The Collateral Damage Problem in “Eye in the Sky”

‘Eye in the Sky’ is the latest Hollywood film dealing with the wars of the American Empire. This one however, is a bit different. Other than the usual military glorification that we have seen in films like “American Sniper” or “Zero Dark Thirty”, the film actually does challenge the audience to deal with the real underlying moral problems of modern warfare.

The way the so called west fights wars these days is highly problematic. In the past, war meant that you had to send soldiers to the battlefield, where they were in real danger to die or at least get seriously injured. The advance of weapon technology has changed this more and more. The further advanced the technology became, the further away from his target the soldiers had to be. We are now at the point where, via computers and satellites, a weapon can be fired remotely from everywhere on the planet. As a consequence, bravery is no longer a real requirement to be part of the military. You can be a complete coward and still become an excellent soldier. A soldier can engage in very destructive fighting operations without any personal risk to himself. Working as a construction worker is probably a lot more dangerous than engaging in a lot of battles these days.

The lower body count is not necessarily something to celebrate. It has made war much more acceptable for the general public, to the degree that a lot of people are not even really aware that countries like the US have been at almost constant war, at least since WWII. We got a good indication of how unaware people are of this fact after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11th 2001. Most people were clearly confused that someone had attacked the US. Why did they do this? Here was this peace loving land of the free, suddenly under attack by some wild savages for no other reason than completely irrational hatred of the western lifestyle.

Of course I agree that these attacks were horrible and completely unjustifiable, but they did not happen in a vacuum. They happened in the context of a war that the US and her allies were fighting for a long time and that they arguably started. Yes, absolutely, 9/11 was an unjustifiable massacre of innocent people. But so is a lot of what western militaries do. Because the other side of this modern weapons technology is that in order to save the lives of western soldiers, more people have to die on the other side of the battle field. And that means, mostly, more innocent people.

This is one of the moral problems that ‘Eye In The Sky’ deals with. If you haven’t seen it, spoiler aler!  I might mention some detail of what is happening in the film. Although it does not matter too much, as even if you know the plot, it is still an excellent film to watch. I can very much recommend it.

The film deals with a few problems, but the main and most important moral problem that is addressed is this: The military of the US and the UK in a joint mission have spotted a few wanted members of the Al Shabaab terror group in a house in Nairobi, Kenya. Via an electronic beetle they fly a small camera into the house. Watching what is going on, they realise that there are two people in there who are preparing for an imminent suicide mission. However, they could stop the suicide bombers by blowing up the house via a drone in the Sky (hence the name ‘Eye in the Sky’). The problem is that the house is bordering on a square with a number of people. Most importantly there is a young girl selling bread right next to the house. Bombing the house would very likely kill the girl, especially since the explosion would be amplified by the explosives in the house. So the question is, is it morally OK to kill the girl (and some other people), if that prevents the likely deaths of even more people from the suicide bombers.

Probably quite realistically, the people in charge of the US military are portrayed as being a bit confused by the notion that this situation poses a moral problem that needs answering. Probably a bit less realistic is that the English side is very concerned about this moral problem. This is arguably the weak point of this film, but it is needed otherwise the problem would not be discussed, which is what the film, to its great credit, really wants to do.

In other words, the main problem of the film is the acceptability of what today is euphemistically called ‘collateral damage’. Is it OK to kill innocent people, even children, to achieve some higher goal? The film ultimately does not answer this question. But it does show a good summary of the arguments for the yes and no camp.

From a libertarian’s point of view, the answer is of course clear. It is of course not OK to kill innocent people for a greater goal. Which greater goal would that be? There is no greater goal than the life and liberty of the individual human beings. However, the question is asked in a more clever way that might get some people to become confused about what the right thing to do would be. The problem is that the greater goal in this situation is to save the lives of even more other people. So the question that is asked is, can you kill one innocent person in order to save more other innocent people.

But the answer to that question also needs to be no as well. Lives do not add up in some magical life pool. Every individual person counts on their own. And every person is only responsible for their own actions. In other words, it not only matters who gets killed, but also who kills. Is it me who does the killing or someone else. I can only be responsible for my own actions, not that of others. This is particularly true if it comes to deciding who gets killed. Yes, in the situation portrayed in the film, the terrorists would likely go on and kill some people. But they would not have killed that girl. So the person who bombs the house and kills the girl essentially takes on the role of a judge over who gets to die and who to live. Where does the authority come from to make such a decision? A person, who thinks he has that authority cannot claim he was not responsible for what happened. He becomes a murderer.

People who argue otherwise, need to make the argument, that lives do indeed add up. They would need to make the argument, that human lives are exchangeable. It does not matter who dies, all that matters is the body count. In this mindset, humans are just numbers and not individuals. However, this is exactly the mindset of every totalitarian greater good regime. That means we are going down the rabbit whole of totalitarianism.

But I do not believe that most people really do believe this. The test for it is simple. What if the girl is not just anonymous, but your own daughter or at least someone you know? Or what if it is your own life that is at stake? I bet it becomes immediately difficult to just see these people as the a number 1 in a bigger equation.

If that is true, then what is really behind the argument is just primitive tribalism. It is only the lives of my own kind that matter. Strangers however, are numbers that can be add up in simple equations. That really is the moral standard of people arguing in favour of murdering innocent people for a greater good. And we really have to overcome this standard if we want to live in a better, freer world.

  32 comments for “The Collateral Damage Problem in “Eye in the Sky”

  1. Julie near Chicago
    Apr 17, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    Well, a lot could be said about this, so at least for now I’ll restrict myself to one issue.

    As groundwork, note that in libertarian theory self-defense and the defense of innocent third parties is just, so that given some degree of proportionality in the execution of justice (swiping a tomato is not a capital offense), such defense is not immoral. It might be undesirable on some other grounds, but it is not immoral within the libertarian framework proper.

    Note also that whereas two individuals are not interchangeable in their own experience nor in the experience of people who know them or even know of them, conditions can exist where a person ends up with the responsibility of choosing between them. This can occur through sheer happenstance, or because the person has some assigned authority to choose. For instance, he might be a doctor faced with the necessity of emergency treatment of victims of some disaster, confronted with the situation of two complete strangers, each of whose death is imminent and virtually certain unless treated NOW!.

    The doctor must choose, somehow. [Or, he can walk off the job, or go to the field ICU, where patients are critical but not facing immediate and certain death. One could hardly blame him, I suppose, but that does constitute a breach of (his accepted) duty.]

    Maybe one of them has red hair and one is bald. Maybe one is a woman and one a man. Maybe one is a little child and one is, by looks, 104 years old; perhaps the difference might matter, at least in some tiny degree and purely subconsciously, to the doc.

    Maybe the two are identical twins, both in the prime of life.

    The doctor must choose.

    . . .

    Let us now consider that train. You know, the one barrelling down the tracks at 800 per, with the gentleman or gentlewoman standing directly in its path. The train is almost at the juncture where it could be switched to a siding, and as it happens you are standing right by the switch and know how to work it.

    It is a little foggy and you can’t quite make out the details on the pedestrian, so you have no idea whether it’s a man or a woman. But the chances are it’s no one you know, or even know of. This is also true of the passengers, or the crew, on the train.

