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"And I am even supposed to love our enemies.”
October 18, 2007 4:20 PM   Subscribe

"Killing others is not loving them.” --meet US Army Captain Peter D. Brown, just granted Conscientious Objector status due to his religious beliefs and honorably discharged after first being denied and taking them to court---only 224 applicants were approved for it during 02-06, out of 2.3 million serving.

... While deployed in Iraq for more than a year, Brown applied for discharge from the Army as a conscientious objector. Though the Army-appointed Chaplain and Investigating Officer designated to investigate Brown’s conscientious objector application concluded that he was sincere and recommended that he be honorably discharged, the Army disagreed and his request was denied. In July 2007, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area intervened on Brown’s behalf and asked a federal court in Washington, DC to order the honorable discharge. Before the court acted, the Army reconsidered the issue, this time granting Brown’s request. ...

from the Medill link: ... But some veterans who oppose the war in Iraq, say the actual numbers of conscientious objectors has been underreported due to the difficult application process and because peer pressure within a military unit discourages conscientious objectors.
The Government Accountability Office report found that from 2002 to 2006 the active and reserve components of all the military reported processing 425 applications for conscientious objectors of approximately 2.3 million current service members.
Of the 425 applications, 224 (53 percent) were approved,188 (44 percent) were denied and 13 (3 percent) were pending, according to the GA0, an arm of Congress.
...
posted by amberglow (63 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
thee are the objectors who object and make this known before they are drafted or called up. And then there are guys like this who discover another way of viewing that which they volunteered for. The second category is a bit like marriage gone wrong: it seemed nice at the beginning but later, the romance was gone.
posted by Postroad at 4:27 PM on October 18, 2007


Good for him, although it's not cool that you have to talk about Jesus to get a receptive audience. From the second article:

They (the military) say it (must be based) on a strong belief like a religious belief. For someone who is an agnostic or atheist, it’s more biased against them.
posted by brain_drain at 4:30 PM on October 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


I hope they find some way to get this guy to pay for the balance of the cost of his West Point education.
posted by pjdoland at 4:38 PM on October 18, 2007


Good for him, although it's not cool that you have to talk about Jesus to get a receptive audience.

I'm worried about that too, considering he's also being thrown around as the reason to have the war in the first place, in some circles.

And in general, I get worried when people with no religion at all are automatically assumed to be free of morals or ethics.
posted by brain cloud at 4:49 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


brain cloud writes "And in general, I get worried when people with no religion at all are automatically assumed to be free of morals or ethics."

Indeed. Atheists, agnostics, buddhists, et al should get more respect for their ethics and morality. Being good so you'll get to go to permanent orgasmland shouldn't give you any kind of special status.
posted by mullingitover at 4:55 PM on October 18, 2007 [5 favorites]


only 224 applicants were approved for it during 02-06, out of 2.3 million serving

I'm not sure, exactly, what the point of this statistic is. We're talking about a group that is self-selected to join a volunteer force, presumably with the expectation they might be asked to participate in hostilities.

A drafted military would be expected to have a different profile, but ours has been volunteer since the 1970s.
posted by dhartung at 4:57 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


And then there are guys like this who discover another way of viewing that which they volunteered for.

I'm curious about the numbers of people who decide that they are actually conscientious objectors and therefore can't morally serve the war machine during peace time. Does it ever happen? Or is it just when the bullets are flying? Though I suppose actually having to kill or be killed would focus the mind somewhat.

Presumably also, you have to be morally opposed to all wars? You can't just pick and choose the wars you'd like to avoid fighting in? There's no saying 'I'd be happy to do the Nazi's, but I don't much fancy shooting any Vietnamese?'
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:58 PM on October 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


They (the military) say it (must be based) on a strong belief like a religious belief.

This is bullshit. I got CO status in 1970 as a stone atheist. (Of course the country has gotten more religious since then, but I don't think they've changed the rules.)
posted by languagehat at 5:05 PM on October 18, 2007


Presumably also, you have to be morally opposed to all wars? You can't just pick and choose the wars you'd like to avoid fighting in?

This is correct; a favorite trick question from draft boards in my day was "Would you have fought in WWII?"
posted by languagehat at 5:06 PM on October 18, 2007


They really do try to make it impossible to get one of these, i think, and it is weird for someone to go all thru West Pt not realizing--or being ok with it--that being a soldier means you kill people, and the belated realization that your religion tells you not to kill people, etc -- and then the whole thing about having to be opposed to ALL wars to be considered as a CO, and how that relates to religion and to being a soldier and being a citizen entirely, and the implications of that, too...

(How many people seriously would be opposed to all wars, no matter what? I'm against killing others too--but i'd make exceptions, like for Nazis)
posted by amberglow at 5:09 PM on October 18, 2007


This is bullshit. I got CO status in 1970 as a stone atheist.

I bet they have changed the rules to make it much harder (when they eliminated the draft?). It had to have been easier to get out of the draft and being called up when there was a surplus of available possible soldiers, no?

