Thursday, November 29, 2007

Values and Personality: Part II

An examination of the effects emotions and personality on political beliefs, continued from Part I:

Part II: Non-Violence

The transformation from a hawkish conservative to a pacifist opposed to the death penalty didn't begin with careful reasoning, but with subtle experience. First, I fell in love. I married the most amazing woman. Perhaps it is an accident of natural selection that young males are eager to kill or die for their nation or a cause, but having a wife and now a child on the way have tempered any inclination toward killing. The list of things I would be willing to kill or die for rapidly began to empty. The only thing I would be willing kill for is to save her from danger. The thought that I had once been willing to go to war and kill another woman's husband filled me with remorse. I find now as a husband and father that violence and cruelty depicted in films which had never bothered me before often make me sick to my stomach.

Another thing that happened was that I became a doctor. Suddenly people dying and suffering, which had before been an abstraction, became something I saw frequently and intimately. Before I had rather harshly realistic opinion that everyone dies. Perhaps I have a “thin skin,” but after caring for so many as they die I can no longer have such a cavalier attitude toward the death of a human being. No matter how painful or peaceful, the end of a human life strike me as an immense tragedy. We all still die and suffer, but I can never speak of the death of another human lightly. Even more so willfully killing a person, even a vile person or someone who is a threat, became horrible to my mind.

Medicine also altered my concept of “deserving.” Much of the illness I care for in my patients is self-inflicted through unhealthy decisions made in the past. The conservative idea that bad acts should get what they deserve, doesn't work in medicine. My oath as a physician binds me to care for the suffering and ill regardless of patients “bringing it on themselves” or not. It is my job to prevent (as much as possible) people from getting “what they deserve” from years of unhealthy habits. I should advocate for health, but realizing unhealthiness exists it is my job to forgive and restore. Perhaps it is a stretch, but my job in human restoration after bad deeds made me wonder about humans metering out the justice of God by putting evil people to death. My own experience in my family of evil and redemption again figured in my perspective. Also in medicine I have cared for many prisoners, including several who I know killed others ruthlessly. Did I have the right to tell them they didn't deserve lifesaving care because they were bad? No. They were in chains and no longer a threat to anyone. Why should I want them killed?

The ancient rule of medicine is “First, do no harm.” This beneficent rule has restrained physicians for centuries. We are not any better than any human beings, but something as simple as this has given us perhaps the greatest respect among professions. I liked this principle. It made sense and even misanthropic doctors act well when they are reminded of this oath. I sought such a simple principle for my political beliefs. The Consistent-Life Movement is above all things simple: Kill no human. It fit with my pro-life upbringing. It fit with my Christian beliefs. While the holy scriptures don't expressly prohibit capital punishment or war, the commandment to love others with the sacrificial love of Christ certainly makes consistent non-violence seem consistent with my belief.

During this internal transformation of my values, the external world seemed to be moving to confirm my new views. The war I had initially supported had become long, bitter, and pointless. Now our brave soldiers are dying and killing to prevent a cataclysm that our invasion set in motion. Certainly this preemptive war was started with the best of intentions: a fight for security and freedom. This war and my initial support of it leaves a sad stain on my consciousness. How easily I supported sending our defenders to kill and be killed! I now deeply believe that war should always be a last resort and only in self-defense.

My conservative friends and family think me a bit of an embarrassment for becoming a vocal pacifist, and liberal pacifists find my antiabortion convictions to be offensive, but I must admit being consistently pro-life is a relief. I am by no means a perfect person or a perfect Christian, but to my mind this is the most true and honest way to let the mind of Christ effect my politics. “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” -Romans 12:18 And so my mind is at peace with this. With a personality that impulsively spills my thoughts out to everyone (as evidenced by this blog) it is this piece of my mind that I speak.

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