    In a case like this, do you throw the switch, which you do know will derail the train, but save the pedestrian? Or do you watch regretfully while the pedestrian is mowed down?

    If there’s nothing else to go by — if you have no reason to prefer any one of the people involved to any other — the least-worst alternative would certainly seem to be to save the people on the train by refraining from throwing the switch. Because in this case, the only sensible desideratum is to go by the proportion of numbers saved to numbers killed.

    (Although, in the real world, it seems to me we are so constructed as to feel a little less emotional distance between ourselves and a single anonymous stranger than between ourselves and a clutch of people shut off from our sight in large metal monster. But this might also be partly temperament and partly cultural “conditioning.” It seems to me that this is why the guy at the switch might feel torn, and might in fact decide in favor of the pedestrian in the instant. I do think he might carry a burden of guilt aftwards, however.)

    . . .

    Now we consider what happens in confrontations involving violence.

    The Bad Guy is holding hostage the people in the bank, has already killed some of them, and gives no credible evidence of intent to stop anytime soon. You are there, and as it happens they are all strangers to you. You are well-equipped through knowledge and training to attempt to take down the Bad Guy with as little damage as possible to the remaining hostages … although since nothing is certain, it’s possible that a few will be either critically wounded or killed. You personally have no fear for yourself should you engage.

    Should you go ahead, knowing that innocent lives may be lost? Or do you decide that you “don’t want the blood of innocents on [my] hands,” so “let George do it,” if there is a “George,” and walk away?

    Suppose members of Hamas are engaged in target-shooting from within apartment buildings, or the environs of schools or hospitals or other PR-worthy spots, with Israelis across the range-boundary serving as the clay pigeons. Is some well-equipped and well-trained Israeli civilian citizen in the wrong to decide he’s not in the mood to die today, and let off a shoulder missile somebody left lying around?

    Is the IDF justified in firing rockets back, rather than allowing Israelis (of whatever religion!) to assume their assigned roles as clay pigeons? Even though Palestinians will probably be killed? Or is this legitimate self-defense?

    Suppose the IDF can achieve a high degree of strike accuracy, with only a small kill radius from the actual point struck, so that few Palestinians not engaged in the actual attack will be killed or critically wounded?

    . . . . .

    Let us now confront the actual issue at which we’re aimed.

    Suppose the “Bad Guy” is actually one or more persons who are known terrorists who have killed many innocents already (or, for that matter, is part of a recognized State’s official military). Suppose that for whatever reason, the leadership of some strike force (here, most likely another country’s military and its ultimate directors) has decided it is necessary to kill these people, as by their own statements as well as their track record they have no intention of stopping their mayhem, in defense of the strike-force’s own people (countrymen) or of third parties innocent in this particular aggressor-victim relationship.

    Which is least-worst:

    1. Let it go, let George do it if he’s around, we don’t want blood on our hands. And it’s not as if Aunt Sarah is in danger…or not today, anyway.

    2. Bomb the buggers to smithereens. There will be Collateral Damage, perhaps plenty of it, and we’ll probably lose some of our own guys, but That’s War.

    3. Assign one well-trained drone pilot to target the bad guys very specifically and as precisely as is humanly possible, which is actually pretty precisely. Even knowing that some small number of truly-innocent people — perhaps a six-year-old child and her teddy bear — will be killed, some number of similarly innocent people will not be killed as they would probably be if the drone attack were replaced with conventional bombing (or even rocket delivery). And to fail to destroy the Bad Guys would ensure that any number of such similarly innocent people, as well as many, many more who are a little less PR-worthy (being adults) will be killed by these guys in future.

    You choose.

    • Nico Metten
      Apr 17, 2016 at 10:36 pm

      Interesting moral problems.

      > As groundwork, note that in libertarian theory self-defense and the defense of innocent third parties is just, so that given some degree of proportionality in the execution of justice (swiping a tomato is not a capital offense), such defense is not immoral.

      No one is denying the right to self defence. But the end does not justify the means. That is to say, not everything is allowed in self defence.

      > For instance, he might be a doctor faced with the necessity of emergency treatment of victims of some disaster, confronted with the situation of two complete strangers, each of whose death is imminent and virtually certain unless treated NOW!.

      Unless he has an explicit contract with the victims, he could also decide to not treat any. This is very different from the problem of collateral damage. Not helping is something completely different from actively killing.

      > In a case like this, do you throw the switch, which you do know will derail the train, but save the pedestrian? Or do you watch regretfully while the pedestrian is mowed down?

      Absolutely not, if throwing the switch would kill people. If you don’t do anything, you are merely letting things that are out of your control happening. But if you throw the switch, you are actively making the decision over life and death. You therefore have the responsibility for this decision.

      > If there’s nothing else to go by — if you have no reason to prefer any one of the people involved to any other — the least-worst alternative would certainly seem to be to save the people on the train by refraining from throwing the switch. Because in this case, the only sensible desideratum is to go by the proportion of numbers saved to numbers killed.

      The numbers are irrelevant. What is relevant is your responsibility in what is happening.

      > The Bad Guy is holding hostage the people in the bank, has already killed some of them, and gives no credible evidence of intent to stop anytime soon. You are there, and as it happens they are all strangers to you. You are well-equipped through knowledge and training to attempt to take down the Bad Guy with as little damage as possible to the remaining hostages … although since nothing is certain, it’s possible that a few will be either critically wounded or killed. You personally have no fear for yourself should you engage. Should you go ahead, knowing that innocent lives may be lost?

      That depends on what the bad guy is up to. If he has some demands like money, you could just pay him and save all of them. If he is killing them anyway, then saving at least a few seems sensible. You are not killing anyone that would not be killed anyway. But you are saving a few lives.

      > Suppose members of Hamas are engaged in target-shooting from within apartment buildings, or the environs of schools or hospitals or other PR-worthy spots, with Israelis across the range-boundary serving as the clay pigeons. Is some well-equipped and well-trained Israeli civilian citizen in the wrong to decide he’s not in the mood to die today, and let off a shoulder missile somebody left lying around?

      If that is the only way he can save his life, he could be excused. That is because you are only as responsible as you are free to act. If his only choices are to kill other innocent people or to die himself, he could be excused to save his own life. But he will still have to live with the fact that he was selfish enough to actively kill innocent people for his own survival.

      > Is the IDF justified in firing rockets back, rather than allowing Israelis (of whatever religion!) to assume their assigned roles as clay pigeons? Even though Palestinians will probably be killed? Or is this legitimate self-defense?

      It is a clear case of murder by the IDF, if they actively come into the situation from outside.

      > Suppose the IDF can achieve a high degree of strike accuracy, with only a small kill radius from the actual point struck, so that few Palestinians not engaged in the actual attack will be killed or critically wounded?

      I cannot see why numbers would be relevant.

      > Which is least-worst:

      The only moral choice in your three examples is number 1. 2 and 3 are murder.

  2. Julie near Chicago
    Apr 18, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Well, Nico, apparently the differences between us are too fundamental to hope for any sort of agreement. ),

    I will say that it seems to me that you’re dealing more with hypothetical holes in my scenarios than in arguing the actual issue. I will grant you that if I were presenting a case in court, my examples would have to have all sorts of loose ends sewn up.

