Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Moral Relativism of the Conservative Party

It is a moral certainty that no human or institution owns another human being. From that moral certainty we arrive at a second moral certainty - that no human or institution may, without the express consent of that person involved, take the life of another human.

In other words, murder is morally wrong, in all circumstances. Period. End of story.

But now, as both Chet Scoville and James Bow have so aptly pointed out, our government and the Conservative Party of Canada no longer agree with that assertion. For them now, it seems, the value of a human life is dependent on circumstances, dependent on political relations ships and on vague definitions of things like "democratic state with respect for the rule of law". They say now it is dependent on whether the process used to take the life was done correctly and fairly.

In short, the CPC now believes it is possible for another person or institution to own another human, if the circumstances are "correct". They now say that another person or, worse, the State, may now take the life of another person, against their will and without their consent, simply because of what they do, or where they do it, or if our government is friendly with the government of the state in question, or if it fits in with their own domestic policy aspirations.

All of this means that the Conservatives now consider the morality of the taking of a human life to be relative to the circumstances of their own choosing - the very moral relativism they have always stated one of the greatest failings of the left. Only they have done it with perhaps one of our most widely held moral certainties.

Many of their supporters are trying to minimize and obfuscate this position by stating it is merely the government choosing not to "defend" a self-admitted double murder who was "correctly" and with "due process" sentenced to die - Ronald Smith in Montana. They are attempting to justify this by pointing out how horrible Smith's crimes were and that he has admitted his guilt. But this only serves to further demonstrate their moral relativism. That no person or state can take is a moral absolute regardless of what the person did, where they did it or who they are. What Smith did or how fair the process by which he was sentenced to die is irrelevant to the fact that as a human no one can morally take his life. Except if you are a member of the Conservative government.

It is wrong for a state to take Smith's life without his consent, just as it was wrong for Smith to take the lives of his victims without their consent. A murder planned by friendly people, following the rules in a fair process and living in a "free" and "democratic"country is still a murder, regardless of the process.

If our government won't stand up for that principle of moral certainty and seek clemency for the most heinous, like Smith, because they accept the moral relativist position that human life can be taken if the circumstances are right, then they accept that any citizen's life can be taken if circumstance match those they decide are right. They have joined in this belief regimes such as Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, Idi Amin. They agree on fundamentals - that human life can be taken by the state if the circumstances are "right" - and differ only in degree. And that minor degree is something that allows what Hannah Arndt called "the banality of evil" - that seemingly minor policies and actions by ordinary individuals can be used to perpetrate tremendous evil that seems banal and normal.

And this morally indefensible situation and policy was thrust upon Canada without consultation, debate or input from our supposed representatives. Once again, demonstrating that authoritarian, secretive, anti-democratic and arrogant nature of the Conservative government. It is even possible that this outrageous position was announced to simultaneously appeal to their angry, revenge-seeking socially conservative base and to draw attention away from the government's problems with the In and Out Scandal, poor polling numbers and once again its anti-democratic actions against it s own party members.

Canada is ruled, it seems, by an anti-democratic, authoritarian and secretive government that now considers the value of human life to be negotiable upon political considerations. This is nothing short of creeping fascism. Imagine what they would do with an unstoppable Majority. This is no longer about things like tax policy, the amount of social programs or the level of state interference in the economy. This Conservative Party has fundamentally, arbitrarily and unilaterally changed the relationship between the citizen and the state - the citizen is now expendable.

All Canadians of principle and everyone who respects the basic human right that no other person or institution can take away a human life - whether they are "left" or "right" Liberal, principled Conservatives, NDP, Green, Bloc, FCP or any other - should fight this change in policy by the Harper government. The principled must call their MP, write their MP, send letters to the editor and demand a proper debate and a repeal of this position. Principled Conservative need to re-claim their party from these extremists.

And if the Conservative Party continues with this policy, they have lost the moral authority to govern and any law or regulation they pass should be ignored. Refuse to cooperate. Stop paying taxes, license fees or other tariffs. Do not obey them.

Do not let the moral relativism of the Conservative Party drag Canada into a terrible darkness.

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46 Comments:

At 8:38 PM, Blogger James Bow said...

Are you seriously going to stop paying taxes or license fees to the federal government over this?

 
At 8:42 PM, Blogger James Bow said...

Here is something you can look up, though. I've heard somewhere that you can donate money to your municipal government for specific services, and the receipt you receive can be applied directly against the taxes you pay to the federal and provincial governments.

I don't know if this applies as a 100% tax credit, or simply a tax deduction against your income. The former would be a stronger incentive. But this is one totally legal approach to take: funnel money that the government has earmarked to a particular government you approve of, for services you approve of.

I'd certainly consider this approach, especially given how underfunded I believe municipal services are.

 
At 8:45 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I would. I honestly think it is that serious.

The government either means that the value of a human life is a relative thing, or they are merely using this nonsense for scoring partisan political points with those who do.

