Friday, April 04, 2008

Fun With Moral Dilemmas

Imagine that a government employee wants to kill you but wants to avoid any inconvenience or risk to himself. He aims to use an airstrike or a cruise missile. You live in a dense urban neighborhood, and lots of other people about whom the paid government killer is indifferent will also be killed in the attack. How does the government employee handle his moral dilemma? It's a trick question. He's a government thug! He doesn't have moral dlilemmas! The problem he has is that other people with influence over him may have moral qualms and are subject to public opinion, so he's not entirely free in his actions. The solution? Characterize the people in your neighborhood as "human shields" and point out that their deaths are your fault. The paid government murderer isn't interested in killing them, so they're just "collateral damage". Pretty neat, huh?

Here's another one. A government employee reckons that an egregious act of terrorism will help him in his program of armed violence against the employees of a different government. He wants to blow up a whole city. Hell, make it two! The strategic benefit will be negligible or nonexistent but it will scare the shit out of his adversaries who may not be as willing to sacrifice their own subjects to an apparently crazed enemy. But wouldn't that be a heinous crime against humanity punishable by a war crimes tribunal? Not if you win, it wouldn't! And in this scenario, our hypothetical government employee has practically already won, so there's no chance of a war crimes tribunal. Sweet! But what about his own subjects? Won't they be shocked and appalled and ready to run the government employee out of town on a rail? Here's where it is really cool. The government employee has spent the last several years convincing his subjects that his enemies are subhuman monsters. Now all the government employee has to do is argue that killing all those subhuman monsters saved the lives of a number of the government employee's paid killers who are human.

Solving moral dilemmas is easy if you don't have morals and if your subjects are morally stupid.

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