    However, the point of the examples was to start with a position that is not at all controversial (among most people at least), and use the method to illustrate what happens as we move along the chain from culpability that is at worst formal [in “breach of (his accepted) duty”] em>, which was intended to indicate that he accepted his position voluntarily and with the understanding that he would do the best he could for the victims. I also indicated that said doc ought not to burn in hell for being unable to choose who would be saved and who abandoned to death, given that he had no criterion at all by which to choose. One would hope that he would simply flip a coin, if that’s what it would take to get him to save somebody, but in such a traumatic circumstance as his, he might not be able to face the whole situation. Refresher: I wrote,

    One could hardly blame [the doc who goes AWOL at the crunch], I suppose, but that does constitute a breach of (his accepted) duty.

    . . .

    Because individual human lives are a value (for the psychologically healthier among us, at any rate), we seek to preserve and defend individuals’ lives where we can do so without risking something more valuable to us than the lives of those we would save. Nico, I think we have been around this berry bush already a couple of times. If there are no grounds on which to choose to save Group A vs. Group B (either group might consist of a single individual of course) except for sheer numbers — if there is no one of personal value to you in either group — then you have nothing to go on except the numbers.

    Now there are two points.

    1. If the unfortunate soul by the switch allowed himself to walk away without making the choice To Throw or Not To Throw in the Train scenario, he does not thereby escape the fact that in choosing to “let nature take its course,” in fact he did make a choice. Running away doesn’t change that. As it happens, reason would suggest that given the situation (he has no skin in the game except for his need to satisfy the dictates of his own particular conscience — whatever they may be), if he were a completely Rational Actor who puts a high value on human lives he would end up saving the people on the train as an active participant, an agent. The difference is that he wouldn’t walking off in order to escape the fact that he is responsible for the unthrown switch and the resulting death.

    2. If we accept the general definition of “murder” as “unjustified killing,” it’s not at all clear whether the deaths or killings in the various examples are, strictly speaking, unjustified. It is true that the killing of the little girl and her teddy is not just; but it might be justified

    from the point of view

    of the person or persons who kill her as a purely unintended side-effect of their fully-just and justified killing of the Bad Guys.

    It is not a good thing. It is not anything that a decent person can overlook in his heart. But it comes down, again, to not giving up a greater value (the saving of people more important to him personally) for a lesser (the life of an unknown stranger, though she be a sweet little thing with a teddy bear).

    That is one reason why, by the way, some codes of law regarding homicide distinguish among various kinds and degrees of it. And malicious intent and depraved indifference are two of the categories. I think that generally speaking neither members of the IDF nor of other Western forces are guilty of these; though there are exceptions.

    But all that is just by way of expansion of my own position, in response to a couple of your points.

    As I say, I don’t expect we’ll agree on this anytime soon.

    • Nico Metten
      Apr 18, 2016 at 11:02 am

      The important distinction, that you are not making Julie, is the difference between not acting and acting. This is morally very important. You are only responsible for what you do, not for what you not do. I am not saying that the doctor should not rescue people. He even arguably has a contractual obligation to do so, working in a hospital. But him not helping is something very different from him killing.

      We all decide to not help desperate people all the time. We are all aware that there are a lot of people right now who need food or medicine in order to survive. But we are not just leaving our lives and go out and help them. Does that make us immoral people? Not really, because it is not our fault that they are starving or have a bad disease. So we are not killing anyone, we merely chose not to help, big moral difference.

      It is acceptable to not help. How acceptable depends on the case by case circumstances. But we MUST NOT actively kill innocent people. That is an obligation that we do have. If we do so, it is murder.

      I am not arguing that all forms of murder are the same. There is a difference between killing innocent people to save loved ones in a self defence situation and Ted Bundy murdering women for pleasure. As I said, you are only as responsible as you are free to act. That is why I would not punish someone who kills innocent people in order to save his own life. But that does not mean, it is an ok thing to do. Even that is in effect a form of murder.

      To argue otherwise is to think that tribalism is an acceptable moral distinction. I can see that humans, with their stone age brains, still think very tribalistically. But that does not make it morally right. If you put a collective above the individual human being, you lose the argument when it comes to other forms of collectivistic impositions on your liberty. You can hardly argue that it is ok to kill people for the greater good of the collective, but it is not ok to tax people, or for that matter conscript them into the army. If you make the collective the moral actor and not the individual human being, you are going down the rabbit hole of totalitarianism.

  3. Leon Gunning
    Apr 18, 2016 at 10:39 am

    That’s like 3 more articles!

  4. Paul Marks
    Apr 19, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    There is no “American Empire” – I almost stopped reading at the words “American Empire”

    Not because all Empires are automatically bad (after all the British Empire did more good than harm) – but because there is simply is no “American Empire”, the United States has no colonies (Puerto Rico and so on could become independent tomorrow if they wanted to be – indeed I wish they would become independent, it would save money).

    Talk of an “American Empire” or the American “Hegemon” (and on and on) really is no good.

    As for the Islamic attacks on 9/11.

    They are part of a long series of Islamic attacks upon the West that go back more than a thousand years, long before the United States existed.

    Libertarians who wish to know more would do well to study the words of Gladstone – and other real liberals.

    When the stuff about how the attacks were provoked by the West by……. started I turned away.

    People who do not understand that the West has real enemies and that these enemies are NOT created by stuff the West has done, really need to understand this.

    As for the United States government.

    It is actually part of the problem – but not for the reasons given in the post.

    It is part of the problem because it insists that the problem is a few nasty “dictators” or “extremists” who have “distorted” the “religion of peace” (a mistranslation of the word Islam – actually it means submission).

    This led to such things as the war for democracy in both Afghanistan and Iraq – after all if most Muslims are nice and the problem is a few nasty people who have falsely “perverted” the system of ideas that is Islam, then the moral course of action is obvious. Free the vast majority of the supporters of the religion of peace from the tiny number of evil people who have “twisted” the faith – this was position of by Mr Blair and (after he was convinced) Mr Bush.

    Of course if there is a basic problem with Islam itself (not a “perversion” or “twisting” of it) then the position of Mr Blair and Mr Bush (i.e. their wars) was profoundly mistaken.

    Then one can only defend against Islam – not “drain the swamp” by freeing “true Islam” from “tiny minority” who have “perverted” it.

    For example……..

    Does Islam (the religion invented by Muhammed) allow people to mock Muhammed?

    And does it allow people to leave Islam once they have entered it?

  5. Paul Marks
    Apr 19, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    By the way – anyone who thinks that “Zero Dark Thirty” or “American Sniper” were exercises in “glorification” really needs to go back and watch the films again.

    As for “Spy In The Sky” thanks for the warning against it – even though it was not your intention to warn against the film.

    Hollywood films tend to be anti American – with very few exceptions.

    I take it that “Spy In The Sky” is not one of the exceptions.

    The last thing I need is to be “challenged” by a bunch of ignorant Hollywoodheads who known nothing of the deep evil in the world – evil that would exterminate or enslave them and their families.

    • Julie near Chicago
      Apr 19, 2016 at 9:50 pm

      Paul: Excellent comments, both.