And having an "all-Volunteer" military means people chose to join, which in itself kinda renders CO obsolete, no? And does conversion to some faith make someone eligible for it all of a sudden? How would that work?
posted by amberglow at 5:14 PM on October 18, 2007


He's not alone. Most soldiers hate to kill.
posted by Drexen at 5:17 PM on October 18, 2007


I'm not sure, exactly, what the point of this statistic is.
I put it in to show how very very very low the numbers are, but i agree with you. Can someone genuinely be a CO if they chose military service? Or can many many more people potentially be COs but are prevented from doing so?

Then again, how can someone get out of unjust wars where you see yourself doing horrible wrong? Is it just "Tough shit. You made your bed and now lie in it" ? How else can you break the contract you signed? Can you at all? In other areas of our society you can break contracts and get out of them. The responsibility of not using our Military wrongly is great, and what happens when it's misused?
posted by amberglow at 5:22 PM on October 18, 2007


In the past few years, tens of thousands of service members have resisted illegal war and occupation in a number of different ways—by going AWOL, seeking conscientious objector status and/or a discharge, asserting the right to speak out against injustice from within the military, and for a relative few, publicly refusing to fight.

While there are those who would like to dismiss war resisters as "cowards," the reality is that it takes exceptional courage to resist unjust, illegal, and/or immoral orders. For many resisters, it was their first-hand experiences as occupation troops that compelled them to take a stand. For others, "doing the right thing" and acting out of conscience began to outweigh their military training in obedience.


I'm guessing if there is any resistance today in the US military that would be a product of opposition to this war in particular rather than all wars. Hence so few CCOO - which would be normal anyway considering there's no draft. Is there a AWOL statistic somewhere?
posted by lucia__is__dada at 5:24 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


> How else can you break the contract you signed?

As Thoreau pointed out, you always have the option of simply refusing--and then taking the consequences, whatever they are. If your objection of conscience is strong enough, that's what you'll do.
posted by jfuller at 5:31 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


As others above have said, I don't quite understand how CO applies to voluntary military forces. I mean, if you object... why did you sign up? I suppose I could understand in the case of a conversion, but that's about it.
posted by arcticwoman at 5:35 PM on October 18, 2007


I'm pushing forty now so I'm hoping if the draft is instigated I'll be too old to be of any interest to the military. I'm also the only son of my father. Not that I'm actively trying to perpetuate the family line, but I've been told that being an only son is supposed to carry some weight? I dunno.

I'm a pacifist, and believe that historically war has done nothing but set up the necessary parameters for the next war. Perhaps if I listened to any religious convictions I'd be hard pressed not to fight for God and Country, but nowadays my religious convictions are just ticking me off. My rational mind can no longer tolerate them, but my irrational emotions won't let them go.

I came to my nonviolent conclusions by way of common sense, not faith or ethics. Killing is stupid. Even when it's necessary, it's still the wrong choice to make. Even in self-defense. Yes in a fight for my life if I absolutely had to, I may find myself tempted to end the life of the one assaulting me, because the only other choice would be to let him kill me, but that wouldn't mean I'd change my mind about the futility of death. Killing is still pointless and wrong and against the preservation of life, even if a gazillion terrorists are embracing killing to get their point across.

I actively try to make choices that prevent me from having to make THAT choice. Participating in a military excursion would go against my personal subjective logic. I tend to avoid driving recklessly for similar reasons.

However, am I to understand that's not sufficient grounds for conscientious objector, but believing in an old man in the clouds is?
posted by ZachsMind at 5:35 PM on October 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Killing is stupid. Even when it's necessary, it's still the wrong choice to make.

How about to protect your loved ones, ZachsMind? Somebody is about to murder your wife or your daughter? If killing them is the only way to prevent them from doing it, do you still let them go ahead? How about when they've already killed one of your loved ones, and although you aren't aware of any direct evidence of immediate threat to another, you know that the killer is a psychopath, so it could happen any minute your back is turned. The only way you can be *certain* that your children won't be killed is to kill first. Are you opposed to killing in these circumstances?

However, am I to understand that's not sufficient grounds for conscientious objector

I think if you fall into the categories above, you don't make the grade.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:51 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


(How many people seriously would be opposed to all wars, no matter what? I'm against killing others too--but i'd make exceptions, like for Nazis)

When did Nazism become some incurable disease that made it okay to kill people? There is a CURE for Nazism! You don't need to kill them...

I'm brown. Do I get a free pass to kill Klan folk because they're out to get me? (Ooh, that reminds me...the next "War" should be the "War Against Racism"...then I can kill white people and not feel bad, because you know, they're out to get me.)
posted by SeizeTheDay at 5:59 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


here's some history, from The National Registry for Conscientious Objection-- ... In World War II, a total of nearly 43,000 Americans refused to fight for reasons of conscience: 12,000 served in Civilian Public Service, 6,000 went to prison and 25,000 served in the military as noncombatants.

