1. Sound Moral Ideas:
Rational arguments for peaceful behavior in specific situations. Want to hear my rational argument against the war on terror? Read here. In order to form an opinion on any one particular issue it is useful to have a rational moral framework from which to start. Although I am of the opinion that morality, like all human behavior, is based on subjective value judgments, it is my belief that people of faith and those of secular morality can more or less get behind the following two concepts:
- The Non-Aggression Principle: I like to call this rule the “silver” rule after it’s more popularized cousin the “golden” rule. Contrary to the golden rule, however, the silver rule does not tell you what to do. It simply tells you what NOT to do. What is the rule, you ask? “Do not initiate violence against another person or their justly acquired property.” This is synonymous with saying: “don’t murder, don’t steal, and don’t commit fraud.” Without getting nuanced in theory I think it’s fair to say that most people recognize the moral legitimacy of this concept and generally behave accordingly in their personal lives.
- The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a cult classic for a good reason: it invokes the moral supremacy of what Mohatma Gandhi termed “the still voice within.” The thing that in my opinion is most important to understand about the golden rule is that it is non-coercive and individual. Doing what you believe to be the right thing does not mean coercing others to do what you think to be the right thing. After all, you wouldn’t want others to impose their version of “right” on you by force. There is a big difference between acting on conscience and mandating behavior for others. That is also why Gandhi told us to “be the change you want to see in the world.” Remember that we all have our own conscience, our own experiences, and our own understanding of the world. We will not always see eye-to-eye with one another. It is in these situations where I believe we should all always act on our conscience (follow the “golden” rule) so long as it is not expanding outside the framework of the non-aggression principle (the “silver” rule).
2. A Decrease in Attitudes That Tolerate or Glorify Violence:
Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker points out in an essay entitled The History of Violence that “the decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence, and often the attitudes are in the lead.”
Violent films, video games, and careless talk about killing others are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. They are ubiquitous in modern society for a reason: many people enjoy them, myself included in the case of action films. Could it be that this is a problem? I think it’s convenient to pretend that it’s not but logic leads us to a different and more nuanced conclusion. The reality is that surrounding yourself with violence desensitizes you to violence. Rather than ignore the truth about ourselves, let’s look in the mirror with a little perspective. The fact that violence is a real thing that happens between real people is useful to be reminded of from time to time. It is not an honorable thing to drop a bomb, or to shoot someone in the chest. At very best killing another human being is an awfully traumatic and devastating event that will likely live with the person left standing for their entire lives – whether or not they were justified/acting in self-defense.
Ideas form the basis for attitudes which in turn have a meaningful impact on behavior. Influence ideas in a peaceful direction and you will change minds about violence. Then perhaps we will see the world gradually become a more empathetic and tolerant place to live.
3. Promotion of Conscientious Objection and Elimination of the Burden of Proof:
Conscientious objection is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. That said, there are many hurdles facing those with moral convictions that prohibit their participation in war. These are barriers to peace that should be broken down as much as humanly possible. First, conscientious objection is not a legally recognized status in many countries. Second, the burden of proof to obtain conscientious objector status typically falls on the individual rather than the institution. This is relevant for all citizens residing in states that enlist personnel through a military draft. In those countries, such as the United States, that operate on the principle of voluntary military service, it is a relevant issue for soldier’s that voluntarily join the military and then subsequently change their minds about the moral legitimacy of what they are a part of. While many nations recognize conscientious objection in principle, many individuals find it very difficult to navigate the required legalese to prove their convictions to a committee of personnel (oftentimes a military tribunal composed of other soldiers with a vested interest in the relevant institution and most likely a contradictory set of beliefs to the applicant). Lastly, conscientious objection faces significant bias from society in general because it is an assertion of individual moral scruples over those collectively espoused by the institutions governing society. Speaking out against social institutions tends to invoke a sense of injury particularly in those who strongly identify with the institution itself and support whatever the institution is specifically doing.
Here’s an interesting idea to chew on: if everyone in the world held strong enough moral convictions that they refused to initiate physical violence against their fellow man then there would be no war. This is unlikely to happen, however the more people who trend in this direction the more likely peaceful conflict resolution will become in world affairs.