      As for American Sniper, the aim was not to glorify Chris Kyle, but to note that while what he did was done in defense of innocent people, he was self-aware enough to see that he was becoming someone he did not approve of and did not want to be.

      And why we Americans, the innocents at least in this matter whom Mr. Kyle defended, ought to be grateful; for, as Orwell observed,

      “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

  6. Julie near Chicago
    Apr 19, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Well, Nico, taking one at a time your points of Apr 18, 2016 at 11:02 am:

    1. “The important distinction, that you are not making Julie, is the difference between not acting and acting. This is morally very important. You are only responsible for what you do, not for what you not do.”

    First, the important fact that you’re not recognizing, Nico, is that the guy by the switch is making a choice, which is itself an act prior to throwing or not throwing the switch. He chooses among the alternatives of:

    .A. Throwing the switch.
    .B. Not throwing the switch, by making an active decision not to do so.
    .C. Refusing to choose either (A) or (B) on the grounds that his code of morality says he doesn’t have to make the choice, and that therefore he won’t. (Furthermore, the basic tenet governing conduct in libertarianism is that one must not initiate force, including fraud or coercion; in refusing to choose between (A) and (B), but making choice (C) instead, he does not transgress either the NIOF or the right of self-determination which is the moral principle which is the basis of the NIOF directive.)

    If the person makes choice (C), the end result as seen by all other observers will be the same as if he made choice (B).

    But choices (B) and (C) are not the same. Different grounds for action or inaction can have the same result. And intent matters.

    My point is that the deliberate refusal to engage the issue is itself a choice, and that this is a positive action and not an inaction. One can argue the moral status of making choice (C), but one cannot escape the fact that one has indeed made a choice which is a proper subject of moral scrutiny.

    (Technically, all choices are proper subjects of moral scrutiny.)

    2. “We all decide to not help desperate people all the time. … it is not our fault that they are starving or have a bad disease. So we are not killing anyone, we merely chose not to help, big moral difference. ”

    This far, I agree with the bottom line (but not with the word “merely”; there are some cases where there’s nothing “mere” about it). BUT:

    3. “[W]e MUST NOT actively kill innocent people. That is an obligation that we do have. If we do so, it is murder. ”

    Here I do not agree. There is room for argument as to where “justification” ends in the proper definition of murder as “unjustified killing.” If your Statement 3 is taken literally, there is never justification for killing innocents. (Even pure accident does not count as “justification.”) But in the real world, there are times and situations in which the killing of innocents is likely or virtually certain, yet is not unjustified and so is not murder. For instance such a killing can occur in defense of self or of those whom one values highly, where one does not intend or desire in any way to kill the innocent, nor has one caused the innocent to be where he is at the time of the killing; but the innocent was killed as a result of deliberate action nonetheless. Another example is of an event that actually happens once in awhile, where a motorist finds himself in a situation where his only choice is whether he is going to hit vehicle or pedestrian A, or vehicle or pedestrian B; both of whom are innocent. This is just bad luck all around, but whichever choice he makes he did make it, and so actively killed (or at least maimed) one of them. Assuming someone was killed as a result, was this therefore murder?

    My objection, then, is that you at least imply that in your view, the killing of any innocent under any circumstances is murder WHENEVER the killing is done knowing that some innocent even might be killed as a result of your action. Your statement (4) expands upon this somewhat:

    4. “I would not punish someone who kills innocent people in order to save his own life. But that does not mean, it is an ok thing to do. Even that is in effect a form of murder. ”

    Interestingly enough, I myself would indeed sometimes hold such a person culpable. As for instance in the case of the guy who snatches the nearest bystander to use as a human shield between himself and the gunman who is aiming at him and is on the point of pulling the trigger.

    (Of course in this case it’s the gunman and not the Self-Defender who’s doing the killing; an interesting point now that I think of it, since libertarians generally hold that this self-defensive action is not acceptable as it goes against the NIOF tenet. Following out this thought, the S-D initiates force in snatching the bystander, so he’s guilty of that, but not of the killing, which is obviously done by the gunman. This, in fact, is why all those claims by assorted bad guys with hostages that “if you move I’ll kill him/her/your little dog, and it will be ON YOU!” are bogus.)

    In my example of the unfortunate driver above, he might have been on a crowded city street, throngs of pedestrians all over the place, including at all the crosswalks at an intersection. He hits an oil smear near the intersection and can’t stop in time to avoid all the pedestrians; but he does regain steering control enough that he can choose what direction his vehicle, with its inertial mass, will take, and consequently which innocent pedestrian will be killed.

    But let us change this scenario slightly. Now D, the driver, is on a narrow, winding mountain road, with no barriers to prevent a vehicle from going over the side of the cliff. And here there suddenly appears, coming around the bend, someone in a wagon being pulled along by a yak or a llama or a team of oxen or even a plain old horse. If D slams on the brakes, he will still plow into the Other Guy (“O.G.”). His other alternative is to deliberately go over the side.

    Is it murder if D elects to stay on the road and O.G. ends up dead?

    I’m not arguing that it’s not murder, by the way; I’m pointing out that it’s deliberately and actively killing an innocent, and so by your definition it’s definitely murder even though no malice or other motivation to kill is present.

    (In the real world, I think that as Deputy District Attorney I would charge D with mildest of manslaughter charges, as opposed to murder in some degree. There was a discussion earlier this year on Samizdata for a discussion of these distinctions in various categories of homicide and the laws pertaining thereto.)

    5. “To argue otherwise is to think that tribalism is an acceptable moral distinction.”

    This is a complete non sequitur from everything else that you’ve said in the comment.

    I think you are trying to return to your position as given in your first comment, of Apr 17, 2016 at 10:36 pm; but in fact you are here claiming that to disagree with your other statements in this comment is to argue based on tribalism.

    But as far as I can see, nobody, and certainly not I, said anything suggesting that tribalism per se gives moral justification to anything.

    • Nico Metten
      Apr 20, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      > C. Refusing to choose either (A) or (B)

      That does not make any sense. There are only two choices here, A and B. Either he throws the switch or he does not. He cannot do neither. The question is, what is the right choice. If he does throw the switch, he is actively acting and making himself the judge over life and death. So he actively kills and is responsible for this action. If he does not act, he is not responsible. It is as simple as that.

      > But choices (B) and (C) are not the same. Different grounds for action or inaction can have the same result. And intent matters.

      The intent only matters, if you are acting, not if you are not acting. You are only responsible for what you do, not for what you not do.

      > My point is that the deliberate refusal to engage the issue is itself a choice, and that this is a positive action and not an inaction.

      It is a choice not to act. But it is not an action. He is not actively killing anyone.

      > One can argue the moral status of making choice (C), but one cannot escape the fact that one has indeed made a choice which is a proper subject of moral scrutiny.

      Yes, and it is the right choice not to act, because you cannot make yourself judge over life and death of other people.

      > Here I do not agree. There is room for argument as to where “justification” ends in the proper definition of murder as “unjustified killing.” If your Statement 3 is taken literally, there is never justification for killing innocents.

      Exactly. Killing innocent people is wrong, period. We can quibble about were the line between murder and manslaughter is. But even manslaughter is wrong. Maybe we could call it manslaughter if someone kills people to save his own live out of a self defines situation. However, throwing a bomb at people seems quite intentional to me. So I am inclined to eve call that murder. Someone, coming to the situation from outside, who is not in danger from the events, definitely murders, if he throws a bomb on innocent people.