During the Vietnam War more than 170,000 men were officially recognized as conscientious objectors. Thousands of other young men resisted by burning their draft cards, serving jail sentences or leaving the country. Though the military is currently an all-volunteer organization, when the Gulf War broke out in 1991, 2,500 men and women volunteers serving in the Armed Forces refused to serve in Saudi Arabia on the basis of conscience. ...

posted by amberglow at 5:59 PM on October 18, 2007


I've just totally made someone's list for people getting shipped off to Gitmo. Crap. All in the name of sardonic humor.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 6:01 PM on October 18, 2007


When did Nazism become some incurable disease that made it okay to kill people? ... I'm brown. Do I get a free pass to kill Klan folk because they're out to get me?
It's not ok, and no one gets a free pass for anything--it's about what you see as worth killing for, or worth killing to stop, etc. I think we all may have different answers and different occasions that would make us say --Yes, i'll kill for this. And I'll kill to stop this. But I won't kill for this or that or that or that or that or when this happens or when this is the justification, ...
posted by amberglow at 6:03 PM on October 18, 2007


And it's also very connected to what you would be willing to die for, i think, too.
posted by amberglow at 6:06 PM on October 18, 2007


When did Nazism become some incurable disease that made it okay to kill people?

You don't get to kill them to prevent their belief system. You get to kill them when it becomes clear that it's the only way to preserve the life of others. So, when they're shoveling people into gas ovens and they won't stop when you ask them nicely to do so, then force becomes necessary. Should they resist the force and seek to use lethal weapons to defend themselves, that's when it becomes OK to kill them.

Do I get a free pass to kill Klan folk because they're out to get me?

You mean when they're about to hang you from the nearest tree? Yes, at that point, you do. Try it before then and they get to put the noose around your neck legitimately.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:07 PM on October 18, 2007


PBS on WW2 objectors: THE GOOD WAR And Those Who Refused To Fight It
posted by amberglow at 6:11 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Indeed. Atheists, agnostics, buddhists, et al should get more respect for their ethics and morality. Being good so you'll get to go to permanent orgasmland shouldn't give you any kind of special status.

The accessible (through good works/ karma) higher realms (deva worlds) and even nirvana could be called orgasmland. The former being temporary the later being permanent.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:25 PM on October 18, 2007


Obviously, he was conned by all those defence force ads that pretend the army is all about baking cakes, raising ducklings & having sleepovers with your friends.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:28 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


So, when they're shoveling people into gas ovens and they won't stop when you ask them nicely to do so, then force becomes necessary.

I don't think that saving the Jews was a motivation for any nation to join WW2. Rather, it might just have had something to do with the Axis powers' aggressive expansionist policies (read: grab for economic resources).
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:32 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Peter McDermott: "How about to protect your loved ones, ZachsMind?"

I already addressed the 'what ifs' people would no doubt throw at me in the previous statement.

Would self-preservation instincts kick in if it meant my life or that of those I love? Probably, but that's the point. Self-preservation is an animal instinct. It's barbaric. Being CIVILIZED means saying NO to clubbing anything that disagrees with you. Being civilized means being civil.

"Are you opposed to killing in these circumstances?"

It's not a circumstantial thing. Killing is rude behavior. It's absurd. It's counter to civilization.

You can rationalize to Judgment Day. Your peers can say it was okay for you to kill that person, your gov't can agree. God himself could step down out of the clouds, put his hand on your shoulder and go, "I woulda killed him too if'n I wuz you."

Still don't make it right.

You want religious conviction?

THOU SHALT NOT KILL

Four simple words that make perfect sense. We can't even get that one right.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:33 PM on October 18, 2007


But Zachs, God also demanded multiple times in the Old Testament (where that comes from) that people go and kill others--whether foreigners, strangers, foreign-born wives, etc...over and over and over and over. How do you reconcile that? God commanded we not kill, and then commanded we kill and kill and kill...

It's ok to kill when God commands it, but not ok to kill overall?
posted by amberglow at 6:41 PM on October 18, 2007


And what are the implications of that when mixed with citizenship and civic service and civic duties, etc? Should religion be a valid reason for CO status if we specifically and clearly don't allow it to be a valid reason for most other things? No religious test for office, no state religion, no preferential treatment allowed to one over another, all men are created equal, etc?
posted by amberglow at 6:44 PM on October 18, 2007


I already addressed the 'what ifs' people would no doubt throw at me in the previous statement.

I don't believe that you did -- at least not in a manner that resolves what I see as major contradictions inherent in your position. The classic CO position is that of somebody who sees the use of killing -- even in self defence -- as an absolute moral wrong. Such people, by and large, have generally been prepared to die rather than take up arms against another. Hence the various pacifists that were marched, unarmed, into no mans land during World War I. No 'animal self-defence instinct' involved there, just a principled position to be prepared to die rather than be killed.

You, in contrast, acknowledge that you'd probably kill to defend yourself and your loved ones. So now how about your very closest friends? How big or small does this tribe have to be, before you're prepared to refuse to allow other people to kill its members without retaliation?

