Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My Politics

Almost a year ago I mentioned the Consistent Life Movement as a idea that intrigued me. I've thought about it a good bit and I am fairly certain now I have converted to Consistent Life Politics:

My ideas about politics and policy have been changing. While this shift in my thinking began long before I discovered the Consistent Life website, it has been comforting to realize that others are arriving at the same place. At this point the main focus of my voting and civic involvement is changing ours to a society that does not kill.

Unfortunately most social/political dialog in our nation appears to be mostly on economics (Capitalism vs. Socialism) or citizen rights and responsibilities (Conservativism vs. Liberalism). While economics and rights are important, I believe we lose sight of more central values. All these popular ideologies seem to assume that intentionally destroying other human beings (in one form or another) is necessary for achieving social good. Looking at a history of civilization there are a few bloodthirsty madmen, but many more have been killed by people with good motives believing a better world would be created by removing certain others.

“We would be safer if we kill those who might attack us in the future... Our lives would be better if we have the right to kill a fetus... We would be upholding justice by killing a murderer... We can be kind to a suffering or disabled patient by killing them... Think of all the cures we might get from killing unwanted embryos... The world would be a good place if we could just get rid of the Jews, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Capitalists, Communists, Homosexuals, Muslims, Christians, Atheists, etc.”

Before you know it creating a better world ends up making the world much worse. More than any Right vs. Left political allegiance, I have begun wish we could change into a society that agreed to kill no other human being no matter how insignificant or bad that person might be.

In the post about Hussein's execution Chris McCartney asked “But was it Just?” Yes, as a Christian I have to acknowledge the justice of “the wages of sin is death.” My entire hope for redemption is based on an execution/sacrifice. (Although, the fact that Scripture teaches that all who ever sin deserve death makes me wonder how such just killing could every be accomplished by any society) Morality is different from policy, although they should be related. Recognition that greed, gluttony, smoking, or adultery are wrong does not necessitate that it is good for our society to make them crimes. Similarly believing that a despicable person or group of people deserves do die is quite different from claiming we should kill them. Similarly, it may be true that it would be “better” for many people if we killed an inconvenient minority. Any benefit (real or imagined) or removal of threat no matter how great does not justify the crimes we commit against those few. If we could cure poverty by eliminating the poor, could we really imagine we had done any real good for our society?

At this point the only justification I could imagine for killing another human would be self-defense (in the face immediately attack: not preemptively or retroactively) and even then, as Chris pointed out, we should be "saddened by death even if it is justified," rather than celebrating such violence.

As a convert to Consistent Life politics, I am no Utopian who imagines that somehow making these changes in our policy would suddenly create a society of perfect harmony and happiness. The human condition will always be deeply flawed, and humans will still suffer and someday die. I also recognize that spiritual redemption is far more valuable physical life. These policy changes, however, could be attainable if the political will existed. If it is the duty of a citizen to improve his government, then spreading and supporting Consistent Life is what I will do for my country.

I don't know if I yet have a great argument that would convince others that it is good policy for our government and society to abstain from all killing. (I realize that a majority of my argument above is “slippery slope”) I still ask myself how much of my shift towards supporting total non-violence is based on personal emotion. Over the recent years I have seen a lot of people die, which has no doubt affected me. I also wonder how my feelings on lethal force might be now if the war in Iraq had gone as smoothly and Iraq were now stable? I wonder if my own fear of losing the person I love the most (my wife) and the prospect of having children of my own have lessened my ability to accept the sacrifice of any life? Emotion does play a role in my change of mind, but in whose mind is emotion not a part of understanding truth?

While I still have a lot of contemplation on this subject to do, I feel certain enough to declare that these are my politics. As far as I know I am in a very small minority, and I must give up on finding any home in Democratic or Republican Parties. But several hundred years ago those who opposed slavery were a similarly small minority, and now the almost the whole world has accepted their policies.


JD said...

If you are interested in thinking more on these things there is a fascinating ongoing discussion (including now some responses to this post) on this previous post:
The Execution of Hussein

Christopher said...

I think you are confusing two very different ethical theories.

On the one hand, there is the consequentialist idea that an act is morally right or wrong based solely on the consequences of that act. On this theory, killing a person is justified if it "makes the world a better place".

