Friday, December 6, 2013

Justified Violence

By way of the esteemed Charles Hill, we have this potent statement of the moral imperative for violence by private parties:

[I]t’s interesting that sanctioned violence with the goal of getting a ball across a line is considered wholesome family entertainment but defensive violence is unacceptable. Why is that? Why is it that we celebrate violence on a field but not those who exercise their duty to protect themselves and their loved ones? Instead the media laments the criminals killed victimizing others. Those who must defend their lives are made out to be crazed vigilantes with some sort of chip on their shoulder while the criminal in question was just getting their life back in order. Why is being in fear for one’s own life a questionable motive?

When did we become a society that regards morally justifiable violence as something repugnant? Something from which we should shield our children? We can celebrate athletes with rap sheets a mile long just as long as they put the ball in the right place again and again. We buy the shoes they tell us to buy. Why does the media vilify a neighborhood watch volunteer while venerating the thugs in jerseys?

I think I know part of the answer. As a society, we’ve separated ourselves from personal responsibility and community. Our reality comes from TV and not from interpersonal relationships. We’ve insulated ourselves from the consequences of our actions. It’s no longer our own fault if we get fat. It’s the fast food, here take a pill. Unplanned pregnancy? Just terminate it. Fail at business? Someone else is there to bail you out. And so on. It’s gotten to the point that it causes cognitive dissonance when someone takes matters into their own hands. The police are supposed to protect us, right? Sure. And our meat comes from the grocer too.

We’ve forgotten that survival is violent. All sustenance (yes, even the veggies) comes from death, and it is morally justifiable. But we don’t want to see that. We want our violence in nice neat packages for the purposes of entertainment. Never-mind the debilitating injuries suffered for our enjoyment. Get that ball across the arbitrary line so we can eat nachos! But God forbid you shoot a lion and talk about it. Even if your actions fund the conservation efforts and feed the people in Africa.

I have a lot of sympathy for Jennifer’s position. However, there are several questions to be answered after any assertion of morally justified violence:

  • Was the target guilty of the justification-act beyond all doubt?
  • Did the justification-act rise to a level that would justify killing or maiming him?
  • Did the vigilante have adequate reason to believe that, were he not to act, nothing would be done?
  • Were there secondary consequences for which the vigilante should be held liable?

Those are just the ones that come to mind at the moment -- and you can easily see that regardless of the identities, the history, and the context, each of them is inherently arguable. That's why the law recognizes the defense called justifiable homicide, but puts the burden of proof on the defendant.

Here's an excellent example of the thickets involved: A man has committed acts of sabotage to which he freely admits. Those acts have taken the lives of several persons presumed to have been innocent of all crimes. In the U.S., we would call those "felony murders," which are punished at least as harshly as any second-degree murder. His defense is to claim that the political system against which he fights justifies any and all such acts in the effort to overthrow it.

If the story is stripped of any further details, most persons would say that the saboteur is guilty and deserves the full weight of the law. But there are further details: the saboteur was Nelson Mandela, and the context was apartheid South Africa.

Let's stipulate that Mandela did mend his ways, to the extent of forgiving his enemies and striving for unity in post-apartheid South Africa. It remains an incontestable fact that as a young man he was personally involved in acts of sabotage that cost the lives of presumptive innocents. He was outspoken about it at his trial. That demands that we ask the core question of all civil uprisings: Does the situation Mandela fought against justify the violence he perpetrated?

Many persons would argue that Mandela's post-imprisonment career proves his repentance, and that his deeds in advancement of South African unity counterbalance his crimes adequately to forgive them. Others would note that we don't normally admit the accused's "good deeds" to consideration in a murder trial until the jury has returned a verdict of guilty, and then only in consideration of a possible mitigation of sentence.

Food for thought.


Anonymous said...