Either way, they have lost any authority to rule. And with a Liberal party unwilling to take a stand against them, stopping them will require direct actions. if enough people do it, it will work

 
At 8:47 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Re: Second James Bow Post.

If one can do it legally, then perhaps that would work too.

But sometimes it would be worth it to do it extra legally.

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger 900 ft Jesus said...

"Canada is ruled, it seems, by an anti-democratic, authoritarian and secretive government that now considers the value of human life to be negotiable upon political considerations."

chilling, and at the core of this argument. Powerful post, thanks!

900ft

 
At 6:59 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

The principled must call their MP, write their MP, send letters to the editor and demand a proper debate and a repeal of this position.

Did it yesterday. No reply back yet, but my MP is usually pretty good about having one of his interns send out a form letter. funny, he used to reply personally when he was in opposition.

 
At 7:58 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Nasty,

I did to, and I expect the same result as you. My MP is wunderkind Pierre Poilievre and last time I wrote a letter to him like this, his minion replied with a form letter about 10 months later. Funny, I got on his constituency mailing list within a few days....

 
At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I assume you are comfortable with the state's destruction of a person's life via involuntary confinement, correct? Despite the fact that it is, under normal circumstances, immoral for an individual to do so? I think you have to tread very carefully in basing arguments against capital punishment on moral absolutes applicable to both individuals and the state.

The absolute moral wrong committed by the individual in taking another life is considered at law, and commonly understood, to be justified in certain circumstances, for instance war and self-defence.

If you set up the taking of a human life as an unjustifiable wrong for the state, you are in danger of having to apply the same standard to other ostensible wrongs, such as incarceration, which is ultimately not a functional position. I want murderers to rot in jail and I don't care that the state, in making that happen, is transgressing a moral code applicable to the individual.

My opposition to the death penalty stems not from the inherent immorality of killing, which, as I noted above, is in fact accepted in certain circumstances, but rather from the irrevocability of penal killing, given the margin of error in any justice system, regardless of its overall fairness and efficiency. My two cents.

"And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine."

The Needle

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Mike said...

I assume you are comfortable with the state's destruction of a person's life via involuntary confinement, correct? Despite the fact that it is, under normal circumstances, immoral for an individual to do so?

At risk of starting a bit of a diversion from the main topic, I am not comfortable with that, unless the person agreed to such punishment as part of voluntarily accepting the rules or laws in the first place. That being said, your meaning of "destruction of a persons life" is not the same as taking a person's life - the person in question is still alive.

For me it stems from the central idea of libertarianism:

"No person may initiate force or delegate the initiation of force against another, except in self-defense"

Which brings me to:

The absolute moral wrong committed by the individual in taking another life is considered at law, and commonly understood, to be justified in certain circumstances, for instance war and self-defence.

As self-defence is based on the idea that I own myself and no one else does, meaning I have a "right" to prevent someone from taking my life, it is based on the same absolute moral right as stated above. Even if I kill in self-defense, I believe that I have done wrong, but had no alternative. Thus I may still be somehow liable. When presented with alternatives, not killing is always the right choice. I believe that killing in self-defense is still wrong and punishable, only varying on what that punishment may be.

As for war, it is always immoral. It is the ultimate act of force, aggression and coercion and is always done by states, not individuals. Ironically that on an individual level, it sets up an artificial self-defense scenario - kill of be killed - in order to justify the war itself and try to mitigate the wrong of the killing on the individual level.

My opposition to the death penalty stems not from the inherent immorality of killing, which, as I noted above, is in fact accepted in certain circumstances, but rather from the irrevocability of penal killing, given the margin of error in any justice system, regardless of its overall fairness and efficiency. My two cents.

I won't disagree with that. Death is the only sentence with no possibility of appeal and mistakes cannot be corrected.

But that is still a fairly utilitarian position (albeit a good one).

But killing is wrong in all cases and pretending killing is ok or even right depending on who the person is, where they are or what they did is still moral relativism.

And that is what the government is doing.

 
At 9:43 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Well, I see things differently, but only slightly.

re: a second moral certainty [is] that no human or institution may, without the express consent of that person involved, take the life of another human and Even if I kill in self-defense, I believe that I have done wrong, but had no alternative.

No. I think implied consent is sufficient, and you can perfectly rightly kill someone who is trying to kill you. If your opponent dies you have done no wrong.


Mike, if you're attacked, the potentially lethal terms of the relationship between you and the attacker are set by the attacker. The attacker puts death on the table, clearly implying an acceptance of lethality as a result of the relationship he is putting in place between you.

Now, it is wrong to instigate coercion, certainly. But it is not wrong to coerce an attacker into stopping an attack.


By instigating potentially lethal coercion, your opponent is plainly trying to gain, and to do so at your expense. The attacker intends to gain by causing you an unjustifiable and involuntary loss.