      > But in the real world, there are times and situations in which the killing of innocents is likely or virtually certain, yet is not unjustified and so is not murder. For instance such a killing can occur in defense of self or of those whom one values highly, where one does not intend or desire in any way to kill the innocent, nor has one caused the innocent to be where he is at the time of the killing;

      As I said, maybe it can be excused to kill innocent people to save your own life. That is because you are not free to act. But even there you are essentially saying that you have more right to live than others, which is questionable. For loved ones the case is pretty clear. You cannot actively kill people to save others that you like. Where do you get the authority to make such a judgement?

      > Another example is of an event that actually happens once in awhile, where a motorist finds himself in a situation where his only choice is whether he is going to hit vehicle or pedestrian A, or vehicle or pedestrian B; both of whom are innocent. This is just bad luck all around, but whichever choice he makes he did make it, and so actively killed (or at least maimed) one of them. Assuming someone was killed as a result, was this therefore murder?

      If it is really an accident, it is not murder, because it is outside of his control and not intentional. He is not making an active decision to kill. But he is still responsible for his actions. If he kills people although he had a chance not to kill people, then he is responsible for it. But yes, it is problematic if he judges over who gets to live and who to die. Assuming that he does not have a choice not to kill, the right decision would be to let the accident run its natural cause and not making the decision over life and death. It is more likely though, that people in such situations are not really trying to decide who to kill, but hopping to find a way out of the situation that causes the least damage. For example, hitting the car is less likely to kill someone than running over a pedestrian. Given how little time he has to think about this, making a mistake is more excusable though.

      > Interestingly enough, I myself would indeed sometimes hold such a person culpable. As for instance in the case of the guy who snatches the nearest bystander to use as a human shield between himself and the gunman who is aiming at him and is on the point of pulling the trigger.

      Yes that is problematic isn’t it. But if you would punish this person, then you will have to punish any person who kills innocent people to save his life. He is dragging the innocent person into the line of fire. It is something else, if he hides behind someone who is in the line of fire anyway.

      > Is it murder if D elects to stay on the road and O.G. ends up dead?

      No, it is manslaughter. It is an accident. He is not aware and has no intention to kill someone. How responsible he is, depends on how reckless he was driving. But he is making an active decision if he pulls his car off the cliff. This one would be quite noble, since he decides to scarifies himself to save the other. But if he does not go off the cliff, he is only letting things happen that are outside his control. Again, the difference between acting and not acting.

      > But as far as I can see, nobody, and certainly not I, said anything suggesting that tribalism per se gives moral justification to anything.

      You clearly seem to suggest, that killing innocent people to save loved ones is acceptable. If you make that distinction, then you are essentially making the argument that some people have more right to live then others. And the ones with more right to live are the ones close to you. What else is that than tribalism?

      • Julie near Chicago
        Apr 20, 2016 at 10:33 pm

        Nico. The word “choose” is a verb. It denotes an action, at least insofar as the choice is consciously made.

        If some particular action (“let George do it,” “let Nature take her course”) does not in and of itself make some change to reality as observable to someone other than the chooser, that does not make the choosing any less of an action.

        And intent matters.

        And all choices are proper subjects of moral scrutiny.

        The person is indeed responsible for making the choice he does, even if for some reason he is foiled in his attempt to act on that choice.

        You are confusing the act of choosing with the acts resulting from the choosing.

        For instance. I am Paul Revere, and I have decided to hop on my horse and spread the alarm through every middlesex village and farm; but before I can do so, my beloved (a closet Loyalist no doubt!) beans me on the noodle with a skillet, thus rendering me hors de combat until my return to consciousness some 18 years later.

        I did make the choice. That was an act of mine for which I am morally responsible. The fact that the choice did not result in my acting on it and thus influencing the course of events is completely beside the point.

        The fact that no one happens to be interested in evaluating Paul’s choice, since it made no difference to the world external to Paul, is completely beside the point.

        (And actually, even in the real world a good many psychologists will tell you that your choices as you go along are among the many factors that affect how you will feel about yourself in future.)

        . . .

        A psychologically healthy person tries to choose according to his personal value-rankings. This is a fact of reality. It is the way we are built. He may in fact momentarily act against what he generally feels is a higher (i.e., more compelling) value, due to ignorance or external constraint (he’s buried under 6′ of rubble, or he’s bound to the radiator with handcuffs, or whatever) or to an emotional state of anger or fear or bliss or spaciness for some reason, but he still is aiming to serve his values, whatever they are and in whatever order he ranks them.

        (What his values actually are, even if most people consider them despicable, or even if the are despicable, doesn’t alter that fact of the nature of a psychologically healthy person. Of course, a person who lacks moral self-confidence may easily make a choice against his consciously-held values, but then he’s not in a psychologically healthy position. Ted Bundy is not a counter-example, nor is Mao, nor is somebody who is brain-damaged. The validity of the healthy person’s choice of values to honor is not a consideration.)

        The healthy person usually values his loved ones, or his friends, over perfect strangers. That is how we’re built, and it is not a flaw in our makeup as human beings. And often, it has nothing to do with “tribalism.” Suppose Niall Ferguson decides to save Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who happens to be his wife, out of a fire instead of, say, some Anglo-Saxon Brit he doesn’t know? He doesn’t save her because she’s of his “tribe.” He saves her because he values her (I am assuming that he does value her) and is able to act consonant with her value to him. It has nothing to do with “tribe,” unless one completely distorts the meaning of the word.

        If one believes thatsome innocent person is going to die regardless of what one does or doesn’t do, it is both natural and morally unobjectionable for him to choose to save a person important to him rather than a perfect stranger.

        If you say that in this he is “playing God,” I counter that no matter what he does, including “letting nature take its course” and “doing nothing” (though note that he HAS done something in deciding to stand there like a cigar-store dummy, and this choice will also have an effect in the real world), he is in the position of “playing God.”

        This is so just as much should he choose to save the stranger rather than the valued one.

        • Nico Metten
          Apr 20, 2016 at 11:01 pm

          > Nico. The word “choose” is a verb. It denotes an action, at least insofar as the choice is consciously made.

          Let us not play word games. There is a moral difference between interfering with an event and not interfering with an event.

          > And intent matters.

          It does, but only for things that you actively do. But the point is that the right thing to do is not to interfere.

          > And all choices are proper subjects of moral scrutiny.

          Yes, that is why you must not judge over life and death.

          > For instance. I am Paul Revere, and I have decided to hop on my horse and spread the alarm through every middlesex village and farm; but before I can do so, my beloved (a closet Loyalist no doubt!) beans me on the noodle with a skillet, thus rendering me hors de combat until my return to consciousness some 18 years later.

          I don’t understand what the moral problem is.

          > A psychologically healthy person tries to choose according to his personal value-rankings. This is a fact of reality. It is the way we are built.

          I don’t know how to measure psychological health. Many psychologically healthy man feel the need to have sex with beautiful women. A fact of life. Does this justify rape? Hardly. Moral arguments are about how you ought to behave and not just a documentation of how you behave or want to behave. I am not questioning that people are tribalistic. What I am questioning is that this is a morally good thing.

