Skip to main content

To kill or not to kill.

Had an interesting discussion with a Muslim friend today about the ethics of killing. Could it ever be morally justifiable? Abrahamic scriptures, especially the old testament, are awash with murders and killings, some sanctioned by the prophets and assorted mouthpieces for god. Some killing is even mandatory. For example all Jews are instructed in the old Testament to kill everyone belonging to the 7 Canaanite tribes for example - Deut 20:17 , or to slaughter Amaleks, especially their children - Deut 25:19.

So accepting for a moment that these draconian instructions were written in times when tribal leaders had fewer options available to them with respect to managing miscreants and maintaining some sort of law and order, I suspect that most people today would agree that killing people is a bad thing and should not be condoned except under extraordinary circumstances.

My friend and I then proceeded to try to list those circumstances. We started with self-defence or perhaps protecting a vulnerable person like a child from being hurt. Fair enough? But what if you had the capability instead of killing the source of the danger, to disable him or her and then let the authorities take over for imprisonment and rehabilitation? Are there any circumstances where killing would still be preferable if a non-lethal option were available and the danger permanently removed to your satisfaction? And might there be circumstances where killing someone, no matter how justifiable you felt their eradication might be, where in doing so you create a Gorgon-like multi-headed beast, far worse than the one you removed.

Which brought us on to the leaders of IS and Boko Haram, the current epitomes of evil. We both eagerly agreed on that. Presumably they're the Amaleks of our age. If I had control of a drone which with the press of a button I could accurately kill these deranged and evil people, painlessly (ideally, although perhaps not popularly) and with no danger of collateral harm to anyone else, would I press the button? I think most people on this planet right now would willingly press it. It won't solve the problem of Islamic fanatics, but hopefully we'd be slowing them down a touch. We'd certainly feel better living in a world without these demented leaders. Of course we would probably only have hardened the resolve of their acolytes and assisted their recruitment drive - especially if our assassination included collateral deaths.

But if we applied the same alternative to our self-defence conundrum, namely providing a second button on that drone which only stuns our evil crazed targets, would we be able to suppress our anger and desire for revenge? Would we press the non-lethal button, hypothetically assuming that something like British police and justice would be around to subsequently imprison and rehabilitate the bastards etc etc? Could we control our rage or would we be tempted to incisively, easily, safely and painlessly remove them from society forever?

Clearly this is hypothetical - although drones might indeed be deployed to try to take them out. And if they do, let's hope they can identify and target accurately. But even then, who orders it and under whose authority? Who will be held to account for killing another human, and one who was probably not within a territory over which they had been elected to make those sorts of decisions.

But the moral question remains. Are there any circumstances where killing anyone for any reason is justified when disabling them is available as a practical alternative? Can we suppress our natural urges for reprisal and revenge? Indeed should we? Does killing a bad person send appropriate signals to others who might be tempted to step into their shoes - although jihadists will probably feel more compelled to avenge their leader's martyrdom. So killing them probably increases their numbers and resolve, not diminish it. Witness the rise of IS and the strengthening of the Taliban following many years of their families enduring carnage and deprivation as well as being inflicted with the 'wrong sort of Islam'. No wonder they want to fight back, although no-one in their right mind would ever think of deliberately burning someone to death in a cage and proudly filming it is the work of a sane person.

So can we become Better Angels of our Nature, as Steven Pinker brilliantly puts in his book about the decline of violence, and honestly state we'd only ever press the non-lethal button if we could be sure the danger will be removed without loss of life? Does our willingness to press the kill button move us uneasily towards the domain of the creators of the Final Solution, Boko Haram and IS? I have no doubt that every member of these dreadful organisations also believed, no matter how distorted their logic, that they were doing good by removing people who were a danger to them in some way.

We must always search for better ways to deal with adversity than resorting to bestial reactions. We must keep evolving. But it takes effort and resolve. Listen to a politician I admire, Rory Stewart, explaining why we shouldn't have been in Afghanistan.


Post a Comment

Thanks for taking an interest.

Popular posts from this blog

Phillips screws - yes I'm angry about them too

Don't get me wrong. They're a brilliant invention to assist automation and prevent screwdrivers from slipping off screw heads - damaging furniture, paintwork and fingers in the process. Interestingly they weren't invented by Mr Phillips at all, but by a John P Thompson who sold Mr P the idea after failing to commercialise it. Mr P, on the otherhand, quickly succeeded where Mr T had failed. Incredible isn't it. You don't just need a good idea, you need a great salesman and, more importantly, perfect timing to make a success out of something new. Actually, it would seem, he did two clever things (apart from buying the rights). He gave the invention to GM to trial. No-brainer #1. After it was adopted by the great GM, instead of trying to become their sole supplier of Phillips screws, he sold licenses to every other screw manufacturer in the world. A little of a lot is worth a great deal more than a lot of a little + vulnerability (watch out Apple!). My gromble is abo

Introducing Product Relationship Management - it's what customers want.

Most businesses these days have Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems which store and process vasts amounts of information about us. They use this information to generate communications, amongst other things, which target us to buy their products and services. CRM is all about how a business relates to its customers: Past (keeping them loyal through aftersales and service), Present (helping them buy through bricks and clicks channels) and Future (prospecting). Most businesses will at some stage have declared themselves 'customer-centric'. They will probably have drawn diagrams on whiteboards that look something like these: But there's a problem with this whole approach of keeping the customer at the centre of your world and the focal point for everything you do. Is it what the customer wants ? Of course companies who ignore their customers eventually go out of business. And those who treat their customers well, tend to thrive. But is it really in the best inte

The Secrets of Hacker Golf

Social media is awash with professional golfers selling video training courses to help you perfect your swing, gain 50 yards on your drive and cut your handicap. They might help a few desperate souls, but the rest of us hackers already know everything we need to complete a round of golf without worrying the handicap committee or appearing on a competition winner's list. What those pros don't realise is that for us hacking golfers who very occasionally hit shots that if you hadn't seen how they were hit, end up where the pros might have put them, we already know everything we need to know - and more. Unlike pros who know how to time the perfect swing in order to caress a ball 350 yards down the centre of a fairway, we hackers need to assemble a far wider set of skills and know-how to complete 18 holes, about which pros have no comprehension, need, or desire to learn. Here are some of them: Never select your shot until after you've hit it. A variation on this is to alway