Sunday, January 27, 2013

Musings about Murder and Other Not Nice Things

A friend of mine challenged me on some of my beliefs the other day.  Friends can do this.  Real friends can do this and remain friends.

The questions, rather loosely was what were my thoughts about what constitutes murder, and eugenics, and government actions such as Waco Texas (David Koresh) and Wounded Knee.

My first thought was about time.  Our vision of the world changes all the time.  Years ago, some things were considered morally acceptable that today most of us would find abhorrent.  Things like poor houses and debtor prisons, or homes for the “feeble minded” and insane asylums.  Things like this were acceptable at one time but not so much today.

It seemed to fit, but it was not a good fit.

I sat on my fingers and admitted that I didn’t really know.

It gnawed at me and then something that I’ve read in the past came to mind. It was something about how the WWI propagandists had said that the Germans made candles out of corpses, and their surprise that in WWII, Nazi Germany actually did.

This helped to clear it up for me.  What is the difference between the Children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Children at David Koresh’s compound, and the Children in Pakistan killed by a drone attack on the wrong house?

The Children at Sandy Hook were the children of nice people like you and me, the Children at David Koresh’s compound were the children of Cult followers, and the Children in Pakistan are the children of people who don’t have the same moral standings that we hold so dear.

But children are just children and none of them deserve to die.

It probably goes back to the cavemen, or at least the Bible, to unite people against a foe, you’d demonize them, make them less than human or at the very least morally inferior to you.

The most recent example that comes to my mind is from Gulf War 1, the first war to be broadcast live on CNN.  Do you remember the reports of how the Red Guard had broken into a Kuwaiti hospital and tossed the babies out of the incubators?  Did anyone ever do a follow up on those stories?  Nope, there is no proof of it ever happening, other than the original news releases.

When a madman broke into a school and attacked children in Newtown, there was outrage and horror.  How could he get a gun?  Why wasn’t the school more secure?  But when a madman in China broke in and stabbed school children we didn’t yell nearly as loud.  The only yelling I really heard was from the pro-gun groups that said that guns weren’t the problem.

Why the difference in reactions?

Aside from the fact that none of the children in China died, they live in a far off place, they don’t look like us, and they’re communists.  They aren’t like us.  The Newtown children look like our kids, their parents look like us.  On our human scale, the Newtown children score 100, the Chinese children somewhat less.

That is not to say that the Chinese people ARE less human than we are, but we still distance ourselves from them.

Much like we distance ourselves from people with disabilities.  At one time it was modern and scientific to consider people with mental handicaps to be inferior to the rest of us, less human.  This was the science of eugenics.  Part of this was the forced sterilization of incompetents, keeping our society purer by making sure that they did not procreate.  Later we were nicer in our talk, it wouldn’t be fair to the children to have handicapped parents… but it was pretty much the same thing. 

Some scientists took this even farther by declaring that the Caucasian race was the epitome of human kind, followed closely by the Asians. It was this idea that Hitler grabbed and used as grounds for purifying the human race by removing the inferior people.  The mentally incompetent, the homosexuals, the Jews, the Roma…

Thankfully we are getting better, but we are still far from where we should be.  We’ve rehumanized these groups with varying success.  We’ve closed most of the Mental Institutions and realized that many of those former inmates can be part of society rather than just locked away.  Some need more help than others.

But where does that put my friend’s questions?

It seems to me a matter of perspective.  The closer that a victim seems to be to what we think is normal, then the more outrageous the act.

The murder of a young middle class woman is worse than the murder of a prostitute, or the murder of a drug user.  They are still somebody’s daughter, but we make a distinction in our minds.  We can all agree the criminal needs to be caught and punished, but our outrage declines as the victim becomes less human to us… less like our idea of how we are.

The distance involved affects it as well.  A crime in our community, especially if it is a nice part of town is “worse” to us than a similar crime in a big city or the wrong part of town, or another part of your province, or another part of Canada…

Finally there is our “moral compasses”.  If a crime is committed against people who have similar beliefs and morals to what we hold, then we are more affected than those who have different beliefs or lower morals.  Oddly, we seem to not care if a drone hits a family home in Pakistan, but the world stopped and noticed when a little girl from the same country was shot by an extremist because she thought girls should receive an education as well as boys.

Her beliefs echo ours, she is good.  What about the family that was killed by the drone?  We don’t know what they believed, we don’t care as much, that is if we care at all.  If the drone had struck a Taliban post, we’d likely be pleased.  The Taliban are bad.

So what about the Branch Davidians in Waco or the incidents at Wounded Knee? 

These events are far too complicated to go into here, but in the end our moral compasses determine where we stand on these cases.

So what of my friend’s question?  I really haven’t answered it have I?  The truth of the matter is that I don’t know if I can.

My world is not black and white.  I know some people who seem to live in that world, where every question has either a yes or a no answer.  But my world has shades of grey, it has countless colours, and to try and give a pat answer is beyond me.

So in the mean time, I’ll consider each event as it comes across my radar, and use my own judgment to try and figure out what I think about each one.  I don’t rely on a media source to give me the answers, neither should you.

Cheers BC

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