Permissible, Prudent, Proactive and Just

A semi-circle of rabbits sat in front of a smouldering coal that someone had stolen from a nearby farm. They’d taken a leaf of dried tobacco and set it over the coal, filling the hall with a heady scent. They were pacifists, extremists who eschewed all violence, even self-defence. Nin—the traveller, the seeker—had come to stay and learn from them.

Spirits were high, and the mood was light. The group talked idly among themselves until an old rabbit, missing bits of his tail and with a scar over one eye, asked for silence.

“The problem, of course, is violence,” the old rabbit began. “Most would agree it is reasonable to defend oneself from attack—self-defence. One’s own life and liberty are of paramount importance.”

And Nin agreed that this was the case.

The old rabbit frowned. “And so violence is permissible,” he said. “Of course, the self is not so special, merely one voice among many. If one is willing to defend themselves, it is reasonable to defend others too: the old, the weak, the helpless.”

Nin agreed that this was so.

“And so violence is prudent. Now, if you are willing to use violence to stop violence, it follows that using violence to prevent violence is also acceptable. Why must we wait until the fangs are bared and at our throats?”

This too, made sense to Nin.

“And so violence is proactive. But not all violent acts are as direct, immediate and personal as a pair of fangs. If you are weighing the lives of a large enough group of rabbits, you must consider attacks of an impersonal nature. Obstacles that are or may be inhibiting quality of life, that are killing rabbits through indirect means—insecurity, injustice, inequality, fascism, barbarism and so forth.”

“And so violence is just,” reasoned Nin.

The old rabbit sighed and leaned back. “It is through this chain of reasoning that entire populations of rabbits—rabbits who are naturally opposed to war—can be driven to commit atrocities against their own kind.” He turned to Nin, the stranger. “The only way to prevent this outcome is to deny the first presupposition—that violence can ever be permissible.”

Nin puzzled over this problem for many days, and although he didn’t completely agree with the old rabbit’s reasoning, he couldn’t find fault with it either.