Self-preservation is an animal instinct. It's barbaric. Being CIVILIZED means saying NO to clubbing anything that disagrees with you. Being civilized means being civil.

Whoa, how did that slip between self preservation and disagreement happen? I don't think that anybody would disagree that killing is barbaric, or that it's anything that any civilized person chooses to do in anything other than the most dire circumstances, but you yourself acknowledge that there are circumstances when it's necessary and justifiable in defence of you and yours. Consequently, the only real issue of dispute between us is the size of the tribe you believe you have a moral responsibility to defend.

Personally, I'm pretty clear about it. I'm happy to kill to prevent the deaths of others. I don't think any other reason is justifiable. But it seems to me that to be completely consistent, a genuine Conscientious Objector would also have to oppose the use of lethal force by the police. If killing is always absolutely morally wrong, under all circumstances, then the police would have no right to use lethal force to apprehend killers. If we were to take that position as a state, then all a murderer has to do is use a gun to resist arrest and they could continue to kill with impunity. I don't think I've ever heard anyone seriously making that argument.

And once you've accepted the fact that it is legitimate to use force -- and lethal force if necessary -- to bring killers to justice or prevent further killing, then, for me at least, there are only two other issues that need to be resolved. Firstly, if it's legitimate to use that force within national boundaries, why should it not be legitimate, in certain circumstances, to use it across national boundaries? And the other question is, if you're prepared to have somebody else, another employee of the state, kill on your behalf, is it not moral cowardice to refuse to do personally those acts which you'd expect others to do in your name?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:50 PM on October 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


damn dirty ape writes "The accessible (through good works/ karma) higher realms (deva worlds) and even nirvana could be called orgasmland. "

Really? I've always followed to the general Buddhist decree "Don't believe it if it doesn't make sense to you" and written off the silly-sounding parts which to me were bolted on from the indigenous religions (for example, I don't think reincarnation exists in anything resembling a literal sense). My personal interpretation of nirvana is that it's merely a placid mental state free from, which would be far from orgasmland. No eternal life or other such fantasy. Even the mystical types will tell you that nirvana means you get to die permanently. Not exactly orgasmic. Certainly no 72 virgins/rivers of wine/harps/happiness for eternity.

ZachsMind writes "THOU SHALT NOT KILL"

Bad translation. If you read the original Hebrew, you'd read something more like "Thou shalt not murder." God in the OT was obviously totally OK with killing: men, women (but save those virgins!), children, babies, heck they even killed the livestock sometimes just because.

Not to say that the Bible isn't wildly inconsistent, but they worked out the more visible problems.
posted by mullingitover at 6:55 PM on October 18, 2007


I don't think that saving the Jews was a motivation for any nation to join WW2.

I wasn't seeking to suggest that it was, UbuRoivas. I was simply outlining my own personal rationale for the point at which I'd be prepared to go against my own inherently pacifist tendencies and engage in military action.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:57 PM on October 18, 2007


You get to kill them when it becomes clear that it's the only way to preserve the life of others.

Is it ever "clear" to everybody? That makes it seem like there's some definite point before the killing happens (this was in reference to Nazis originally) where everybody (an entire nation? the UN?) can agree that killing (of one? of many? how many?) is going to happen, and therefore we can do this or that (kill the aggressors?) to stop it.

So, when they're shoveling people into gas ovens and they won't stop when you ask them nicely to do so, then force becomes necessary.


Shame for the folk in the oven that we waited 'til then to ask, right?

On preview: You already responded, said you were outlining your personal rationale, which I can't object to. I probably agree with you in most cases of when lethal force (by a nation or an individual) is necessary. I just think there's lots of valid reasons for other people to disagree, and it's often far from obvious where to draw the line (sometimes even in hindsight): Not much in these situations is clear.
posted by erikgrande at 7:03 PM on October 18, 2007


Look-it that... Pearl Jam's on Storytellers on MHD right now.
posted by erikgrande at 7:21 PM on October 18, 2007


Conscientious objector gets out of the Army; the art of survival.
posted by nickyskye at 7:38 PM on October 18, 2007


And the other question is, if you're prepared to have somebody else, another employee of the state, kill on your behalf, is it not moral cowardice to refuse to do personally those acts which you'd expect others to do in your name?

And is it even possible to separate yourself from murders, deaths, wars, invasions, killing, state executions, etc, done in your name with your tax money, etc?
posted by amberglow at 7:56 PM on October 18, 2007


I'm not sure, exactly, what the point of this statistic is. We're talking about a group that is self-selected to join a volunteer force, presumably with the expectation they might be asked to participate in hostilities.

Interesting point. I hadn't thought of that.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:57 PM on October 18, 2007


Two contibrutions to the points being made.

First, when I joined the Army in '99 at age 35, a recruiter came up behind me while I was doing street art in Seattle, and said, "What are you doing there, son?" Upon hearing that tone, to myself I thought, "Getting arrested." Turning, I came face to face with Sgt. Gibert T. Dopplemore, recruiter for the US Army, who then posed the most interesting question I had been asked in a very interesting year. He said, "Have you ever thought about doing that for the Army?"

