Friday, March 16, 2012

Life Against Life

To close out a week of musings on war, I’d like to strip things down a step farther.
To me, killing is wrong.  Killing is always wrong, no matter what. This conclusion is constituted of both what I think and what I feel, but especially of what I feel -- which, to me, is the true magnetic component of the moral compass.
Hold on -- before you start throwing hypothetical scenarios involving threatened grandmothers at me, stick with my line of thought, for a bit...
Killing is wrong, but I would kill under certain circumstances.
If I needed to kill in order to defend my family, I would -- without hesitation.
The difference between me and a lot of other people is that I wouldn’t try to argue, afterward, that this killing was morally okay simply because I had just done it with good reason. In those circumstances, I would kill, but I wouldn’t then try to argue that killing was okay. I would call it a moral transgression that I was willing to commit in order to preserve the existence people whose lives were more important to me than the life of the person I had killed -- I chose commit a wrong because I felt compelled to protect those I love, not because I believed that it is okay to kill “under certain circumstances.”
The legal system might excuse me from punishment and I might be able to forgive myself because of the need (instinct?) to preserve my family, but that doesn’t make it morally right, ever, to kill.
War includes killing. Killing is wrong. My arguments against participating in war are based on the idea that my personal parameters of when it is acceptable to kill depend on my deciding that someone else’s life is less important than either the lives of those I love or less important than mine.
If I join the military and I kill, I have either decided that I am directly helping my loved ones, or, that the lives of those I am trying to kill are less important than those of my countrymen. How would I determine the former: that my opponents’ lives are less important than those of my countrymen? Would it be because my countrymen and I live on the same span of dirt? -- because we speak the same language or believe in the same god? -- because we wear the same colors? There is nothing here as instinctually definite as the sense that one’s family is the most important group of people in his world.
Are the lives of the people in the other army less important?  If I am going to put my moral integrity (and perhaps my sanity) at risk, I need to be really sure. But that is one hell of the thing to be sure of. 
Corn on he cobb? Less important than us. Bugs? Chickens? Sure, we can kill them. Less important, for sure (though, some might disagree about the chickens). Criminals? How about poor people? Uneducated folk? Ethnic minorities? I'm sure you would get different answers from a myriad of different historical figures, nein?

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