Keep in mind that you gain nothing by killing your opponent, Mike; the life you maintain is only the one you had to start with. If you survive by killing your attacker, you don't own the attacker's life; there is no life to own.

 
At 10:53 PM, Blogger Ron said...

And it might make my point clearer to emphasize this way:

if you're attacked, the potentially lethal terms of the relationship between you and the attacker are *voluntarily* set by the attacker...

 
At 11:32 PM, Blogger The Needle (Burton) said...

I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to define war. Is it always immoral? Would Poland have been committing an immoral act if it had launched a strike against German territory in 1939 just as the goose-stepping assholes were crossing the Polish border? You position on war is facile and a bit of a dodge.

Also, I am surprised to learn that you do not favour the incarceration of say, let's grab a neutral example here, a foreign national who has not agreed to abide by our laws and kills a child while in our country due to an unavoidable flight diversion.

"I believe that killing in self-defense is still wrong and punishable, only varying on what that punishment may be."

Oh Lord, I can't even begin to fathom the slavish devotion to "principle" that results in such a fundamentally loopy outlook. I'll be sure to start my mid-life cut loose burglary spree at your place.

Also, the facts of life, while not exactly conservative, are decidedly not libertarian.

Thank God I know everything.

 
At 1:48 AM, Blogger Ron said...

Oh Lord, I can't even begin to fathom the slavish devotion to "principle" that results in such a fundamentally loopy outlook. I'll be sure to start my mid-life cut loose burglary spree at your place.

Just because you can't fathom it doesn't mean others can't. Me, for example...I understand that Mike holds *life* as a primary value, and that he actually wants to live a principled life as best he understands it. So, while I might disagree with him if I feel that's required, I won't be insulting him.

As for this: the facts of life, while not exactly conservative, are decidedly not libertarian...

...is there a coherent thought buried in that phrase somewhere?

 
At 8:47 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Ron,

Good points all round. I think in practical terms I would agree, because the outcome would be the same. I would say that the killing in self-defense is still wrong, but in that instance unavoidable, thus meaning the punishment for such would be small or non-existent. It would be the magnitude of redress that is affected by the context, not the moral question of killing then, to be consistent on the principle.

Same destination, different road.

Also, I am surprised to learn that you do not favour the incarceration of say, let's grab a neutral example here, a foreign national who has not agreed to abide by our laws and kills a child while in our country due to an unavoidable flight diversion.

Well, I won't answer silly over-the-top hypotheticals and get into arguments ad absudum, but lets just say that I believe that "punishment" for crimes ought to be "restorative" and proportional. So, if I steal your car, I give the car back + damages (as specified by the court) and its done. Drugs and other crimes that involve no victims (like prostitution) should not be crimes at all. Sometimes that proportion is locking up for a time, especially if the person is dangerous, but there are no blanket rules as to how long or when this would occur.

But none of that is the point of this post. Again, it is clear that this government is valuing human life differently depending on political circumstances and opportunity, rather than on any principles.

Oh Lord, I can't even begin to fathom the slavish devotion to "principle" that results in such a fundamentally loopy outlook. I'll be sure to start my mid-life cut loose burglary spree at your place.

Oh Lord, I can't even begin to fathom how much damage has been done in this country and in this world by people that don't work from a core set of principles (see Liberals and, now, Conservatives). As for being "loopy", well telling me murder is wrong, then murdering someone who does it is a bit loopy if you ask me. Allowing the state a power that if you or I did it would result in our rightful jailing is a fundamentally "loopy" outlook.

And feel free to start your mid-life burglary spree at my place. I promise to only bread enough of your bones with my Louisville Slugger to stop you from committing the crime and ensure you are still able to pay me back. I certainly won't kill you unless you try to kill me and leave me no choice.

Might I recommend Chaos Theory by Robert P Murphy or various articles on polycentric law

 
At 4:49 PM, Blogger Charles Anthony said...

Hmmm.... there is something peculiar underlying this whole opening article. Wanting to have your cake and eat it too comes to mind.
I get the sense that you are indirectly granting moral authority to an illegitimate authority. In other words, the government has no right to govern except for this case where you want them to come to the rescue of Ronald Smith in Montana -- with my money on top of that!

I would rather my taxes go to save the whales or to defend innocent baby seals or to feed starving children in Africa or to banish Ronald Smith from Montana or back in my pocket or.... Get the picture?

Effectively, you are authorizing that the State goes to war with my money but without my consent.

 
At 6:09 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Goodness Charles, I hope you don't get a hay fever attack from that straw man....

I have said no such thing. Not even close. I don't grant the state any such power and I argue they should certainly not have the power of life and death over anyone. Any state, any person, any where.

I do not ask that the government "rescue Ronald Smith" but that they, since they have set themselves up in a paternal role over its citizens, protect all of its citizens based on principle and, as it has in other cases advocate for his sentence to be commuted.