Graffiti? For the Army? Why, no. I hadn't.

And I told him I was a buddhist vegetarian pacifist. And he said, "That's okay. We can work around that." And he did.

Not a month later, I was being sworn in. It's a crazy oath. "I do you solemnly swear to defend your country from enemies, both foreign and domestic, etc, etc, so help me God." Well, it just so happens that that God thing means something real to me. It means "good," and what my heart says is true and genuine. So, according to the oath, as long I stay true to my heart, I'm good.

Six months later, after passing boot camp and into AIT for communications on a fast track to military intelligence training, they finally got it that what I was saying about "love being the purpose of life" was something I hold to be true! We agreed to disagree, and after considerable harassment - punishment, public humiliation, jail without charges - I was give a general discharge: "failure to adapt." It was work, but no blood, no foul. I went right back to school and finished work on a PhD in philosophy.

So, it can be done. You have to "stick to your guns."

Now, as for the killing thing. Last month, in the middle of the night, I plucked a young woman from the ocean while on my boat. At first, as I am anchored a mile from shore, I thought it must have been a drunk who fell off a neighboring boat. When I shined a light into the water, however, I saw it was a person who had been beaten so badly that though I had seen her around the Island for years, I failed to recognize her. She had been beaten and raped, and had escaped when her assailant fell asleep by putting on a life preserver and lowering herself into the water. (BTW, this is the ocean. At night.) I called the Coast Guard on the radio, and they along with two deputies came out and collected here and took her to the hospital.

Now, my pacifism notwithstanding, my estimation of the creature that did that two her dropped from "person" to "dangerous animal." I understand that most humans are people, but anyone who does such a thing to a person loses their personhood in my book. (And I have known plenty of creatures other than homo sapiens who would qualify as a person in my lifetime, anything from dogs to dolphins.)

I am discriminating. Because a creature walks on two legs and communicates with language does in my eyes automatically qualify them for a person. But behavior to the contrary — including but not limited to rape, murder, violent coercion — does likewise automatically dis-qualify them as a person.

Working with dolphins, I have learned intelligence and communication is feasible without language. Working with homo sapiens, I have learned that being capable of intelligent communication is the true measurement of humanity, not language.

And an animal that kills, hurts, and maims but uses languages is one smart animal, for certain. Nonetheless, its death affects me only as much as the death of a marauding tiger, dog, or shark. And that is, it is a relief.

Murdering is wrong. Killing is unavoidable.
posted by humannaire at 8:13 PM on October 18, 2007 [13 favorites]


"There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately."
posted by homunculus at 8:15 PM on October 18, 2007


Extraordinary, meaningful comment and anecdotes humannaire.
posted by nickyskye at 8:23 PM on October 18, 2007


Humannaire, your story is inspiring--but I find your morality repellent. If you give yourself the right to reclassify humans as animals arbitrarily based on some sort of aesthetic criterion, you've effectively nullified any ethical force your conscientious objection could have had.

The first thing the state does when it wants you to kill people is tell you the enemy isn't human. You've fished a woman from the sea and concluded that whoever did it to her must have been worthy of being killed, without knowing anything else about the situation. If it's that easy--what would have stopped you from killing the Germans in World War I, who were supposed to gratuitously cannibalize Belgian babies, or the Iraqis in the Gulf War, who allegedly tore babies out of incubators?
posted by nasreddin at 8:32 PM on October 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


what nicky said--i'm so glad you were there, saw her, and were able to help.

I think they never would have let you out if it was nowadays tho...with stop-loss, they're now not even letting soldiers who have finished their service go. (and see homunculus' link)
posted by amberglow at 8:37 PM on October 18, 2007


nasreddin, pardon me if I short-changed you.

Allow me to fill out the details.

The person I pulled out is known for her kindness and generosity of spirit on the Island.

Her assailant, who she identified to me and then to the Coast Guard and deputies, grabbed her, took her to his boat, caught her when she first attempted to leave by jupming in the water, then beat her, and then raped her. She had flung her blood around the inside of his trawler because she had expected to be killed and she imagined it was her only chance at having other's learn of what had taken place. After she was beaten and raped, her assailant watched television until going to sleep, but not before tossing her a towel to "wipe off the blood." It turns out this was the second person he had victimized in such a manner in the past two months.

However, I made my call after pulling up the person out of the water, and she told me what had happened while we waited for the Coast Guard. She didn't even recognize me as someone she had seen and recognized for years.

I was not angry or mad at the creature that did this. Why would I be? It is not human. It's death is no moral victory. It would be for the safety and well-being of a community which I hold in high regard.

Whatmore, I would not expect anyone to come to the conclusion I came to without access to the information I have just shared.

When I am in the water, and a creature attacks me, I resist it. In all regards, I do everything to avoid such confrontations. In particular, I respect other's spaces. (Especially sharks and dolphins - albeit with different approaches and for different reasons).

