Wednesday, July 23, 2014

let's focus on villainy avoidance, not proper victimly behavior

(Originally posted on facebook, i.e., for a general audience. Posted here with minor changes.)
If someone broke into my house, I'd try to get them to leave. If they didn't seem like much of a threat, I'd probably give them a chance to leave on their own before using force. If they gave me a good reason to let them stay, maybe I'd let them. If they gave me a good reason to give them some of my things, maybe I'd give them some. But if they insisted on taking my things by force without providing a reason I find acceptable, I'd use proportional force to try to get them to leave. If they posed a real physical threat to my family, I'd use any means necessary to stop them, up to and including lethal force. Now let's say I end up killing an intruder in my house, having exhausted other reasonable options. How would you judge me?

Taking it further, say a group of armed men enters my house and I simply can't kick them out. They set up in the living room and gradually take over more and more space. They take whatever they want. We barely have enough to survive. We deserve a better life than this. I have time to think about it, to premeditate my response. Now let's say I kill as many of them as I can, because it seems to be the least bad option left. Maybe you're a nice person who feels pity for those I killed. And you might think that now I'm as bad as them. Admittedly, I'd have degraded myself in the process, in some way sunk to their level. But if your first response is to talk about MY ethical failings in this situation, you've misread the context entirely. I did not create the (hypothetical) situation, I responded to it. I didn't deal myself this hand, they did.

The more rockets, the more money, the more F-16s, the more bought media coverage, the more power. The more power, the wider the range of choices. Rendered powerless, on the other hand, you can either submit or fight back. The option of living a decent, peaceful life has been taken off the table. I neither condone nor condemn -- I will not judge -- the one who responds to the invasion of her home or her land with lethal force. It's not even an ethical question, as ethics involves deciding between two or more reasonable options.

Another example. A menacing villain with a weapon gives you a choice -- he kills two innocents or your lover. A classic dilemma (that comes in various iterations), sure, but not an ethical one.

In the scenario, you're the good guy, a hero with his hands tied. This is just assumed. How do you stop the bad guy from doing the bad thing? What's the ethical thing to do? What do you do, well-meaning villain stopper? The answer is simple -- make sure you're not the one holding the gun, forcing bullshit ethical dilemmas on someone else. If you're doing that, stop. If you're not, you don't have an ethical dilemma. A decent ethics is one that works to avoid shitty hypotheticals. 

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