non-use of violence that is the issue, but choosing rightly in each case and living according to our proper natures (as the Stoics would put it). Borrowing perhaps from Stoicism, the fictional Jedi of the Star Wars films (who often used violence) would say that what is important is following the will of the Force, rather than looking at violence in the abstract. Even in Buddhism, known for its peaceful nature, there is a ‘right way’ to perform violence in some schools of thought. Once when I was in a Buddhist temple, the teacher told us of a monk who was asked, “if there were a problem with pests over the crops, would it be bad Karma to spray the crops and kill the insects?” His reply was, “as long as it is done without negative feeling, there would be no bad Karma.” If you are unaware of my non-supernatural use of the Karma concept, please see A Naturalistic Approach to Buddhist Karma and Rebirth.

The aim of Buddhists are to learn to see things clearly, as they really are, without bias, desire, or fear. Terrorists and Politicians alike, intentionally or not, tend to play on our fears. Non-violent democracy activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, said in her speech Freedom From Fear:

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

In the film “V for Vendetta” the character of Evey Hammond learns through a particular set of hardships to ‘see without fear’. In that same film, Inspector Finch says that he had a brief glimpse that the past, present, future, and all of the various events in and around are lives are interconnected. In our world, 9/11, the presidency, homeland security, what we do and don’t allow in terms of our personal liberties, terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, the ecology, are all connected and we view them all through the filter of our desires and our fears. What would we think if we could glimpse it all without enslavement to our desire or fear?

I don’t know. Maybe I should stop there, and I encourage the reader to take off from there. But I have a possible guess.

It seems to me that some combination of retribution and forgiveness is suitable, as in Axelrod’s computations. While the MVE seems to be an attempt at allowing for violence and forgiveness in some combination, its demonstrable failure over history and throughout all of our nations indicates its particular formulation is flawed.

I would propose the “Avoidable Violence Ethic” (AVE). The AVE is similar to the MVE, in that it allows for violence (unlike the JVE) and also demands restrictions on it (unlike the EVE). However, it is different from the MVE in important ways.

The MVE states that you should be peaceful to your neighbor unless he is aggressive toward you. In that case, Muhammad allows a variety of hostile actions in fighting aggressors, infidels, etc. Both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds have taken this ethic on fully. Concepts of Justice include retribution for wrongs done and demand equilibrium.

The AVE would say that we should use violence when it is absolutely necessary to defend the innocent (be they ourselves, if innocent, or others). However, equilibrium is irrelevant, and thus so is retribution. In cases where violence can prevent harm to innocents, or shift harm from the innocent to the aggressor, it would not only be permissible but considered a duty. But as soon as the physical threat is over or halted, non-aggression is demanded.

Many might say, “this is what we operate by now”, but not really. Let’s take World War II – the attack of Pearl Harbor for example. The AVE would say that, during that attack, we should have fought back as best we could (which we did). But the AVE would also say that, immediately after the attack was over, we should not have started to counter-attack. The same thing goes for 9/11, the invasion of Kuwait, etc. The concept is that we build up military force to protect. Then, if attacked, we fight to protect. But if we fail in that task, we don’t seek to level things back out or get back what was lost through counter attack. At that point, the tactics of pacifism should come into play. In other words, you don’t ‘turn the other cheek’ but rather attempt to stop the slap. But if you can’t, then you don’t slap back. In fact, you forgive – a thousand times if you must. In a nuclear conflict, you might return fire if you think doing so will take out missile sites or stop the volleys from your enemy. But once they stop firing, you don’t return fire out of spite, for purposes of justice, or for longer term tactical purposes.

This approach requires a degree of risk-taking and trust. If we hadn’t attacked back after Pearl Harbor, we would have been in a less advantageous position, tactically speaking, with the Japanese Empire. This will always be the case. But at the same time, the AVE doesn’t prescribe that we lay down and surrender to enemies when violence is immediate and immanent. It’s called the “Avoidable Violence Ethic” because we should seek every moment to halt violence if it is at all possible to do without immediate harm to innocents. Might the use of AVE after 9/11 allowed the U.S. to capitalize on the massive outpouring of sympathy from across the world for America, rather than squandering it? The basic concept is to remove all sense of vengeance, pridefulness, demand for equilibrium, or fear of loss from the formula - to see things without fear of either the enemy or fear of the use of violence.

-JVE (Jesus Violence Ethic) = no violence ever.

-AVE (Avoidable Violence Ethic) = violence only when absolutely necessary for immediate defense.

-MVE (Muhammad Violence Ethic) = violence when attacked, for justice, and in long term struggles.

-BVE (Bush Violence Ethic) = violence when attack seems likely or even possible.

-EVE (Extreme Violence Ethic) = violence at all times for domination.

It’s a difficult concept and I’ve yet to fully consider it’s implications. But I mention it here to log and share one step of my thinking on these things. I would like to learn more details about simulations such as Professor Axelrod’s, about applied pacifism in real world historic situations, and about theories on violence. I’ve heard that Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You contains Christian arguments for pacifism I’d like to read as well.