Posted in crime, people, philosophy | 16 Comments »
This article and philosophical discussion began as a response to my “Fuck the troops!” post. As that thread has grown rather extensive, and the specific issue of my own (anarchist) definition of murder is related but tangent, I have decided to split the topic and begin a new post here.
I am somewhat conflicted as to whether to split this off as a separate item completely divorced from the original conversation and my reaction to Mr. Warner, or to let it flow. Since the hour is late and the path of least resistance is often attractive, I will leave it as a personal response.
[A]s a matter of pragmatism, none of the other definitions [of murder] or standards can deprive me of property, liberty, and life. Their value is purely symbolic, as they are not based upon force or coercion.
Of course definitions have no power on their own. They gain power only as they are accepted and applied by people in their relations.
If I read you correctly, you don’t necessarily accept the definition of murder as defined by legislature, religion, or “analysis of the rightful place of self-defense,” but you aren’t making clear exactly what your philosophical standard, legal principle, and definition is. If it’s not too legalistic of me, could I ask you to explain what YOUR higher law is, and how it would apply to me, or any other non-participant in your belief system?
In the Muslim world, the law is what the Sheik, Caliph, or Imam says it is. It tends to vary, notwithstanding the Koran or Sharia Law. I wouldn’t want that for me, and I hope that isn’t what you are talking about.
I wouldn’t want Sharia or literal Biblical law for anyone, and even I can agree that, as an example, the organic law based in the English Common Law is a morally superior system. That doesn’t make it a good system, however.
The question is not too legalistic, this is a fundamental and critical issue, and one which I and hopefully most of the world use to examine and judge the question. My philosophy is something of “self-defense plus”. I believe mine to be an extension of the philosophy described by the “Philosophy of Liberty” video I posted previously.
To the narrow question of what is a criminal murder and what is a justified killing — be it in self-defense, in the service of delegation of the right to self-defense or as retaliation for tortious damage or infringement — I am not a philosopher, and I won’t be able to put together a comprehensive intellectual argument which will unassailably support my beliefs. What I can offer, though, is a set of principles (though some may be loose and slippery) which speak to the issue, and examples that support and illustrate their application. I will gleefully and recklessly make assertions here without proof, use terms without definition and attempt to exploit proof by intimidation. I don’t have time for much else.
First, we own ourselves. Our bodies are our rightful and natural property. When someone attempts to damage us or kill us, we are justified in using whatever force necessary to prevent or interrupt that. That force may even be disproportionate. If a kidnapper has me tied up and is preparing to saw off my leg, if I manage to get a free hand and deliver an ice pick to his brain, that also is justified. We may be justified in certain circumstances in conducting proportionate revenge upon those who injure us as well.
Next, we own our property (define it as you will, and this is a broad and deep and vague philosophical area in which I have mixed opinions and in which there are many views), and that property is an extension of ourselves. We are justified also in using force to protect and defend our property, and may be justified in extracting proportionate retributive compensation or a proportionate forced cure for damage to or infringement upon our property. Our bodies are our property as well, as are our lives.
Next, we own our liberty. Liberty is the space in which one may move and act and be without infringing upon the equally inviolate liberty of others. Our liberty is also our property.
We have the duty to respect the equal rights of others with respect to their own persons, property and liberty. No action that we or they take can abridge or abolish this duty. This duty arises as a practical consequence of our own desire and need for our persons, property and liberty to be respected.
We have the ability, and the moral justification, to delegate the defense of our persons, property and liberty to other persons, organizations or institutions, exclusively or non-exclusively. When we make such an intentional (and explicit) delegation, we are not creating any right, entitlement or duty that did not exist before, we are merely expanding it and inviting others to enforce our own rights. Such a delegation is almost always carried out for reasons of reciprocity: familial love, kinship, fraternal association, commercial transaction, etc. If we, say, delegate our defense to a neighborhood association which sets up an armed patrol to safeguard our homes and defend our lives, property and liberty, we are not empowering those who carry the weapons and go on patrol in our names with any new entitlement, we merely concentrate it in them and agree to support and defend their actions insofar as those actions are in accordance with those of our own rights which we have delegated.
Additionally, other people to whom we have not specifically delegated our powers of self-defense also are justified in acting to defend us or to exact retribution from those who aggress against us. The onlooker to an escalating argument who breaks my debating partner’s nose when he sees that my debating partner is about to stick a knife in my belly is entirely justified, whether I know him or not.
What I think I have given here is a rough outline of libertarian/anarchist theory at a fundamental level. Looks a bit like Mosaic law, doesn’t it? It’s also the basis for the justified functioning of a volunteer military (the scaled-up version of the neighborhood patrol) whose services are contracted for and supported by a group of people who wish it. I’ve also given the barest toe-hold to the “preemptive strike doctrine” under which the war in Iraq today is being waged, though I disagree entirely with its extension to cover that war and almost every other instance where it is used in the world today.
Thus: an unjustified killing, a murder, is one which violates these principles. This is how I see the issue.
You came along, though, telling us that you’d killed people, and that though it haunts your conscience, you believe those killings to be just. I will submit, respectfully, that it should be impossible for a sane man to simultaneously hold close the principles I have outlined above and the belief that those killings were just.