When something comes after me, however, I am forced to apply other strategies and tactics. One of which is lethal force. I am not angry in these situations. I am reluctant and have reached the end of all other recourse. Fortunately, I am resourceful, and I take great care to avoid such encounters.

But when such encounters are brought to you, there is only one choice, and consciously or unconsciously, it is made before such an event.

That said, the one situation is distinct from the crisis you describe, when something as vacuous or intangible as a government issues a philosophical edict pronouncing who or what is good or bad or acceptable or unacceptable.

The one is personal, spontaneous and immediate; the other is societal, thought-out and protracted.
posted by humannaire at 9:06 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, I suppose it's easy for me to talk when I'm not confronted with a situation like the one you've described; I can't fairly hold any sort of reaction against you.

But what troubles me, still, is the implication that we get to choose whom we see as human and whom we don't. People rank crimes differently; how could you justify your humanity to someone who claims you're not human for any number of reasons, and would therefore think as little of killing you as he would a rat or frog? How could the victims of genocide justify their humanity?

And it seems to me that that kind of callous sadism is in no way characteristic of animals to begin with. Only humans can be truly sadistic. So doesn't this perspective tend to deny the darkness and ambiguity at the heart of human nature?
posted by nasreddin at 9:25 PM on October 18, 2007


Thanks for telling the stories, humannaire.

There in the core of what you're talking about is something I've struggled with my whole life -- whether humans are animals (with training and laws and religious precepts to keep their toothandclaw nature in check) or whether they are something else. Whether human life is worth anything, or if we tell ourselves that because, well, we would, wouldn't we? How to reconcile a real loathing for humans as a species, in the general, with a deep love for individuals, and the glorious things that our species has actually achieved when we managed to get out of the muck once in a while. If killing humans under certain circumstances can be justified, then how we can claim that it is unjustified under other cirumstances, and how we can possibly ever draw a line. How I can justify (rather than just explain away) the fact that 10,000 anonymous-to-me deaths in some hellhole half a world away does not rock me in any way the way the death of single friend does. How I, and how we as (pick tribe/nation here) can bear to allow anyone of our (insert tribal/national/whatever group here) to live without health care, to live on the streets, to die alone, to kill in our name overseas. How we can possibly tell ourselves that human life is so valuable when we've always slaughtered each other like animals, at a rate that doesn't seem to be slowing, no matter how civilized we pretend ourselves to be. How those who profess a belief in a God, any benevolent god, could torture and kill. How I could calmly use my teeth to tear the throat out of someone who hurt my family, but how I can still believe that killing is wrong, always. How I can believe that there is no eternal soul and uncertain of the value of human life, but be so cocksure certain of my ethical beliefs.

Shit, it's all sophomore philosophy, I know, but after decades of thinking about it, I still veer wildly between near-total misanthropy and a deep confusion stirred by my love for the people I meet.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:44 PM on October 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


But what troubles me, still, is the implication that we get to choose whom we see as human and whom we don't.

That troubles many people. But after having chosen cowardice in the face of such a decision once, and having had to live with the consequences of that decision (an act of bravery itself), I will never again. Life, I learned, is without worth if one is to live without self-respect. That was a heart-breaking lesson.

But we can recover I subsequently learned. By standing up for what our hearts hold to be true and worthwhile, whatever it is. Be true to thine own self." Indeed! And that goes for good or evil. I can appreciate these from what I have found to be good and evil within my own self.

But amoral or conscienceless is something altogether different. That is what a creature who genuinely has no moral compass, and knows neither right or wrong. Regardless if this is a natural or nurtural, when a creature is unaware of the difference between good or evil, it can be a threat.

Such creatures exist in nature consistently. It is the difference between a dog that is intelligent — domesticated or otherwise — and a beast that lives moment to moment without considerations or empathy.

But nasreddin, this question of yours — "how could you justify your humanity to someone who claims you're not human for any number of reasons, and would therefore think as little of killing you as he would a rat or frog?" — is most interesting. You see, whatever that is that would hold you or me in such a regard is a moral-less creature.

Fantastically, even were it more evolutionarily advanced than you or me, if it put me in the position to have my life squashed out as if my life was without meaning, then I had best be sure my life does have meaning...or else indeed my death would be without worth!

You ask, how could the victims of genocide justify their humanity? And I reply, because if we possess it our humanity is with us in our living and in our dying. Animals are unable to take that away from us, be they homo sapiens or otherwise.

You say only humans can be sadistic. Untrue. Look to nature and see. What animals play with their prey. It is prevalent.

What I think is cruel is to punish or torture in the name of justice or vengence. Death is what it is. By its nature, death is immediate and uncruel. But force a miserable creature to live on and on. That is cruelty unending.
posted by humannaire at 10:06 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


[So doesn't this perspective tend to deny the darkness and ambiguity at the heart of human nature?

I believe I answered this. Good is what it is, evil is what it is, and ambiguity is what it is.

I liken it to an example I learned. We have three kinds of poker players.