And the point of my article was not to advocate for state action per se, but to point out that Conservatives, who often accuse the 'left' of being moral relativists, are themselves being moral relativists when it comes to the basic tenet of human society and of liberty itself - the value of a human life and the ability of the state or anyone else to "own" that life.

Conservatives and those who favour the death penalty clearly see Ronald Smith as less than human because of his actions and his circumstance, not his biology. That is the kind of moral relativism that allowed the Gulag and the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide to occur.

And don't get caught up in the idea that this is about Ronald Smith. A Canadian is in jail in Cuba after being sentenced for having sex with 15 and 16 year old girls. He claims his innocence, but because even the accusation runs against the Conservative's age of consent legislation, Stockwell Day is not helping him. He has not been convicted in a country that is "democratic and follows the rule of law" yet the government is treating him as they are treating Smith, because it is politically expedient domestically. That, Charles, is the moral relativism of the Conservative government in spades.

So really, take your "authorizing that the State goes to war with my money but without my consent" nonsense and gently shove it up your ass.

I am pointing out the hypocrisy and authoritarian, morally relative nature of this government and you come around and try to make me into some kind of statist? The mind boggles.

 
At 9:15 PM, Blogger Charles Anthony said...

I am with you entirely when you point out the hypocrisy of the Conservative government but you take it a step further. You are asking the government to act as statists.

Make all the demands you want of the government, but not with my money.

 
At 9:25 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"You are asking the government to act as statists. "

No, I am calling them out. I am stating that if they are to assume the mantle they have assumed, they should act with principle. But they won't and don't. My call for the principled is to do something is facetious - none of them will do anything because they are afraid of 'supporting murders'.

For me more proof that the state should not be trusted. And if you don't want to pay, just don't pay your taxes.

 
At 9:27 PM, Blogger Mike said...

BTW, they are going to act as statist whether I ask them to or not (since that is what they are). At least they can act with the least harm...

 
At 7:51 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Charles,

Sorry for the snippy answers earlier...it was a day yesterday.

Let me explain:

I only advocate for action by "Canadians of principle". Frankly, I think that this government will not be swayed from its authoritarian, ideologue stance by principle, so this simply will not work. I actually expect the Conservative Party to "continue with this policy".

So, what I advocate is not so much government action, but action by principled Canadians to realize that this government (indeed all governments, but this one especially) consider them expendable property and that they have no moral authority to govern. I am then recommending the route recommended by Henri David Thoreau, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr - civil disobedience. I want them to use this as a catalyst to "ignore" the government, to "Stop paying taxes, license fees or other tariffs. Do not obey them."

Perhaps then people will begin to see we don't need a state or an involuntary government to rule us.

Calls for government action are merely steps on a path to get people to realize that they have the power and that they can determine for themselves how to live their lives.

Think Agorism in action as well as standing on principles.

And right now I am more concerned about the principle than my tax dollars.

 
At 10:40 AM, Blogger Charles Anthony said...

"And right now I am more concerned about the principle than my tax dollars."
I am too and I hear you.
Together, we have to chip away at the state from all directions and you are doing so by pointing out an inconsistency.

If you allow me to continue from my rigid anti-statist stance some more, I would like to further explain why we should be cautious in our arguments: the average person who takes The Almighty State as an authority for granted may be comfortable expanding the responsibility of the government.


A statist can also say: "I fell in a ravine while in a ski trip in Switzerland and I was irresponsible: I did not get traveller's insurance. If I fell in Canada, the government would nurse me back to health and so I demand that the government should cure me in Switzerland too!"
[In principle, committing murder in a foreign country that has the death penalty is no different from travelling without insurance. They are one and the same.]


About one year ago, there was debate about whether the government should rescue Canadian citizens in Lebanon. The statist can say: "If Canadian citizens are in danger in Canada, the government should protect them! It is the job of the government to protect them in Lebanon too!"

 
At 7:16 PM, Blogger Werner said...

Hi Mike,

Part of this comes back to the idea of what compromises are acceptable in the short run and which ones are not. I don't really object to Medicare in Canada, state or no state. If you're dead then everything else is irrelevant. Opposing capital punishment is a basic principle and if the tradition of "helping" (sort-of) a Canadian citizen in another nation also helps to undermine CP then I can also live with that.

 
At 8:24 PM, Anonymous DazzlinDino said...

Have you seen the bit that Nugent did on you tube? In essence, I agree with one valid point he makes.

He talks of a woman and child killed by a carjacker, and that he would rather the woman pumped a slug into the guys chest and shot him dead than have her and her child die on they way to soccer.

Now, if one doesn't want to differentiate between killers, then she would have been just as guilty as the man attacking her.

There is definitly a difference from murders. The guy in Montana KNEW he was committing a crime, in a state that carried the death penalty. He has admitted that. By that admition, why should it be up to Canada to determine his sentence, it had nothing to do with us.

In the same way anti-afghanistan-mission people think we shouldn't be there, they are also the first to step up and yell about an atrocity or "pet cause" in another country.