In the South Africa of the past whites outnumbered blacks and although there was not equality the lives of blacks there was better then in most of black controlled Africa. Wars and revolutions, mostly marxist/communist in nature, in nieghboring countries created massive immigration into South Africa and the South African government failed to guard their borders to prevent this. Those new "residents" created massive slums to live in and as a result there was a lot of violence and attacks against the white citizens of South Africa. what began as law enforcement soon became discrimination and apartheid in the view of everyone else in the world and there were sufficient violent acts on both sides to reinforce this belief. I could not defend everything the white South African government did but I am convinced that if all of SOuth Africa had been black and encountered the same massive incursion of angry illegals and if then the South African government took the same actions to stop the vioence that the world would have yawned in response. This story was a "mostly" ade up fairy tale about racism that simply got it wrong, 180 degrees out of phase with the truth. I believe that now that Mandela is dead and his influence has ended that the remaining Black South Africans will use this opportunity to rid themselves of the whites. I think the facade will come down and we will see what the battle in South Africa was always about. It was a race war we simply wouldn't accept the facts in front of us. Mandela, even when he was a terrorist, was a moderate. I think now we will see the Marxist Africans commit massive genocide against the remaining whites.

Weetabix said...

Re the example - in football, the participants are both willing. In defensive violence, that's not the case. I'm caviling at the example rather than the point. I think defensive violence is absolutely morally justified because I think protection of the innocent is paramount.

Re Mandela - violence against the active agents of a political system that needs to be overthrown is acceptable. But never against innocents. There will always be beneficiaries of some oppressive regime who are not culpable whether through age, lack of reason, or ignorance. You can't just kill those people.

LindaF said...

I hadn't been aware of Mandela's history - just know of the most superficial parts of it.

Thank you - this is thought-provoking.

jeff said...

Let's not be too quick to subscribe to that whole later-life repentance nonsense.

He murdered people, scores of people white and black, because he was (and remained) a Communist. So, how about we dispense with the "apartheid fighter" fantasy?

And now he's the best kind of Communist. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

YIH said...

Thought I pass this along from Karl Denninger: How To Score An Advertising Coup (For Free) it's about the refusal of (to correct Karl, not the NFL but of the FOX network that is carrying the upcoming Super Bowl) to run an ad from Daniel Defense, a firearms manufacturer.
Though I do agree with Karl, it was a clever gambit by Daniel Defense: ''You see, Daniel Defense is a little company. How little? Not much larger than MCSNet was in its hayday -- best estimates are that it has about $12 million in annual revenue.''(sic)
Had FOX (if the NFL has any veto on advertisers is purely a matter of speculation) accepted the ad the $4million hit on their gross could likely have been devastating or the company would likely have been forced to withdraw the bid themselves.

Peter said...

The first comment above, by Anonymous at 10:48 AM, is completely and utterly false. South African demographics were never as that comment portrays them. In fact, it's so abysmally in error that I can only view it as deliberate misinformation.

ErisGuy said...

Gathering under the rubric “violence” and “self-defense from rape” makes overly broad comparisons.

Anonymous said...

Peter: Which part is wrong? Did hundreds of thousands of blacks cross borders into the white part of South Africa to escape black on black violence? You would be hard pressed to prove that wrong. Was I wrong to point out that prior to this massive illegal immigration that in the white parts of South Africa whites outnumbered blacks? Hopefully you are aware that the blacks had their homelands where whites were not allowed. While these homelands were physicaly located in the Southern part of Africa they were not in what was known as South Africa before 1920. In fact the only way you could be correct is if you ignore or deny the massive immigration of blacks from other countries and ignore the long history of racism and genocide by black black Africans over the last two centuries.

idahobob said...

Well, I am satisfied that the old communist is receiving his just Hell!


Dan said...

Mandela was not fighting for to replace a tyrannical government with a free form.....he was fighting to replace a white government with HIS preferred form of government....a black controlled oligarchy. To use him as an example of anything positive is a fools errand.

As for the concept of "justifiable homicide" one can say that in a perfect system the idea has merit. In ours where the government can charge you with murder based on the flimsiest of evidence...even on faulty and manufactured evidence and use the full weight power and financial might it has to destroy you the system is wrong.