Thursday, May 29, 2008

Human Shields.

I think that many of the moral problems that confound the average person have at their core a confusion between innocence and in culpability. Inculpability is not innocence; one can do wrong and not be deserving of punishment for it.

For there to be culpability there must be an evil act of the will(intent) or evil act; that is, a person's deserts are dependent on their acts An evil act in the absence of an evil will may render that person inculpable of desert evens though not innocent of the act. When we say a person "meant well", it usually means that they did something wrong but that their intent was good. In many cases it is as defence for actions which in themselves were deserving of punishment.

Consider a human shield. How do we evaluate the actions of a such a person even though they may be involuntary? Clearly a human shield is shielding a combatant, the human shield is performing a function even though it may not have been deliberately chosen. In the case of a terrorist advancing behind a human shield, the shield is "protecting" the terrorist and hence is complicit in evil albeit involuntarily. The shield is not innocent, it is inculpable. Armchair moralists please take note.

Now suppose a person is being coerced into an action which is morally wrong, what is the right course of action to take, given that failing to take that action will cost them their life? Traditional moralists have argued that we must not do wrong even at the expense of our careers or our life, we must love the good more than we love life. The proper action of a person finding himself as a human shield is to oppose being one, even if it costs them their life. Now I'm not saying that this is what I would have the courage to do, rather it is what should be done.

From the point of view of the person defending themselves from an attacker hiding behind a human shield, it would appear to be morally permissible to defend oneself from the attacker even though it may injure the human shield. In fact it would appear to be justified to directly attack the human shield in order to get to the attacker. The shield is an involuntary accomplice.
The problem of course is that in attacking the shield, we may be inflicting grievous injury on one that is undeserving and that in itself is an evil.

In choosing the correct course of action we must return back to the principles of double effect. Namely :
1) That our action(defence) is just.
2) That on balance the action will result in more good than evil.

Number (2) of course is the fly in the ointment as it is a prudential judgement and hence open to a wide variety of opinion. Sometimes there are no clear answers and we have to make the best of a bad choice in the fog of war.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The innocence of evil.

Several months ago there was a case over here which raised profoundly disturbing questions.

A local convenience store attendant was attacked by a knife wielding schizophrenic. The attacker was in a psychotic state and proceeded to grab the man in a headlock, soon a hostage type of situation ensued. Local bystanders called the police who arrived quickly. Upon their arrival the attacker became more agitated and started to stab the attendant in the neck, the police yelled at him to stop, which he did not do. At risk to themselves from the knife and under pressure to act immediately, the police shot the schizophrenic man who died at the scene. The attendant survived.

How does one morally evaluate the actions of the policemen and the schizophrenic man?

The schizophrenic man was clearly causing evil, He was actuating it. If innocence or guilt refers to responsibility of causation, then the man was guilty. But clearly the man's mind was diseased, so doesn't it offend reason to say that this poor fellow was as guilty of evil in the same sense that a murderer is? Many people would say that the schizophrenic man was an innocent victim. I would disagree.

Traditional morality would have separated guilt from desert. That is, it recognised that a person may not have been totally free to choose the action taken. Traditional moralists would have argued that while the person was guilty of evil he was inculpable. While he did cause harm, he did not know what he was doing, and therefore this person did not deserve to be shot. Causing death to an undeserving man is evil.

The police on the the other hand had an obligation to protect the life of the service station attendant and their own with the practical means available. They were trying to stop the schizophrenic man from stabbing the attendant, their intent was good. Furthermore one is morally justified in using deadly force if the circumstances permit. This was such a circumstance so the actions the police took were morally justifiable. The police performed a good moral action which had a double effect. It saved the life of an innocent service station attendant while it caused the death of an inculpable schizophrenic.

The bottom line is that situations can arise in which we are forced to do good, but that good may result in evil effects to undeserving people. More on this in the next post.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The wrong stuff.

I like to visit Alias Clio's blog from time to time. Recently she has been running a series of "Nice Guy" posts. There well worth a visit and worthy of some contemplation. As I understand it, she was writing about the "nice guy" from the feminine perspective.

I thought I would like to write my own nice guy story.