Sorry, I think if a man commits a crime against society, he loses all rights to that society, and is punishable under the laws of said society.

Sorry, I was kinda all over the place there....

 
At 9:23 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Dazz,

Lay off the cough medicine, seriously man. We're worried.

;)

Good to see you back buddy.

So, as I said, this isn't about Smith, but about the principle. And if they support the capital punishment, they are moral relativists that value human life depending on political considerations beyond the simple biology of being human. If the state can legally kill you, they can legally do anything in between, including owning you.

Sorry, not for me.

And I agree that the soccer mom should be able to shoot and kill a carjacker because as Ron has so eloquently pointed out, she has been placed in a position where she has no choice. Killing is still wrong, but if you have no choice, what are you going to do? Mitigating circumstances don't excuse killing, it is still wrong, but it certainly goes to what the response to it should be. We can forgive in that circumstance where you have no choice to kill and be harsh in situations where you make a positive and aggressive choice to kill. But we can't kill as a response to that, because killing is morally wrong.

As for Afghanistan, I post my reasons on this a few months back. Our troops are between a rock and a hard place. Thanks to the machinations of the US and Pakistan, they are caught in a quagmire that they cannot win (indeed, no one has ever been able to win). We have no strategy beyond the one that the US used to lose Viet Nam and now Iraq. So if we can't win, and we aren't really being that effective while we are there, why exactly should my brother the WO die there? Because of some silly idea of 'suck cost'? Because Harper wants to look tough? Couldn't we do that in a place we could actually be effective?

Just sayin'.

 
At 12:24 AM, Anonymous DazzlinDino said...

Here's the thing though, the Anti-Nugent crowd will tell you it is best to just obey the guy, and do whatever he says. We are told that it is the best way to survive, to which I strongly disagree. If the guy had come up to her car and tried to open the door, and she had pumped three rounds into him, she would have gotten the chair. They would tell her she didn't actually KNOW the guy was going to kill her, so she would be wrong.

Our society today is rigged on 20/20 hindsight. Sure, she should have shot the guy, but if she had, it would have been game over anyway.

Our right to personal protection has been replace by our right to cower in the corner. I'm not a gun owner, or a violent guy, but the whole thing sucks.

Now we have a guy who commits a crime in another country, admits it, and admits he knew the consequences, and for some reason he should be saved???

If the people in the states with the death penalty REALLY disagreed with it, they would vote accordingly, and laws are put in place by people elected by the mahority. It's just the way society works, and I don't think WE have the right to inflict our beliefs on them.

To tie this in with Afghanistan, some would say we are interfering there as well. The catch is, we are interfering on a system history has proven doesn't work, and that is rule by force (ie. terrorism). Even though democracy has it's obvious flaws, it's still better than having the toughest kid in the playground having control of all the equipment. Even if we didn't end up there for the right reasons, it's still right that we are there.

 
At 2:08 AM, Blogger Werner said...

Hi again,

Mike, that last comment is weird. In the case of capital punishment "we" don't have the right to interfere but in Afghanistan "we" do.

 
At 2:15 AM, Blogger Ron said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 2:19 AM, Blogger Ron said...

Mike, I still have to disagree with your core assertion, that killing is wrong per se.

That's is simply not true. It is unfortunate, and perhaps wrong in the sense that it's a shame to have to go through it--you know, wrong like a car accident--but I have to object to the idea that a victim wrongs an attacker by killing them. They do no such thing.

When you say: Killing is still wrong, but if you have no choice, what are you going to do? you kinda put the essentials on the table. Exactly, what are you going to do? Can you name *any* other "no choice" action to which you ascribe moral negativity?

An attacker cannot rightfully proscribe a victim's response, nor can an attacker rationally or morally expect a victim to hold their life higher in value than the attacker holds the victim's. We wouldn't be arguing this point were we talking about a bear attack, Mike--and the human-ness of the attacker doesn't detract from the fact that the attacker is primarily a predator, and that by explicit choice.

Don't confuse remorse for guilt, Mike. It's a damn shame when people die and life is valuable and to be respected so any loss is sad, certainly, and one would wish it need not be so; remorse is appropriate. But guilt only comes in to play when one is responsible for something, and a victim is not responsible for the attack nor its outcome. There's no way I will tell a victim they carry any amount of blame for a situation they did not build.

 
At 8:17 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Dazz,

I gotta agree with Werner, it does seem like a contradiction - we can't interfere in the US but we can in Afghanistan. And one could argue that capital punishment is a system that history has shown doesn't work because innocent people are executed and it does nothing to prevent or deter murder.

But as I said, we are not even talking about "interfering" - we are talking about taking a stand, on principle and advocating for an equal but alternative sentence to death in life in prison. This alternative and process - clemency - are available to American citizens in the same situations. There is nothing extra-legal or even extra-ordinary about it, except it would be the department of Foreign Affairs doing the advocating.