But traditional morality is quite different. Beneficial consequences of an act of killing a human can never justify that killing. Our moral duty is always to protect life. But sometimes prima facie moral duties conflict. It is precisely because I have a moral duty to protect Jack's life, that I must intervene when Jill tries to kill Jack. And if nothing short of lethal force will prevent Jill from killing Jack, that is the force I must use. I still have a duty to preserve life as far as possible. But it is not in my power to preserve both lives. I must make a choice between preserving the life of the innocent (by action) or of the criminal (by inaction).

Given what you say about self-defense, I think you would make the choice prescribed by traditional morality. But from here it is a short step to just war theory.

Suppose you live in a village in Northumbria circa A.D. 600. The Vikings are coming. Their intent is to plunder your village, kill the men, and rape the women. Must you wait until they enter your house before taking action, or may you join with the other men of your community to do battle in the field outside of town? The latter strategy alone has a possibility of success. Indeed, a show of force may even make the Vikings think twice about attacking.

It is important to realize that military strength prevents more killing than it causes. If you doubt this (it is hard for those who live near a Police Station ...) see the next paragraph. If war is ever justified, a swift and decisive victory is often the best way to preserve life.

Have you ever asked yourself why it is that you have never had to defend yourself against a killer invading your home? The answer can be given in one word: armies. In stateless societies, the most common cause of death is homicide. It is the power of the state that makes homicide so rare in our society. And the power of the state is rooted in its armies. Police are fine in places where a state's authority faces no effective challenge. But that kind of challenge will quickly be mounted if it becomes clear that the state refuses to use massive lethal force to defend its authority. To convince the majority of pacifism in a democracy is to hand over the democracy to the first foreign tyrant who attacks, or to any minority of persons within the state who are willing to kill for power. Contrary to what you have claimed, the political victory of your ideas would spell disaster for our country.

If war is always wrong, then in spite of these disastrous consequences, we must never go to war. But if one can kill a murderer to prevent an immanent attack on an innocent person, then Northumbrians can join together to defend their homes against Vikings. And if Northumbrians can do that, then war is sometimes justified.

In some circumstances it is possible to go to war justly. In others it is not. How are we to distinguish the two? This is an extremely important question. It would be nice if there were an easy answer to it, but there isn't. It would be nice if we could simply say that war is always wrong. But we can't.

We have a duty to preserve life. Therefore, war is sometimes justified.

JD said...

Perhaps I should clarify... Someone else who reads Gridbook Blog recently asked me, "So do you believe in defensive war?"


As Chris points out self-defense on a larger scale often takes the form of war. Certainly defending the life of another is even more morally correct than defending one's self. If you look up "Consistent Life Ethic” on Wikipedia it lists opposition to “unjust war.” Now most consistent life sites I visit tend to describe themselves as pacifist, however the definition of that pacifism varies. While I would like to be a thoroughgoing pacifist I must admit I can't imagine how a fully pacifistic nation would survive.

It seems based on Chris' War Made Peace quote on his blog he may think I am in favor of anarchy (or a government with no ability to use force). As long as humans have a sin nature police and armies may serve a useful function. As long as human nature is that way, however, armies are also extremely dangerous and imperfect tools. Certainly those with Consistent Life views who are not thoroughgoing pacifists would endorse a much more limited view of what makes a just use of violence. Chris' Northumbrian village certainly would fit that justification in my mind (barring any other ways of getting the vikings to leave without violence were exhausted).

Just War Theory is something I don't understand much. (Perhaps Chris could post an explanation of the theory on his blog ?) Since the claim that a war is just seems to be used by every side in every violent conflict in Western civilization in the last few hundred years (including some that in retrospect don't look just at all) does give me a bit of suspicion towards Just War Theory. However, if as Chris pointed out “just war” is limited to mean collective self-defense against those who are certain to kill our neighbors I suppose that I am in favor. Just cautiously in favor, and actively looking for ways to save Jack while leaving Jill alive.

Christopher said...

On a broad definition, a just war theory is any attempt to express principles for sorting out morally justified wars from morally unjustified wars. More narrowly, classical Just War Theory is a particular set of such principles that have developed in history. Even here there's actually a plurality of classical Just War Theories, with plenty of debate over the particulars. Xon Hostetter gives a good summary of classical Just War Theory on his blog.