In the past couple of weeks I’ve been struck by the use of the word “acceptable” in connection with moral issues, and it bothers me, because I always want to ask “acceptable to whom?” It begs, or evades, the question of who has the power to force acceptance.

accept1When someone posted this graphic on Facebook, I questioned it.

To whom is it “perfectly acceptable”?

Not to the South African Defence Force back in the 1960s when a white Christian military conscript walks out of the room on the first day of basic training after the Sergeant tells them “Now we are going to teach you how to shoot kaffirs.” To the detention barracks with him.

And then someone else posts, “I’d love your input and feedback! Is violence ever acceptable in working for justice? If yes, then what forms and when? If no, then what are the alternatives?”

And again, I want to ask “acceptable to whom?”

And then “Whose concept of justice?”

The simple answer, of course, is that violence is acceptable to militarists and unacceptable to pacifists.

“Acceptable” always raises the question of power relations and who has the power to decide what they will accept and what they will not accept.

Bombing civilians in Yugoslavia is acceptable collateral damage to the US government when the US government does it. Bombing civilians in Syria is an unacceptable war crime to the US government when Russia does it.

Is bombing civilians acceptable?

It all depends on who is doing the bombing and who is doing the accepting.

Was it Dame Edna Everidge or Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout who said, “That man in the raincoat showed me something quite unacceptable.”