One says they are after your poker chips, and go after your poker chips. They are honest.

Another says they are not after your poker chips, but are. They are dishonest.

The last is the one that causes trouble. They say they are not after your poker chips, don't go after your poker chips, but wind up with them anyway. They are the dangerously ambiguous.]
posted by humannaire at 10:11 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Even if I disagree with you in places, humannaire, I cannot help but profoundly respect your position. Thanks.
posted by nasreddin at 10:17 PM on October 18, 2007


I cannot help but profoundly respect your position.

Continuing the tangent, but, I'm not snarking, I'm asking, because I'm interested in what people think about these issues: what position? I've read through waht humannair said three times now, but I can't actually parse out any consistent position.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:22 PM on October 18, 2007


Stavros, what you are calling sophomore philosophy is the heart of the matter. As homo sapiens, we have the capability of choosing to be human or else to be an animal. And at points in our lives, most of us have behaved as the one or the other, when mostly we are the one.

For instance, there are things I did living as a transient resident at a fraternity house while at Berkeley which I would consider shameful if not for the fact that for me that was part of the life experience necessary for me to become the person I am today. I am like being this person!

You pose, "If killing humans under certain circumstances can be justified, then how we can claim that it is unjustified under other cirumstances, and how we can possibly ever draw a line." I say that that depends on you. This is where real life breaks from philosophy. My take on reality is that all is one, the whole thing is an illusion, and that the only way to play it is genuinely — as if it were all real! — but absolutely certain that in some way, come hell or high water, we are unharmable.

If I thought that death meant invalidation, or that suffering had meaning, I would be incapable of function. However, I see it the other way 'round, that death is the fine-point on our life, and that suffering is meaningless except for as a strata or fertilizing base in which for "deep love" and "glorious things" to manifest.
posted by humannaire at 10:36 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Stavros. Oh. Here's my position:

"Everything always works out, and the truth makes me laugh."

The rest of it all is fertilizer.
posted by humannaire at 10:40 PM on October 18, 2007


Stavros, what you are calling sophomore philosophy is the heart of the matter.

That's precisely what I said, along with the worrying admission that I've spent at least three decades thinking about it, to little avail.

As far as the rest of what you said there, it sounds to me like impossible-to-substantiate 'faith' (religious or otherwise) partially wrapped in the language of rationality, and I've learned never to try and explore the hard thinkin' with folks who attempt to build structures of logic atop foundations made of faith, so I think I'll excuse myself from the discussion.

If your convictions make you a better person, though, more power to you, honestly. It takes all kinds, by gum.

On preview,

"Everything always works out, and the truth makes me laugh."


Now that, I can get behind. Except me, I'd say '...everything makes me laugh'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:51 PM on October 18, 2007


Right on. Of course, all of it is simple to substantiate. Just put it to the test in real world situations. Like I explained, I do, and as I stated I even did it the wrong way once just to put to see if the whole thing would collapse like a pile of cards. (It did.)

When in doubt, remember, without luck, none of us would be here. That says more that I could ever.
posted by humannaire at 11:07 PM on October 18, 2007


Now that, I can get behind. Except me, I'd say '...everything makes me laugh'.

Or, everything always works out = A, and A makes me laugh.

Exactly, and we are in agreement.
posted by humannaire at 11:10 PM on October 18, 2007


UbuRoivas writes "Obviously, he was conned by all those defence force ads that pretend the army is all about baking cakes, raising ducklings & having sleepovers with your friends"

Well you never see ads with people being shot at. It's all zooming around in helicopters and playing with cool equipment. Is the armed forces down there still advertising that the reserves are a month a year and a weekend a month?
posted by Mitheral at 12:42 AM on October 19, 2007


I am discriminating. Because a creature walks on two legs and communicates with language does in my eyes automatically qualify them for a person. But behavior to the contrary — including but not limited to rape, murder, violent coercion — does likewise automatically dis-qualify them as a person.

Interesting stories, humannaire. However, I'm not sure that I can go along with you. I'd draw a distinction between the need to kill in order to protect yourself and others, and the need to kill for revenge or retaliation. What you seem to be suggesting here is that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for rape, whereas I'm not even convinced that it's an appropriate punishment for murder. Would I kill to protect your rape victim? In an instant. Would I kill to avenge them? No, because in this sense, I do agree with ZachsMind. The decision to abdicate that function to the state is part of what makes us civilized. And what we expect from the state in that regard, is a dispassionate and just response to their crime. So while there's any possibility of error, or of somebody changing and making a valuable contribution to society, then I think it's barbaric to take their life provided we can prevent them from being an immediate threat to anybody else.

Also, your poker analogy makes no sense. How can anyone play without seeking to get somebody else's chips? It seems to me that it's an analogy for a losing player who doesn't understand the point of the game and so can't figure out why someone else has all the chips at the end of the night.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:11 AM on October 19, 2007


those who have problems with people going for CO status in a volunteer military ought to consider those who are career military men, joined in a time of peace., who suddenly find themselves in the military, in war time, and their desk job suddenly becomes a combat role.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 4:37 AM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


One thing I would say is certain - humannaire is not a pacifist, other than via some bizarre redefinition of the term.
posted by daveg at 5:39 AM on October 19, 2007


I'd draw a distinction between the need to kill in order to protect yourself and others, and the need to kill for revenge or retaliation.

