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Pragmatism vs. Idealism



Photo by Krystal T; some rights reserved.

As you may know from reading my Letter from the Editor, I attended the Consistent Life conference at the beginning of March. It was a good, fruitful experience and I can gladly say that I learned a lot and felt bolstered by much of the weekend. I heard one idea there after my presentation on youth and the consistent life ethic that struck a chord within me and helped me to come to terms with some criticisms I had received: there are two sides to every movement, one being pragmatic, the other being idealistic. Both are necessary for a movement to grow and remain true to its values over time. And I am glad to say that we at Life Matters Journal fill a very pragmatic role within the consistent life movement, but we would run the risk of losing sight of our goals without the help, prodding, and helpful criticism of those more idealistic friends within the movement.

If the goal of a movement is growth alone, pragmatists would be the sole need of any movement. As has been evinced by the Occupy Wall Street movement, sometimes admitting everyone implies that you lose your focus (or never find it, whichever it is) and you may not be able to attain the goals which you hoped to achieve. Though attracting great multitudes and spreading the general "theme" of your cause is growth, it is just as easy to attract fringe benefactors who truly detract from the cause at hand.

Likewise, if the goal of a movement is purity alone, idealists would be the sole need of any movement. Only those with the most pristine thought concerning any movement would be admitted in, and growth would be minimal, if not impossible by certain standards. The movement would dwindle or die within a generation or two, and many would be tempted to despair because of a lack of growth and interest.

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I do find that Life Matters Journal falls into the former category: we are pragmatists in the most real sense. We are doing our best to bridge gaps left by the culture war; therefore, we are non-sectarian, with no particular religious belief assigned to the Journal, and we are non-partisan, taking no particular political perspective as the singular or primary belief of the publication. We are doing our best to ensure that people understand that the Journal (and its associated social media) is a safe space for dialogue and discourse, regardless of what belief system they follow, what their personal struggles are, or what background they come from. This means that we try to be less dogmatic: we stand against unjust violence in an attempt to provide a framework in which to discourse. This means that people who are struggling with questions of "what is just?" and "what is violence?" will often still engage us in conversation to see what we have to say.

We are not pure pacifists in the strictest sense, but we are as close as you can possibly get while still remaining true to ideals of the consistent life ethic and simultaneously ushering in new people to the movement. To paraphrase something that Rachel MacNair said in the Q&A period after my presentation, in an effort to calm things down, was that some people think Just War Theory and pacifism are on opposite ends of the spectrum. But in truth, genocide, mass murder, and things of that like are on one end, and pacifism is at the other. Just War Theory is only mere millimeters away from pacifism: in the strictest sense, it is the closest you can get to pacifism without actually being a pacifist. We find this to be true, and I will hopefully address it in our next issue in a longer format, but a sentiment that we carry remains that just use of force/violence is extremely limited, and should be thoroughly tempered and restricted by Just War Theory, not easily enabled or justified by it. But we need the pacifists, to remind us of why we do the work we do: indeed, if there were only just wars, there would be no war at all. We must work towards the ideal of peace throughout the world, and hand in hand, the Just War theorists and the pacifists can and should work together to change the dialogue in the world.

You can think of it as if we are the hands and the idealists are the heart of the movement. We could not go anywhere without the pragmatic work of gaining ground in the world, yet we could not remain alive in the true spirit of our purpose without the idealists.

Of course, we still and always will engage in dialogue to further our world along towards peace and the hopeful gaze towards the ideal world; like I said, we are not here to be dogmatic in that we would only accept pieces on just violence -- we eagerly welcome pacifists into our discussion because it is necessary to hear that perspective. In the end, we bear the same goal: to end all violence. It is merely the framework from which we see the goal that differs.

Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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