          > The healthy person usually values his loved ones, or his friends, over perfect strangers. That is how we’re built, and it is not a flaw in our makeup as human beings.

          That is fine. But from that does not follow that you can kill innocent strangers.

          > And often, it has nothing to do with “tribalism.”

          That is what tribalism is. What else is it suppose to be?

          > Suppose Niall Ferguson decides to save Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who happens to be his wife, out of a fire instead of, say, some Anglo-Saxon Brit he doesn’t know? He doesn’t save her because she’s of his “tribe.” He saves her because he values her (I am assuming that he does value her) and is able to act consonant with her value to him. It has nothing to do with “tribe,” unless one completely distorts the meaning of the word.

          Tribalism means that you think an in-group, like our family, tribe, nation etc has more rights than others.

          > If one believes that some innocent person is going to die regardless of what one does or doesn’t do, it is both natural and morally unobjectionable for him to choose to save a person important to him rather than a perfect stranger.

          Of course. You can save whoever you like. But you cannot kill innocent people. There is a difference between saving and killing, between interfering with events and not interfering.

          > If you say that in this he is “playing God,” I counter that no matter what he does, including “letting nature take its course” and “doing nothing” (though note that he HAS done something in deciding to stand there like a cigar-store dummy, and this choice will also have an effect in the real world), he is in the position of “playing God.”

          Not at all. If you do nothing, then you are not interfering with the events. How is that playing god?

          • Julie near Chicago
            Apr 21, 2016 at 3:41 am

            Paul Revere had made a choice; his choice speaks to his character, to the kind of man he was, and to his values. In making moral judgments, we judge men by their values and by their commitment to them, as well as by their real-world efficacy in defending them and their willingness to re-examine them in the light of further knowledge and experience.

            In Paul’s case, he was physically unable to act on the choice that he made because his values dictated it, so there’s no question of judging him on the basis of his efficacy in acting on the choice. But as the Impartial Eye Who Seëth All Things, we know what his choice was, and we judge him on the basis of that.

            (Regardless of whether we approve or disapprove of his position, his values, or his choice.)

            My purpose was to offer an illustration that moral judgment is made first of all according to the choices a person makes; after that, judgment is also based on factors such as effectiveness in acting on those choices. Also, remember that doing the right thing can have a bad outcome. (Your wife is suffering a brain-bleed. You rush her to the hospital. After weeks her brain has healed, but in the meantime she’s come down with a nosocomial infection and died. Nevertheless, you did the right thing. This shows that moral judgments do not always, nor entirely, depend on results achieved.)
            . . .

            A psychologically healthy man doesn’t rape in the first place. Or murder either.

            . . .

            “Tribalism means that you think an in-group, like our family, tribe, nation etc has more rights than others. ”

            That’s what some people take it to mean. Others take it to mean that you value members of your “in-group” more than you do those not in the group, regardless of “rights.”

            If you want to define Mr. Ferguson and his wife as a “tribe,” then you have certainly stretched any conventional meaning of the term. Some husbands and wives value each other first and foremost because of their sharing of the relationship we call “family,” I suppose, but I suspect that even more husbands and wives who are in love with each other value each other as individuals, not as members of an “in-group.”

            That’s usually why they got married in the first place.

            . . .

            As for the rest, in choosing when to interfere and when not, you also choose whom you help (and how much), and whom not. As a result of that choice, some, sometimes, will be worse off than they would have been had you interfered. And some may be better off, of course. Your judgment as to what constitutes the “better” or “worse” is your own, of course, just as much as your values are.

            But the fact is that there are times when walking away affects the outcome of a situation just as much as engaging it does. This is why the “playing God” and “clean hands” arguments really are not persuasive.

            I will give you a bare-bones example. Mr. X, feeling full of energy and not at all tired, was out for a stroll very late one night, when no lights were on in the streets and alleys and no one would be up for many hours. He saw an infant who had been thrown on top of a dumpster that was overflowing with garbage, and heard it whimpering. “Hm,” thought Mr. X. “None of my business.” He went on down the block to his home, and so to bed.

            A day later there was another story in the local paper: Infant Found Dead in Dumpster.

            Kindly don’t re-write the scenario. If I wanted one with all kinds of excuses or even legitimate reasons for X’s indifference, I could perfectly well write it myself. But this sort of thing does happen in real life.

            The point is that X chose not to do anything about the baby, nothing at all, but left the kid to his or her fate. Somebody died, but hey, it wasn’t his doing!

            Well, libertarian theory only rests on the NAP/NIOF principle, at least for now, although I still think it’s in search of a moral theory (and as individuals, lots of libertarians do have some moral theory or other). So he’s OK on libertarian grounds.

            But all he had to do was pick up the baby or pick up his phone when he got home.

  7. Rocco
    Apr 20, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Well, since no one else is likely to come to the defence of “primitive tribalism”…

    Re: the necessity of overcoming “primitive tribalism” if we are to live “in a better, freer world”. Since actual, flesh and blood men do not live in the “world” but rather specific parts of it, and since there are apparently compelling genetic and evolutionary reasons for believing that ethnocentrism will be with us for the foreseeable future, the following considerations seem in order.

    Let A and B be ethnic groups, the members of which, being “primitive tribalists”, are ethnocentric: they will, to borrow the language of game theory, “cooperate” in interactions with their co-ethnics and “defect” in interactions with non-co-ethnics. Whenever any two members (say a1 and b1) of these respective groups meet, non-cooperation will be the outcome; whenever two members of the same group meet (say a1 and a2, b1 and b2) the outcome will be mutual cooperation.

    Now take another ethnic group, C, whose members, have overcome “primitive tribalism” and replaced it with civilised universalism. They are humanitarians: they treat each person they meet as a unique individual. Assuming that they are also a good-natured bunch willing to give everybody a fair shake, whenever any two members of C (say c1 and c2) meet, the result will be mutual cooperation. If C remains isolated from other ethnic groups the level of voluntary cooperation in its society will be no different from – and certainly not any higher than – an ethnically homogenous ethnocentric society.

    But what happens if the humanitarians of C are not isolated from other ethnic groups? What happens if members of ethnocentric group D make their home in C’s land? An ethnocentric “primitive tribalist” will defect in games with non-co-ethnics and humanitarians will cooperate in games with non-co-ethnics, so when, say, c1 and d1 meet, c1 will cooperate and d1 will defect. The humanitarian will play the sucker, the ethnocentrist the free rider (the worst and best outcomes for the humanitarian and the ethnocentrist respectively). Now as c1 is a good humanitarian not some “primitive tribalist”, he will of course not draw the conclusion that D’s are an untrustworthy people. No, he knows that the only decent thing to do is to treat everyone as an individual. So when he meets another member of D, d2, he will play cooperate and the ethnocentrist d2 will, naturally, play defect. Again c1 will end up the sucker, and again as a good humanitarian he will not draw the conclusion that D’s are an untrustworthy people; he will go on treating all God’s children as individuals. And so when he meets d3 he will end up the sucker, and when he meets d4 he will end up the sucker, and when he meets d5 he will end up the sucker, and when he meets… What is true of c1 is true of his fellow humanitarians c2, c3, c4, etc, so we can say that the strategy of C is, effectively, unconditional cooperation, whereas the strategy of D is unconditional defection – the humanitarianism of C condemns it to being bled dry by (any and all) ethnocentric groups. Whilst the non-cooperation that results whenever members of different ethnocentric groups meet is far from ideal, much worse is to play the sucker for all eternity (or until your society collapses, at least). And so we reach the paradoxical conclusion that if a humanitarian society wishes to survive, its members really ought to retain a smidgen of “primitive tribalism” vis-à-vis admitting newcomers. But if this is too distasteful, they could, as Hobbes recommends, institute “a common power to keep them all in awe” with all that that entails.

