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Kate Nineteen

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Why do people kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong? [Jun. 3rd, 2009|10:34 am]
Kate Nineteen
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I don't have a lot of principles that I stand by and won't be talked down from but "compassion is more important than ideology" is one of them. If you're moral code ever tells you that hurting someone is the right thing to do, something is wrong. Now I believe that sometimes hurting someone is the less wrong thing to do. If someone try to hurt me, I'll fight back without compunction, but afterwords my thoughts will be "I wish I hadn't had to do that" and not "I showed him not to mess around with me" or something equally righteous.

Some of my friends have responded to the recent murder of abortionist Dr. Tiller with the sentiment "I don't understand how anyone could do this." I think I do understand, because from where I'm sitting, this is just an extreme form of ideology being put before compassion. The logic goes like this:

1) Person A is doing something wrong.
2) I can stop person A from doing that.
3) Stopping wrong-doing is a moral obligation.
Conclusion: I am morally obligated to stop person A.

You will note that the method used for stopping person A never comes into this logic, and that's a problem. Now a more advanced form of this logic might look like this:

1) Person A is doing something wrong.
2) I can stop person A from doing that by doing X.
3a) Stopping wrong-doing is a moral obligation.
3b) Doing X will hurt person A, and/or other people.
4b) Not hurting people is a moral obligation.
Conclusion: I have a moral dilemma

Now where one goes from here is depends on the relative moral weighs one puts on person A's actions, action X, active wrong-doing, allowing wrong-doing through inaction. Other factors that might affect the decision include whether one sees other ways of changing person A's actions, or other consequences of doing X. For me, based on the principle of "compassion before ideology", hurting people is worse than allowing wrong-doing to continue. Sometimes, though, doing nothing is also hurting people (often me, in the case of wrong-doing that is directed in my general area) and I go into "what hurt is less bad" mode.

When the conclusion is that stopping wrong-doing is more important than not hurting people, the results can range from mild to extreme. I don't think all of the examples that follow are even close to equally bad, but I find that understanding how someone does one of them allows me to understand how people do the others. Some examples of treating "stopping wrong-doing" as more important than "not hurting people".
Telling someone they are a "bad person" or "disgusting" for advocating an action of questionable morality.
Insulting someone for holding illogical beliefs.
Forcing people to give up freedom of mobility or comfortable food and shelter because the way the get these is bad for the environment.
Slapping someone who makes a sexist or racist remark.
Sending hate mail or threats to a public figure who you disagree with.
Shooting someone who performs late-term abortion, or runs an animal testing lab, or anyone other thing you believe to be immoral.

You'll note that I don't put boycotting an organization, calling a behavior inappropriate, or respectfully disagreeing on that list, because I don't consider these to be hurtful. There are also other ways that "ideology before compassion" can lead to things I consider wrong, like dragging a child away from their friends to attend an activist event, but in this case the person being hurt isn't the one whose behavior is trying to be modified.

Lastly, I'm sorry that this is probably an indictment of some of the people who read my LJ. I don't want to hurt you, but I'm not willing to be silent on this topic.

[User Picture]From: lbmango
2009-06-03 05:36 pm (UTC)
Note that I agree with you.

However, I think that the argument (That I disagree with, I'm seriously playing devil's advocate here) is that if abortion is murder, then Doctors who perform a lot of them are mass murderers. So, you've got someone who is killing lots of people, and the government won't arrest them, or make them stop. Do you kill a mass murderer to make them stop murdering innocent people?

I'll let someone else invoke Godwin's rule here, but yes, that is the next step in this argument.
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[User Picture]From: ultimatepsi
2009-06-03 06:17 pm (UTC)
I think you have just made exactly the point I was trying to make.
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[User Picture]From: randysmith
2009-06-03 06:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you for saying this.

I do consider it terrorism (in a technical sense) rather than pure "killing someone who is killing other people", in that I think the primary intent is to scare other doctors away from performing abortions. But that doesn't change the moral logic, or the pain I feel around that moral logic.
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[User Picture]From: moozeale
2009-06-03 07:30 pm (UTC)
I've always felt the same way. Why is an unwanted embryo's life worth more to some people than an adult doctor who helps women make a very difficult and often painful decision?
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[User Picture]From: lbmango
2009-06-03 08:01 pm (UTC)
To be completely fair, it's HUNDREDS of unwanted (and assumed innocent) embryos lives are considered worth more than one adult doctor who (the person doing the comparison thinks) kills children.

I disagree with the assumptions, but with those assumptions, murder, and even terrorism isn't a completely unreasonable next step...

Also note that I see this single murder very differently than I see clinic bombings. This was an individual who thought that he(?) was killing a mass murderer. I disagree with him, but can envision situations where I might do the same. Clinic bombings kill and injure people who have no relation to the issue, and people who (the bomber thinks) have killed only one person (the mothers)

Also also note: I desperately need a "devil's advocate" icon. as I seem to be straying very far away from my own beliefs here...