"Now we have a guy who commits a crime in another country, admits it, and admits he knew the consequences, and for some reason he should be saved???"

Yes, because, as his actions show, murder is wrong. Its wrong when Ronald Smith does it and its wrong when the State of Montana's prison doctor does it. Period. Spending you life in a state prison is hardly being "saved".

Dazz, I choose not to allow the state to have the power of life and death over anyone and certainly not the power to arbitrarily choose the circumstance under which the state can take a human life.

The death sentence is a sentence with no avenue of appeal.

That is the whole point and why this shows moral relativism. Principles are stood by, even if it means defending those you don't like or despise or those who are the worst in our society.

Stockwell Day is now just as much a murderer as Ronald Smith. Instead of using a sawed off .22, he's using the Montana legal system as his weapon. In the end, a human is killed by the premeditated act of another. And that is wrong.

Ron

I see your point and understand them. I even can agree with them.

"a victim is not responsible for the attack nor its outcome. There's no way I will tell a victim they carry any amount of blame for a situation they did not build."

Ah, but there is the point. Admitting that killing another human is wrong, even in self-defense, in no way "blames the victim". The act of killing (especially premeditated) is always wrong, but the degree is mitigated by the lack of choice by the victim. I fully admit that the victim is not responsible for the attack. But rather than applying to the wrongness of the killing, the mitigating is applied to choice of consequences for that wrong act. Thus, when a wrong act of killing occurs, but via self-defense where the victim of an immediate attack has no choice but to kill to repel an attack they did not initiate, then the consequence is nothing.

I merely argue, from a moral standpoint, that the consequence of a wrong act of killing cannot be planned and premeditated killing in response, as that itself is wrong and there is no mitigating factors.

I am separating the moral question of the rightness or wrongness of killing another human, from the rightness and wrongness of the consequence and response to that act. The two are separate.

Trust me, I would certainly put a bullet between the eyes of a carjacker coming after me and my kids. And I would not feel remorse for it. If I could have a choice not to, I would certainly take it, but absent of that choice, I will value my life and the lives of my kids above the attackers. But I still would have had to commit a morally wrong act, I just wouldn't feel bad about it and I would be forgiven for it.

 
At 11:38 AM, Blogger Ron said...

re: The act of killing (especially premeditated) is always wrong, but the degree is mitigated by the lack of choice by the victim.

That's an interesting position. The killing is wrong, but to zero degree if the victim had no choice. How can something be wrong to zero degree? That's like saying something is wet, but zero wet because it's dry :-)

Consider though, because I think it's a much stronger argument, the difference between a death caused by self-defence in an emergency situation, and premeditated death as a punishment. The two are not at all morally equivalent.
The first is sad, but morally neutral; it's unfortunate but not culpable. A death in such a situation is not premeditated and it is not a punishment; the death is primarily a response to a predator, not primarily a response to a human.

The second (premediated death as a punishment), however, is a decidedly different story; there is no emergency and no lack of effective alternatives. That means that it is much more arguable that causing death as a punishment is wrongful whether the punishment is meted out by an individual or a State.

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"That's an interesting position. The killing is wrong, but to zero degree if the victim had no choice. "

Sorry Ron, that should have read "but the degree of culpability is mitigated by the lack of choice by the victim." I wrote that before my morning coffee.

Again, it goes to the consequence of the wrong act, not the wrongness of the act itself.

We accept that people can be less culpable for the wrong act of killing if they had no choice or, in the case of an accident, had no (real) control. The death was still wrong, but the full responsibility for it and the consequences flowing from it are different.

"The second (premediated death as a punishment), however, is a decidedly different story; there is no emergency and no lack of effective alternatives. That means that it is much more arguable that causing death as a punishment is wrongful whether the punishment is meted out by an individual or a State."

Agreed. I think we are on the same page and in the same place, we just arrive there by different means.

 
At 3:02 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Hi Mike:

Well, I'm still gonna quibble...

The act of killing in self-defence is not wrong, and that's where we differ. There is no culpability because there is no wrong committed. The killing of an attacker who leaves you no choice is unfortunate, but *right*; it is the proper thing to do. Such an incident is not a case of choosing the lesser of two evils; it is choosing the good (one's deserved survival) over the bad (one's undeserved death).

In such a case, all of any wrong is committed by the aggressor, and the result, as unfortunate as it might be, is not only fully the attacker's fault, it's actually, albeit sadly, appropriate.

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger Werner said...

The argument that killing in self-defense is a "positive good" can be countered easily. One of the reasons that libertarians generally ,and anarchists in particular, oppose the death penalty is the 'fear of precedent', one might say. As an example two hundred year ago in England there were dozens of offences which merited execution. You could be 'switched off' for writing graffiti on London Bridge! Drawing and quartering was only abolished in 1870. Burning at the stake went out in 1790. NOW IF you begin to think it is really okay to kill someone even if they seem to deserve it then IS IT NOT POSSIBLE to get into the habit of thinking "down" more and more of the time? Even liberals will say that capital punishment offends the "dignity" of the state which they believe must appear to be "above" petty considerations. Well there is something here which MIGHT apply to the individual conscience but certainly NOT to an abstraction.

