I’ve brought this question up a few times in conversation so I thought, since I haven’t blogged in a few days, I’d put it up for discussion here. Sorry in advance to those of you with whom I’ve already talked about this (please revoice your thoughts here though if you feel so inclined, and I hope you do).
We don’t generally think very highly of critics who aren’t also actors – people who sit back and bemoan the suffering of orphans but haven’t done a thing to help them, people who complain incessantly about the state of the union but don’t vote, people who complain about the behavior of others who don’t say a thing to them in person. When we’re engaged in this sort of empty talk, we’re either being cowardly, lazy, or straight-up hypocritical – nothing admirable there. What’s the problem with it exactly? The problem is the disparity between what we’re saying (or insinuating) ought to be the case, and what we’re ourselves bringing about, or at least striving for. The core of the criticism is this: if you believe something ought to be done, and it’s reasonably within your power to do it, you should get on it. Or, more precisely, if:
1. You believe x ought to be the case
2. It is within (or seemingly within) your power to bring x about
3. It would not be counterproductive to x to attempt to bring x about
4. Attempting to bring x about would not require abandoning some greater obligation (say, saving a child from drowning)
Then, you ought to attempt to make x the case if it’s not the case already.
To see it in flesh, just take something you think ought to be the case (say, that children not starve to death) and plug it in for x.
From all this we can say something else: if some thing ought to be done, we should be the sort of people who can do it. That’s part of being virtuous – being able to do the right things. So, if people ought to be treated kindly, we ought to be the sort of people who can be kind, if people ought to be led well, we ought to be as good leaders as we can (as in parenting, for instance), and so on. Here’s what makes this interesting for me at the moment though:
Some people ought to be killed.
What do we do with that? I know some people who disagree with the statement completely and say that no one deserves to die, but that seems totally wrong to me. It seems, rather, that there are all sorts of people who no longer deserve to live, but instead deserve death – serial killers, child rapists, workers in Nazi death camps, malicious tyrants (Stalin, Hussein, Hitler, etc.), and the list goes on. It seems clear to me that these people just deserve death; that not giving them this is unjust. I imagine most people agree with me. Statistics say that the overwhelming majority do.
So take these two points, 1. We ought to be the sort of people who can bring about the change we wish to see in the world, and 2. We believe certain people ought to be killed, and what follows is that we ought to be the sort of people who can kill those who deserve death. I think that naturally follows from 1 and 2, and I think 1 and 2 are true, so I’m convinced at this point that part of being a virtuous person is being able to execute the deserving. I think most people would be repulsed at that suggestion, but it seems right to me, and further, it seems that the virtuous naturally rejoice in doing justice, and so would be glad to do it.
So, here’s the question – are you the sort of person who could kill someone who deserved it? Should you be that sort of person?