PeterMcD, need and desire seem synonymous in the above. But in the first use, I infer it to be a practical need, as in that of a gardener or care-giver. In the second, I'd say it is passionate or lustful need.

What you seem to be suggesting here is that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for rape, whereas I'm not even convinced that it's an appropriate punishment for murder.

Death is appropriate — not as a deterrent or punishment, but as a recourse — in situations where raper or murder is perpetrated upon another by a creature serving its own animal needs or desires.

Would I kill to protect your rape victim? In an instant. Would I kill to avenge them?

The distinction between the two is dissimilar. In the one, we would kill to protect. In the other, we would kill out of an idea of justice. Whether having to killto protect before or after the act of murder or rape is arbitrary if we are unable o prevent the act in the first place. In the end, then, the killing or culling of a bad animal is protection. (Obviously, not all or most animals are bad.)

No, because in this sense, I do agree with ZachsMind. The decision to abdicate that function to the state is part of what makes us civilized. And what we expect from the state in that regard, is a dispassionate and just response to their crime. So while there's any possibility of error, or of somebody changing and making a valuable contribution to society, then I think it's barbaric to take their life provided we can prevent them from being an immediate threat to anybody else.

Part of my thinking is that I am unable to grant death the end-all-be-all quality it has been attributed here. Death is what it is, the end of the game round. I like the game; I prefer to stay alive in it, and I work to do so. In no small part, I do so by contributing and upholding particular and acceptable societal guidelines. That's the game.

Killing it seems to me is ordinary. As I eat, fish and vegetables, I am able to think of it dispassionately and take it in stride, realizing that I to shall die and that I am putting myself out there to be killed when interacting with animals in their environments. However, some argue that to kill is contrary to being good or moral. In my understanding of killing, I consider all life equal. Killing is like that. Either we do, or we are dead. Which leads me to your next point,...

Also, your poker analogy makes no sense. How can anyone play without seeking to get somebody else's chips? It seems to me that it's an analogy for a losing player who doesn't understand the point of the game and so can't figure out why someone else has all the chips at the end of the night.

Aha! It only seems that way when you are unaware which sort of player you are. The first step is to realize that you are in the game. It's like the three laws of Thermodynamics.

1. You can't get something for nothing.
2. You can't come out ahead.
3. You can't get out of the game.

Those are the rules. This is the game. All of us are players. Which kind of player are you? Honest, dishonest, or ambiguous? For me, being the first kind is the most fun. That is not to say that the other two are not fun, as well. But I am in it for the most fun. For me, like I said, I choose to approach life as the first kind of player.

And rather than be mad or angry at a person who is incapable of being able to control or restrain their self from arbitrarily and grievously hurting or harming others, I have distinctions based on study and a lifetime experience of compassion and understanding.

Being killed for hurting or harming another for my own self-satisfaction is acceptable. It's like why I eat fish; I give them ample opportunity to eat me. What more, there are so many people who enjoy killing.

My only disagreement with killing is when it is done, physically or spiritually, to innocents. And the reason I choose only to eat fish rather than land animals is that I think it is cruel and barbaric to commercially farm livestock for killing and eating. Beyond this, I understand by ceasing to eat meat it lowers my personal carbon dioxide footprint by 55percent annually.

As for my being a pacifist, I refuse to fight unless attacked, and I once enjoyed fighting immensely. But I discovered — again the hard way — that fighting is pointless. Now I prefer to channel my energies constructively.

There are always warrior Buddahs. All is one. I am able to condone killing or killing because I do it without pleasure, quickly, and only when it is required as opposed to desired.

I believe animals instinctively fear death only because they know no better. People fear death often for the same reason, but at least people are capable of knowing better. Towards this end, love, loving, and being loved goes a long way.
posted by humannaire at 11:13 AM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, whether I choose to kill or not, life continues unabated.

And I am a pacifist, daveg, in that killing by definition does not require violence. And violence requires neither response or retaliation. Turning the other cheek actually works great to make an impression on someone who hits you.

When you learn to do it correctly, I have found that people often apologize. It's like on-the-spot enlightenment.
posted by humannaire at 11:24 AM on October 19, 2007


Dillonlikescookies, I can understand the very realistic point that one is likely to examine their position on killing and war if he is placed in the position of himself having to kill. But it's entirely different, and impossible to justify, that acting as supporting staff for the soldiers who actually do the killing is ethical, but being a soldier who kills is unethical.

That possibility, and the possibility that the soldier in question may have only developed his principles in reaction to personal danger, is what I think rankles people about situations like this.

This isn't the first soldier to hold a principled position which happens to keep him out of danger.
posted by vsync at 2:05 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


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