4. Legalization of Selective Objection to Specific Wars for Citizens and Soldiers Alike:
Although conscientious objection is legally recognized, selective objection is not. Selective objection, loosely defined is a moral opposition to “this” war whereas conscientious objection is typically thought of as a moral opposition to “all” war. It’s illegal in every country to say, “this war is wrong, I refuse to participate.” Today you have to say “all war is wrong” and then you have to prove your case. This is a huge barrier to dissent in the present-day military. It is a problem because while we all agree in some measure that all war is wrong, most people also believe that some war is or could theoretically be justified. The theoretical possibility of a “just” war, however, is the reason that most people cannot conscientiously object to all war. Thus we need to update the legal framework to match the realities of the actual world. The gray area in war is centered on a core belief that most of us share that self-defense is OK while aggression is not. The unsolvable problem, therefore, is that every war involves elements of self-defense and elements of aggression on both sides. Whether an action is wrong or right is often a matter of weights and measures. How much do you emphasize one perspective at the expense of another? Who started it? People fall on different sides of the line and should be allowed to change their minds and adjust their behavior when the facts of reality dictate a reformed belief, opinion, or action. Total and absolute freedom of conscience is extremely important. Want to read a little more on this topic? Read here.
5. Allow Citizens to Divert Their Taxes Away From War Related Spending Programs:
The idea that you shouldn’t have to financially support behavior that you think is wrong – specifically a war – is known as Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation (COMT). It is a powerful attempt to extend the realm of conscience into the realm of war financing. The logical case stated simply is that if a government can recognize an individual’s freedom to refuse participation in war based on matters of conscience, they should equally recognize their right NOT to finance an action they believe is wrong (i.e. their right NOT to indirectly participate in an immoral war).
There is a bill in the United States Congress called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Act that if enacted would establish a “peace tax fund” usable only for nonmilitary spending. The legislation is NOT a new tax but rather a mechanism to divert already existing taxes of certain individuals away from one account (those funds used for war) and into another (those funds used for purposes other than war). It is likely, however, that the establishment of a peace tax fund might increase government revenue as current “war-tax resistors” might voluntarily pay taxes in the event that they were used for peaceful purposes (whereas they presently refuse and/or attempt to minimize their tax participation). The most prominent organization behind the effort to pass COMT legislation is called the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia introduced the concept to the 114th Congress as H.R. 2377 on May 15, 2015. The document’s preamble states the following about the bill’s purpose:
“To affirm the religious freedom of taxpayers who are conscientiously opposed to participation in war, to provide that the income, estate, or gift tax payments of such taxpayers be used for nonmilitary purposes, to create the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund to receive such tax payments, to improve revenue collection, and for other purposes.”
Although in practice such a bill would likely only shuffle the deck in terms of tax revenue allocation, it would be a symbolic first step towards ratification of the idea that you shouldn’t have to pay for things you believe to be immoral, particularly war.
6. Eliminate Fiat Money:
One of the most insidious and effective forces fighting on behalf of war is the moral hazard of fiat money. You might think that when a government wants to go to war it would have to raise taxes in order to pay for it. This would actually have a positive unintended consequence in that the new taxes would create a natural war-resistance in the population. Sadly, thanks to fiat money, taxes can be held constant, or even cut. The government, through the magic of central banking, simply prints the required money and pays the bills. Taxpayers see the costs in rising prices but as John Maynard Keynes stated so eloquently, “By a continuing process of inflation, government can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.” There are, of course, limits. However, the point is that being able to print money enables the government to finance large war programs without inciting the natural counterbalance that stems from a knowingly taxed citizenry.
7. Encourage Transparency and Reduce Secrecy:
Some of the most effective tools for peace are technologies like photography, video, and the independent investigative journalism radically empowered by the Internet. All three of these innovations broaden the perspectives available to the general public and in so doing help to discredit misinformation about the reality of war. It is incumbent on the peace-loving population to do what they can do to share information, seek truth, and preach the gospel of common sense: violence is not the answer. I’ll leave you with a wonderful quote from Ernst F. Schumacher: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
Justin Pavoni is a former Air Force officer and F-15E evaluator pilot. Pavoni has deployed twice to Afghanistan, served as a Special Operations liaison, and has flown 550 combat hours. Justin and his wife Jessica run a blog at http://www.libertybug.org.