    • Nico Metten
      Apr 20, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      I fail to see what this has to do with the moral problem that is being discussed here. Unless you are trying to suggest, that other ethnics groups should have less rights to live.

      But to your point. In the real world, we are all human beings. As human being, we are programmed to cooperate, if we profit from it. Even animals show this type of behaviour. So to assume there is some kind of ethnic group out there that collectively never cooperates, is pretty absurd. If there ever was one, they would long be gone, as this is a pretty rubbish survival strategy.

      Because other than you suggest, cooperation beats fraud in the long run by far. Fraudsters usually only get a very short term gain. So if someone does not cooperate, so what? All you are doing is making them an offer. If they don’t take it, despite the fact that it would be good for them, then that is their problem. As the person who cooperates, you will find other people to cooperate with. But the other one is now on its own. If fraud was a better strategy, the free market would be a very bad idea. You would then see the fraudulent companies outcompete the decent ones. It is not really happening is it? As I said, very bad survival strategy.

      • Rocco
        Apr 21, 2016 at 11:08 am

        It has to do with the moral problem being discussed here because you say we need to overcome primitive tribalism to live in a better, freer world, and I am showing you what would result from overcoming primitive tribalism unilaterally.

        And I didn’t say there were groups that do not cooperate. I said there were groups that did not cooperate (in the game theoretical sense) with other ethnic groups – which is what you are saying with this “primitive tribalism” stuff.

        • Nico Metten
          Apr 21, 2016 at 8:39 pm

          If there are no groups that don’t cooperate, then your arguments seems to collapse. In that case you are left with certain individuals not cooperating. So you will still have to see, which individuals cooperate and which do not. Tribalism does not help you there. It keeps you from cooperating with less people than you could.

          And again, ultimately, people shoot themselves in the foot when they don’t cooperate. It is not so much a problem for the cooperative as it is for the non cooperative.

          • Rocco
            Apr 21, 2016 at 10:46 pm

            Riiiiiiiiight….

            If anyone who speaks English as a first language or who has the faintest idea what a Prisoners’ Dilemma is wants to reply I’ll be happy to respond, otherwise I’m not going to bother.

    • Apr 22, 2016 at 8:53 am

      Excellent explanation Rocco but it rest on the assumption that non-co-ethnics fight and defraud each other. Look around, non-co-ethnics are working living marrying and having children together. Your premise conflicts with the evidence.

      • Rocco
        Apr 22, 2016 at 2:47 pm

        Yes, Simon, you’re quite right. In my comment on a post (and its associated comments) where “primitive tribalists” are painted as being so primitive and so tribal that they will happily kill members of other “tribes” with nary a thought, my simplified, stylised example which I used to illustrate a point isn’t a perfect match for the world as we know it. I’m sure there are literally handfuls of Israelis and Palestinians, Hutus and Tutsis, Bosnians and Serbs, Bantus and Pygmies, Kurds and Turks, Chechens and Russians, Muslims and Jews, Muslims and Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, Muslims and atheists, Muslims and Yazidis, Muslims and ever so slightly different types of Muslims etc etc who get along famously. On the other hand I’m sure that a simple Google search for “ethnic conflict” will furnish an overwhelming amount of evidence, in the form of books and research papers, learned journals and charities, for the pervasiveness of ethnic conflict, as well as fun trivia like how ethnic diversity is an excellent predictor of civil war. Likewise if one were to Google “ethnocentrism” he would be inundated with scientific research on things like inclusive fitness, kin selection, ethnic nepotism, reciprocal altruism, ethnic genetic interests and the like, along with game theoretical studies on the evolution of ethnocentrism and the evolutionary dominance of ethnocentric cooperation. And if one were to look into actual “primitive tribalists” he would find that primitive societies were/are ethnically homogenous – as well as being genuine anarchist societies (maybe those two things are linked? I’ll repeat here the last sentence of my original comment: “But if this is too distasteful, they could, as Hobbes recommends, institute a ‘common power to keep them all in awe’ with all that that entails.”).

  8. Mr Ed
    Apr 20, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    Were it the Battle of the Bulge, and the Wehrmacht advanced with human shields on their vehicles, say Luxembourgeois civilians, young and old, clearly non-combatants, would you, as an officer in the US Army, instruct your troops to hold fire, let an innocent civilian be killed?

    If so, why?

    If not, why?

    Putting it bluntly, ‘shit happens’, and sometimes you need to do things you might rather not. But let us not conflate causation with blame.

    • Nico Metten
      Apr 20, 2016 at 11:16 pm

      I don’t know what I would do in that situation. But I do know that killing these innocent people is a problem. It is not at all clear that this is definitely the right thing to do.

      Shit happens is not a moral argument. It is the negation of morality. You can justify anything with it. The whole purpose of moral reasoning is to find out how to behave so that shit can be minimised.

      • Mr Ed
        Apr 21, 2016 at 10:38 am

        Yes Nico, but to say that my proposition, or perhaps scenario is not a moral argument is not on point. I was not saying that it was a moral argument, it is an observation on the course of many lives and situations that have happened, illustrated by a hypothetical but close-to-factual example, e.g. Saddam Hussein’s human shields in the first Iraq War.

        Re: minimising

        Ultimately, are we to be utilitarian about what is right and wrong? To me, that seems to be the answer.

        To me, the hypothetical US Army officer might say ‘Fire, and we’ll find and hang the bastards responsible for this.’ (i.e. the German officers and those obeying their orders). IIRC some US Army soldiers shot some German death camp guards without further ado, possibly in the stomach for a slow death, whereas the British at Belsen had courts-martial and a hangman on hand.

        • Nico Metten
          Apr 21, 2016 at 8:49 pm

          I am oppsed to use ‘shit happens’ as an argument in a moral debate. Shit happens just says that whatever lets you reach your goal is allowed. That is the negation of morality.

          I am not a utilitarian, but a libertarian. But to make an arguement that you can kill people to save others is an extreme form of utilitarianism. It basically says that lives are exchangable. It does not matter who dies. All that matters is the body count as they count towards utility. But if that is the argument, then it does not seem like you can use it for self defense, if surrendering will reduce the body count.

          I value the liberty of each individual human being. That is the highest goal. There is nothing above that. Therefore, individuals cannot be sacrificed for any other goal.

          • Mr Ed
            Apr 22, 2016 at 7:15 pm

            Nico,

            I am making the assumption that you weren’t alive in WW2, I know a few people who were, and indeed sh*t did happen. I fear that by not addressing the point, you are evading the point. Is it too hard a point to address?

