Stephen Kahn

The slope is slippery with blood

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Not breaking any particular new ground in the area of moral wisdom, I conclude that violence—to the point of killing a human being—is justified in self defense. While some people make a fetish of carrying firearms, most of us choose to avoid dangerous places and situations, as David and Woo sensibly suggested. Along those lines, each of us sensibly avoided being born in locations such as Libya, Syria, or North Korea. If we are threatened by a sociopath, most of us choose to depend on the police, people we have authorized to carry and use weapons.

I live on an island where most people are kind and peaceful. Even so, we have a Sheriff’s Department, and some municipal police departments, and occasionally (though quite rarely) law officers have to use forcefulness to deal with an errant member of the citizenry such as a sociopath or a methamphetamine dealer/user. (We have a few even on our lovely island.)

I spend about 10,000 times as much time, effort and expense as an individual and as a citizen concerning myself with the dangers of an earthquake or a forest fire than I do with the dangers of a sociopath or professional criminal.

I point this out as I start to slip down a slippery slope. If we are justified in defending ourselves as individuals, then what happens when we encounter groups of sociopaths such as the Hitler gang and the Stalin gang and the North Korean gang? While the roots of World War II are complicated, it was exceedingly rude of Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and it was perhaps sensible of the United States and morally justified to go to war against Japan. And while we were in the process of defending ourselves to free the Philippines and the Chinese and the Koreans from Japanese control.

Furthermore, just about every sensible citizen of the world agrees (as far as I can tell) that the leaders of Libya, Egypt, and Syria should go somewhere else than where they are now and should stop killing citizens of their countries. Even as I write this, the news reports inform me that the rebel forces in Libya are on the outskirts of Tripoli. At one time, Qaddafi might have played some useful role in the history of Libya, but by all reports he has killed and tortured many people during his role, and he is unlikely to stop unless persuaded by violence and force. The former President of Egypt did not leave office voluntarily, and the current President of Syria shows no signs of seeing a new career without some forceful persuasion.

  1. I think we are just as justified in defending other individuals, maybe even more so than in defending ourselves.

  2. No argument or disagreement with the principle you state. I live close enough to my neighbors that I might hear if there were trouble at their place, so naturally I would trot over the 1/4 of a mile or so to their house and do what I could. The difficulty increases if I get a report that someone on the other side of the state is having difficulty with a neighbor, so I appoint myself as a vigilante and take an hour’s drive to defend someone I’ve never met against someone I’ve never met for a situation I have no first hand knowledge of.

    As the cliche goes, the devil is in the details.

  3. Yes, when you go away from direct defense of self or others (e.g., you see someone attacking another and you intervene — no time to call the cops) to larger political and social processes it gets messy. Sovereignty was created because it minimized warfare, even as it made it possible for leaders to abuse their people. I’m not sure if Libya was justified but at least it was handled a lot better than getting rid of Saddam.

  4. Scott, thank you for visiting my gloomy blog and leaving a thoughtful comment. I was “bringing down” so to speak one of my valued participants, so I took a break from morbid musings for a bit, but I will return to them.

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