The idea of justification or forgivness implies that something is wrong (even stealing food) but the circumstances require a lenient attitude. If we went around saying that ugly things were virtuous then contrition (and therefore reciprocity which is basis of moral consciousness) would mean nothing. And our lives would mean nothing. To be a bit snobbish about it I do NOT want to conduct my affairs according to the questionable standards of the mob, or perhaps we should call today, the "televisionariat". I want to drag the dweeps up to my level...if possible. As former Louisiana governor Huey Long said "Every man a King", and like Orwell I consider myself a Tory/Anarchist.

 
At 6:10 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Werner:

re: The argument that killing in self-defense is a "positive good" can be countered easily
Maybe, but you haven't done so with your comments above.

There is no slippery slope here: killing in immediate self-defence a much different entity than killing for punishment, as I described above.

And I have a problem with the idea that I deserve "leniency" if I defend myself. I'll accept that I need not be commended, but concepts like blame, culpability, "right and wrong" and so on all rest on responsibility--and I have no responsibility to an attacker. I do, however, have a responsibility for my own life/survival. Further, the idea of "deserving leniency" implies that someone out there has some authority to judge me for defending myself and to ascertain--after the fact--whether or not my survival justified the death of my assailant. Who would you suggest for that job?

Provided I do not instigate aggression, there is no way my survival (or my acting to survive) is made ugly because someone forces me, say, to kill them in self-defence. My survival is good, period.

I also "do NOT want to conduct my affairs according to the questionable standards of the mob," and MY life is my standard. When it comes to my life, I *am* king--and rightly so.

 
At 6:30 PM, Blogger Ron said...

An addendum: it is termed the *right* of self-defence, not the *wrong*...and that's not an accident.

When I defend myself I am exercising a "right".

I would hope though that it's understood that all of this does not give a State the right to punish with death as a penalty. As I described earlier, there is a world of difference between self-defence and punishment. When I defend myself I am not punishing the attacker, I am simply stopping them.

 
At 7:13 PM, Blogger Werner said...

I HAVE done so with my comments here. It's just that you won't accept the obvious. It did not say that people shouldn't be able to defend themselves. Mike has said essentially the same thing. IF I had to kill someone to defend myself then so be it. But there is nothing great about this. It is just unavoidable under those circumstances.

 
At 7:24 PM, Blogger Ron said...

This might make my thinking clearer.

re: NOW IF you begin to think it is really okay to kill someone even if they seem to deserve it then IS IT NOT POSSIBLE to get into the habit of thinking "down" more and more of the time?

If I defend myself and my attacker dies, it is not because they "deserve it". When defending myself, I am not acting as my attacker's master, nor my attacker's judge. My concern in that situation is only that I wish to remain alive, what action that requires, and nothing more. What they deserve simply doesn't enter into it...it's not about them.

 
At 7:30 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Werner: on this you miss something: IF I had to kill someone to defend myself then so be it. But there is nothing great about this.

Actually, if I successfully defend myself against a murderous attacker, I think there is something great about it: I survive.

The act of killing is not great, true: it would only be neccessary and--as you said--so be it. A shame, nothing more.

But my survival: priceless.

 
At 8:44 PM, Blogger Werner said...

I haven't missed anything here. I am trying to be realistic not moralistic. Staying alive is a given. So if I had to kill someone to achieve this what if there are friends of this scumbag? Once you start down this road the chances are that things might get a little dangerous in future. Perhaps you have this fantasy where its "me and my gun versus the universe" or some other American style "libertarian" bullshit but I'll pass on that world. I've been in this world for fifty-seven years and I'd like to stick around a little while longer if that's okay. Once again there isn't something great happening here. It is something necessary that people are sometimes stuck with. I hope you get the message this time.

 
At 9:38 PM, Blogger Ron said...

re: "Perhaps you have this fantasy where its "me and my gun versus the universe" or some other American style "libertarian" bullshit but I'll pass on that world.

Not "me and my gun BS" at all.

I'm trying to make a single ethical point here, and it's this:

If it is correct and right that I survive, and if it is correct and right that I defend myself, and if it is correct and true that I have no choice but killing my assailant if I am to survive, then from the point of view of me as a rational actor in this world, how is my killing an attacker in that sitauation a moral wrong on my part?

I'm not the one trying to have it both ways here. You're saying "it would be wrong but I'd do it". I'm saying "I'd do it because it is not wrong".

You are asserting the positive, that it is wrong in that situation for me to kill. So explain: how?