            It is in fact a very real issue in some scenarios in living memory and experience, and if it tests a proposition to destruction, then I submit that the answer is to abandon the proposition, not to say that you are opposed to using it in debate.

  9. Julie near Chicago
    Apr 20, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Rocco, certainly agree with your bottom line; interesting argument.

    Mr Ed nails it absolutely. It often happens that something unfortunate, even “wrong” for some value of “wrong,” is “my doing but not my fault.”

    Here’s another example of something “wrong” in libertarian theory (against the NAP, if you take it literally):

    Bystander X is on the tracks, directly in the path of that oncoming train, barrelling down the tracks at 800 per.

    Fortunately you are within arm’s reach of him, but on the grade just next to the tracks, and you are fit and feeling feisty.

    You choose to initiate force against him by grabbing the bystander and yanking him out of the way. You both roll down the grade, suffering nothing more than a bit of workout to your adrenaline glands.

    Face it, Charlie, you done wrong. And it was your doing, too. But personally, I don’t think it was your “fault.”

  10. Julie near Chicago
    Apr 21, 2016 at 1:55 am

    Some Consequences of Doing Nothing*

    First they came for the Jews,
    But I was not a Jew,
    So I did nothing.

    Then they came for Catholics,
    But I was not a Catholic,
    So I did nothing.

    Then they came for the Europeans,
    But I was not European,
    So I did nothing.

    And when Charon asked me why I was there,
    I explained to him that it was because
    I had done nothing,
    And then they had come for me.

    *Inspired by Niemöller

    • Julie near Chicago
      Apr 21, 2016 at 2:32 am

      Or, for another application of the Principle of Efficacy and Morality in the Doing of Nothing, consider this excerpt from Mark Steyn’s column on the Bundesrepublik Deutschland actions with respect to German nationals’ “disrespecting” Heads of State — in the instant case, Turkey’s Erdogan:

      In my book Lights Out: Free Speech, Islam and the Twilight of the West, I put it this way:

      “These are the books we will never read, the plays we will never see, the movies that will never be made…

      “The lamps are going out all over the world – one distributor, one publisher, one silenced novelist, one cartoonist in hiding, one sued radio host, one murdered film director at a time.”

      Add to that daily lengthening list a German satirist on trial for mocking an authoritarian thug.

      Mr. Steyn reminds us that Doing Something is costly. But, of course, that did not stop either him or Mr. Levant.

      The column stands as an inspiration — and a reminder to those of us who dare not dare. Definitely worth the reading:

      “Where the Streets Have no Jokes (Cont.).”

    • Nico Metten
      Apr 21, 2016 at 8:49 am

      Julie, I never said that you should never act. Sometimes acting is a noble thing, as we have seen in the example of the man driving himself off the cliff to rescue someone else. But you must not kill any innocent people while you are acting.

      As far as moral responsibility goes, think about what you are suggesting here. You are suggesting that the people who did not risk their lives to fight the Nazis have moral responsibility for their crimes. That is absurd. Only the Nazis are morally respinsible, as they were the ones that acted and killed all the people.

      • Julie near Chicago
        Apr 21, 2016 at 10:22 am

        Nico, this is quite precisely one of the points I made above. To repeat from mine of Apr 19, 2016 at 9:20 pm:

        ‘…[I]n this case it’s the gunman and not the Self-Defender who’s doing the killing…. [The Self-Defender] initiates force in snatching the bystander, so he’s guilty of that, but not [guilty] of the killing, which is obviously done by the gunman. This, in fact, is why all those claims by assorted bad guys with hostages that “if you move I’ll kill him/her/your little dog, and it will be ON YOU!” are bogus.’

        (Added boldface for emphasis.)

        . . .

        From your first paragraph:

        “Sometimes acting is a noble thing, as we have seen in the example of the man driving himself off the cliff to rescue someone else.”

        I don’t think that in this discussion anyone has driven himself off a cliff to rescue someone else. But it surprises me that you think that driving off a cliff to save the guy and his yak, llama, oxen, or horse, as the case may be, is “noble.”

        Wouldn’t it be more moral, hence more deserving of the adjective “noble,” of him to shut his eyes, keep his foot immobile on the accelerator and his hands immobile on the steering wheel, and let nature take her course? Otherwise, by driving off the cliff he’s taking a positive action, which means he’s interfering.

        Much more saliently, though, it surprises me that you think it’s noble of him to choose death in order to save another.

        That really strikes me as not in character with the bulk of your comments.

        In the abstract, I don’t know that I think it’s noble. Or that it’s not.

      • Julie near Chicago
        Apr 21, 2016 at 10:35 am

        To reiterate: Obviously the Germans who did not directly participate in the Nazi persecutions and murders are not the ones responsible for the crimes in the sense that they committed them.

        But among them were those who did nothing to stop the crimes, and they are accountable for that. If I were their defense lawyer, in fact I would argue that in choosing (in choosing</em) to turn a blind eye, they were actually acting in self-defense, as they must have had a pretty good idea of what would happen to them as known dissidents or, worse, as persons who helped people who were at risk of being killed outright, or tortured, or taken to the camps.

        But it is true that by doing nothing but keep their heads down, they were enablers … regardless of the reasons for their making the choice they did. This is not to pass judgment on their immortal souls, but simply to state a fact.

        • Nico Metten
          Apr 21, 2016 at 9:10 pm

          > [I]n this case it’s the gunman and not the Self-Defender who’s doing the killing…. [The Self-Defender] initiates force in snatching the bystander, so he’s guilty of that, but not [guilty] of the killing, which is obviously done by the gunman.

          Yes, they share some responsibility. But he did act by snatching the bystander. He was not just passive.

          >This, in fact, is why all those claims by assorted bad guys with hostages that “if you move I’ll kill him/her/your little dog, and it will be ON YOU!” are bogus.’

          yes absolutely, they are.

          > Wouldn’t it be more moral, hence more deserving of the adjective “noble,” of him to shut his eyes, keep his foot immobile on the accelerator and his hands immobile on the steering wheel, and let nature take her course? Otherwise, by driving off the cliff he’s taking a positive action, which means he’s interfering.

          Yes he is interfering. I never said you cannot interfere. But if you do, you are responsible for the result. And in this case, there is no moral problem with the result. He kills himself. That is fine, he can kill himself for any reason he wants. There is no moral problem here as far as I can see. Which is not to say that is always is a good idea. BTW, keeping your foot on the gas is a moral problem. Because that is an action that might make the outcome worse. In order for him not being morally responsible, this needs to be an accident, that means it needs to be outside of his control. But he is responsible for anything that is within his control as long as it is a result of his action.

          > That really strikes me as not in character with the bulk of your comments.

          Well, you clearly have not understood my argument.

          > To reiterate: Obviously the Germans who did not directly participate in the Nazi persecutions and murders are not the ones responsible for the crimes in the sense that they committed them. But among them were those who did nothing to stop the crimes, and they are accountable for that.

          You are not acountable or responsible for other people’s actions or events that are outside your control. How could you? If you were, then you would be very guilty of all kinds of crimes, as you do not dedicate your life to fights all kinds of injustice and suffering in the world, when you could do that.

          Thanks for the lively debate Julie, but I will have to leave it now, due to time contrains.

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