Several months ago a young man in his 20's--engaged in a creative profession--presented himself to my rooms with his mother.
He was having difficulty sleeping and had lost his appetite and weight His mother stated that he was moody and irritable, and would lock himself up in his room for hours at a time. She was concerned about his behaviour and was concerned that he may have been taking drugs. She was aware that he has was having problems with his long term girlfriend and that their relationship had recently been shaky. I asked him what the matter was:

"My girlfriend wants to break up"

He started sobbing. "It all began after she went to Europe. When she came back she had changed. She started wanting to go out more by herself. She wouldn't call as often and has been cold. I can't live without her(Gasping sobs), I bought her presents, roses and have done everything she wants me to do. I've even written poetry for her. If she leaves I don't know what I'll do". I asked him if he thought about suicide. He nodded his head and sobbed loudly. His mother looked at me grimly.

"How do I get her back? I'll do anything. I've tried talking to her mother to convince her to stay. Her mother is upset at her because she feels we are a good couple. "

Tears were rolling down his cheeks in a small torrent. I empathised with his situation. I too knew of spurned love and how deeply it hurt. But staring at him I felt nothing but contempt. Here was a man who was in his early 20's and had to be bought in by his mother because he was not coping, he was crying in a whining sort of way because his girl was leaving him, here was a man who was prepared to sacrifice his dignity for the affections of a woman who lost affection for him. In short, crying before me was a mummy's boy who had lost out in love. My response was calculated and said in low growling voice;

"Grow some Balls"

My words struck him as if slapped on his cheek, his mother nodded approvingly. I continued;

"You've have lost her already, she's staying with you because she feels guilty about dumping you but wants to break up the relationship without feeling bad about herself. She's not comfortable about hurting you, but she has lost all respect for you. She has probably got the hots for another man. If she calls you up, you respond in a measured tone. No anger, but let her know that she has let you down, do not whine. Find yourself another woman. If you get the chance, flirt with other women in front of her. Act like a man." His mother continued nodding approvingly.

I counseled him for a while and suggested that the best strategy to deal with his sorrows would be to find a new object for his affections. At the end of the consultation his mood improved considerably. As he was leaving my room he pulled a reflective expression and said:

" You know Doc, You're right. Just before she went to Europe she kept complaining that I was too nice to her and that she wanted me to be a bit rougher with her, I didn't know what she meant then but I guess I now understand."

I have seen him again. He has another girlfriend. He is happier and is now going to the gym.

Breaking up is hard to do.

A former Greenpeace founder gives his opinion on some of his former mates and thir policy ideas. I especially like the comment about policy being made by people who have no idea about what they are talking about. Makes for good reading.


(Hat tip. Climate Debate Daily)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to come second in line for the Nobel Peace Prize

See this little old lady. I bet you don't know who she is.

Her name is Irena Sendlerowa. She has just recently passed away, but back in the Second World War she helped rescue over 2500 Jewish Children from the Warsaw Ghetto. To put this into perspective Oscar Schindler managed to save about 1200 people all up. She was captured by the Gestapo,had her legs broken in an effort to betray her cause but she stood firm. She even managed to escape the death sentence. After the war she returned to an ordinary life. You can read more about her here and here. She was nominated by the Polish Government for the Nobel Peace prize. The Nobel Committee awarded it to an environmental windbag, Al Gore.

The Nobel Committee is without honour.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Blessed are the Engineers.

Not many people know who this man is.

His name is David Salonimer, an engineer who worked at the U.S army's Redstone proving ground. He is the father of the modern laser guided bomb. You have probably never heard of him.

His idea, with the collaboration of others has probably done more to reduce human suffering in warfare than any of the peace treaties or political gestures at disarmament since the Second World War. By improving the accuracy of weapons by several orders of magnitude he has spared countless people from becoming collateral damage. He has also probably spared many soldiers and airmen from death and massively increased the military power of his country. In this age of military barbarism he has probably done the most to lessen the miseries of war.

Part of the reason that that area bombing was implemented was because the accuracy of bombing was so low that an inordinate number of large high explosive bombs had to be dropped on a target in order to achieve a probable hit. Given that pinpoint precision is now a real ability of armed forces, military forces have now begun to use the weapon of David, albeit in a smart form. The smart rock.

This guy is an all out legend, yet no one knows of him. As far as I understand it he has won a few engineering awards but that is it. Al Gore gets to win the Nobel peace prize for being an environmental windbag while the man who actually save lives gets passed over. I personally feel he comes second to Henry Dunant in reducing the suffering in war. The world honours its sinners and passes over its saints.