If killing in that situation is wrong, describe what a "right" situation would would look like from my position as a victim of an unprovoked and lethal attack. Would it be correct for me not to defend myself? Would it be correct if I did not survive because I did not kill my attacker? In other words, if all I do is defend myself, how is the death of that assailant a wrong on my part?

 
At 2:26 AM, Blogger Ron said...

By the way, I think a successfully defended innocent life is an obvious positive good, a virtuous result, and not an ugly thing in any way.

I'd be interested in how that statement can be opposed.

 
At 3:54 AM, Blogger Werner said...

Ron, I am not trying to have anything "both ways". It is simply a matter of being honest as opposed to scoring points in some hypothetical situation. Now let's consider the following scene. Soldiers in the British and German armies are facing each other across a field during World War One. During 1915 for a PORTION of that year SOME of these soldiers set up an informal system of "signals" to avoid killing each other (this scene is outline in the 1986 documentary "Nice Guys Finish First" available through YouTube if you're interested). This situation also lead to a Christmas truce in 1915. (There were others as well)
Now the military commanders on each side did IN FACT order fairly random charges across the field in order to "break up" the system of informal signals that the soldiers had set up to avoid killing each other. Now if you were, let's just say, a British "Tommie" charging across THAT field AND you took a shot at a German infantryman AND he was successful in killing you then from his point of view this is a "positive" good. That would seem to be your position, more or less ... During the Vietnam war some GIs engaged in fragging in order to eliminate overzealous officers. Obviously when soldiers are being "conned" the whole idea of self-defense becomes kind of inconsistent. Should troops fire on their own commanders and risk possible execution at a later date? Perhaps soldiers should commit suicide as hundreds have done in Iraq. That is one possible "solution" I suppose ...

 
At 7:50 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Wow, go home for supper and ethical and philosophical pandemonium breaks out!.

An interesting discussion and I have to admit, Ron, that your point are good ones and put self-defense in light I had not considered.

As interesting as it is, I still think the general thesis of my post - the moral relativism of the current death penalty stance of "our" government - still stands.

It is also refreshing to see that the same conclusions can be reached from different perspectives on this. I think it further strengthens the case against state murder.

But feel free to keep it up here guys.

 
At 8:57 AM, Blogger Charles Anthony said...

This discussion has evolved to examine the basic right of self-defense. In general, I agree with Ron when he says it is simply a right and the victim bears no guilt.

for the moment, I would like to ignore the belief that self-defense is a right. In essence, the aggressor should rationally expect his victim to act in self-defense regardless of whether they share the same belief system.

We would not likely have this discussion if the attacker is a wild animal and wild animals do not open car doors for the purposes of presenting flowers.

The car-jacker chooses to open the door himself. He did not choose to knock and seek permission to enter. It is only rational to treat the car-jacker as if he was a threatening wild animal.

As well, we do not attack wild animals on the side of the road. We are only cautious around them. Therefore, a person does not have to believe natural rights are moral to rationally accept them.


---

I would like to highlight one more thing: the punishment of ostracism.
Many species first attempt to ostracize their kind (namely by not sharing food) before they fight to the death.

Ostracism is a non-coercive punishment because nobody is obligated to share.

 
At 3:00 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Werner, re: "It is simply a matter of being honest as opposed to scoring points in some hypothetical situation.

Your general philosophic position suggests that you and I should not be adversaries, but you appear to be implying that I am either being dishonest or that I am merely trying to score rhetorical points here; otherwise, I don't know why you wrote that. I don't think I've done or written anything here to deserve that appraisal. Did I offend you in some way?

In any case, your interesting historical references (while not actually addressing the direct questions I asked you) do illustrate situations that can be morally confusing, but that doesn't make such situations morally indecipherable. The rights and wrongs in such situations can be unravelled--and should be.

Mike: sincerely, thank you.

Charles: your reference to ostracism reminds me that there are also useful ideas to be had by examining the less coercive aspects of the old common law "outlaw" provisions.

 
At 5:36 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Just so you better understand why this is important to me...

The worst thing about positing as good the concept that lethal self-defence is somehow wrong even when acknowledged as unavoidably required by the situation is that it serves to disarm, first and foremost, exactly the people that deserve to be best protected by their moral understanding.

Which is to say, someone as morally conscientious as, say, Mike is (unless disabused of the idea) actually more likely to lose life, limb and/or property than someone who doesn't care a whit about the ethics involved because the wish not to do wrong is more likely to cause them to hesitate at a critical moment.

People like Mike are the *last* people I want to feel even a moment--even a twinge--of moral wrongness should they need to defend themselves against an unprovoked lethal attack. I want them to survive. Period.

And (with respect, and meaning no insult at all) I would specifically ask you, Werner, who is served by the idea that *you* would be somehow wrong in any way to defend yourself? Or: how does such an idea benefit or protect you?

I would think, being an anarchist, that you would hold your right to your life as an individual as a primary. After all, that is exactly the reason the government doesn't properly own you, isn't it?

 

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