Edited at 2009-06-03 08:06 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: dragontdc
2009-06-04 12:42 am (UTC)
The death penalty brings in another aspect of the dilemma. If there is the death penalty for murder, then to kill someone you have to be willing to die for your cause. If you are willing to die for putting your beliefs into action, there is very little that can be done to stop you.

Without the death penalty, you get the psychological conundrum of being willing to live very uncomfortably and without freedom for your beliefs. In some ways, dying for them is easier, because it's over and then off you go to the afterlife of your choice.
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From: s13
2009-06-04 01:30 am (UTC)
I agree with most of this, most of the time.

But... who defines what's hurtful? The person who is taking the potentially hurtful action, or the person who is or isn't hurt by the action?
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[User Picture]From: ratatosk
2009-06-04 01:35 am (UTC)
I think that, in general, Americans don't like moral complexity, and don't like to admit that sometimes actual dilemmas exist. They want there to be a clean, obviously right course of action where everybody wins and nobody has to do anything morally objectionable. So instead of analysing situations and picking one of several bad choices, you might get whining about unfairness.

I note that Bush -- not known for his nuanced thought -- was also very stingy with the pardon power, which was intended to compassionately get people out of morally sticky situations.
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[User Picture]From: lbmango
2009-06-04 02:53 am (UTC)
I agree with everything you said. Except that Americans want situations where everyone wins. That's COMMUNIST talk! America is the land of competition, where only the best get ahead, and everyone else can fsck themselves.

But yeah, Americans are not real good with the concept of grey...
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From: csdx
2009-06-04 03:43 pm (UTC)
So a notion I hold is that people don't do things thinking their evil. If debate taught me anything its that both sides are striving to uphold a moral/virtue, sometimes even the same one. So as silly as the notion of two pro sides fighting it out might be, it's actually closer to the truth than not.

With regard to the compassion before ideology principle, I think because I see many conflicts as a contention of morals, there are no clear 'ideology' or 'compassion' sides. Usually morals/ethics are a mix of both. People are attempting to promote their side because they believe it will reduce suffering. (again with abortion, compassion for the mother versus compassion for the baby)

So the way I see it the 'which hurt is less bad mode' is probably the standard rather than the exception. Each of the examples can be interpreted as a suffering1 vs suffering2 scenario. E.g. slapping someone hurts, but sexist/racist remarks hurt as well. Even fairly benign actions are/can be harmful. E.g. Boycotting, while a corporation might not feel hurt, it's ultimately composed of people, who could lose their jobs, etc.

So I think that there is no distinction between (most people's perception of) "wrong-doing" and "hurting people". So letting wrongdoing happen is synonymous with letting suffering occur. Thus most ideologies intertwine with compassion, such that they're not easily separated onto different sides of an issue.
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[User Picture]From: ultimatepsi
2009-06-04 04:42 pm (UTC)
This makes sense. In someways the distinction I draw here is an abstract vs concrete one. As I see it, hurting someone who is right there in front of you is a lot worse than allowing some more abstract thing-which-is-hurting-people to continue. And that belief is what I mean by "compassion before ideology".

A number of people have tried to claim that abstract hurts are bigger and therefore more important. While I don't dispute this claim, I find that it is much harder to tell what effect one's actions have on a distant or abstract cause. Choosing concrete compassion is a risk mitigation tactic.

Of course, this whole understanding of mine, is based on having been pretty badly hurt by people who actions were intended to create positive social change. I still have no idea if their actions caused any positive changes in society, but I'm sure that I got hurt, and so I wish people wouldn't do that.
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[User Picture]From: marmota
2009-06-05 04:52 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: ultimatepsi
2009-06-05 01:44 pm (UTC)
Awww... Hard as that was to parse, it seems like a good sentiment.
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[User Picture]From: truthspeaker
2009-06-05 09:17 pm (UTC)
I would say that if someone wants to justify killing someone, then they have to open themselves up to the possibility of killing being justified by an ultimate beneficial effect. However, then that needs to be applied to the doctor they want to kill -- maybe those deaths could also be justified. That opens up the door to doubt. Either all killing is wrong and you may not kill to prevent killing or you doubt and question, so killing a killer isn't automatically justified anymore.

As for doing something for the good of society, people are too quick to dismiss the idea that they may actually be doing more harm than good in the process. This then boils down to needing a lot of safety room because other people's value functions are different from yours. Therefore, harming someone else because it is better by *your* value system is still wrong. Harming someone has subtle effects that may not be taken into account. Furthermore, you should always consider what happens if your value system is wrong.

The acceptable way to deal with this dilemma is to get consent. Using children for your ideals is a bad idea because children (as minors) cannot consent.

Ultimately, you get "People are more important than philosophy" -- a belief I have held for most of my life.

I realize that this isn't your way of thinking or the terms you would use, but it's odd how it ends up at more or less the same place.
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[User Picture]From: ultimatepsi
2009-06-05 09:25 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this isn't the terms I would use, but I totally agree.
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