David SimsEssays

Is There Such a Thing as a “Good Murder”?

And other musings about living on lifeboat Earth

by David Sims

SUPPOSE THAT in order to save a million people, one person must die. That one person isn’t willing to sacrifice his own life, nor will he allow himself to be killed by someone else, if he can prevent it.

Furthermore, the one person has done nothing bad; he’s perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing that might have made him deserve to die. But among the million people who will die if that one person does not die, there are hundreds of thousands who are just as innocent as the one person is.

Suddenly, the power to choose falls into your lap. You can either kill the one person, committing a murder, but saving a million other people. Or you can do nothing and watch a million people die.

Is the murder “good”? Or is it merely “relatively good,” i.e. better than the alternative, or the lesser of two evils? Are there really any moral absolutes? Or is morality a matter of doing as well as we rationally can?

Are there occasions in which saving one is better than saving a million? Might the quality of the one sometimes be so great that its moral significance overwhelms the quantity of the many?

Suppose you are in an overcrowded lifeboat, which will sink unless someone is tossed overboard, so that the boat will thereby ride higher in the water and not take on additional weight every time a wave crest slops water into the bottom of the boat. If no one is sacrificed to the sharks, then everyone will be eaten by sharks. But which people get the toss is important, since there might be someone whom you must not eliminate from the lifeboat. One of them might be the navigator, the one fellow who knows how to steer by the sun and stars and who also knows in which direction the nearest land can be found. If you eliminate him, then again everybody dies.

It has been asked “What if you use — instead of an overcrowded boat analogy — an overcrowded planet actuality? There comes a time when quantity is itself a danger to survival. The 20th century was a victory of quantity over quality. Would that change the way in which you would rank the goodness of the alternatives?”

In general, when quantity must go, preserve quality. If you can’t save everyone, then save the most capable — the ones who will return more to the group than they consume.

There are times when quantity must go. The preservation of quantity is not always moral. I recommend the preservation of quality. Quality is hard to regenerate once it is gone. Quantity is much easier to restore, if doing so seems advantageous.

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  1. 18 December, 2016 at 9:40 pm — Reply

    But which people get the toss is important, since there might be someone whom you must not eliminate from the lifeboat.

    Toss the Negro. Its service as ballast is no longer required.

  2. Anthony Collins
    23 December, 2016 at 12:34 am — Reply

    Perhaps David Sims should take some of Garrett Hardin’s ideas into Cosmotheist territory. From memory, I believe Sims has referred to Hardin’s famous article, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” but not to Hardin’s other writings.

    Judging by the review reproduced below, Hardin’s Promethean Ethics should be quite interesting.

    Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1980. Pp. 82. $7.95.

    Too seldom are the starker aspects of the human adventure faced by an author who is competent and informed, yet neither a cynic nor a sentimentalist. The efforts of Prince Kropotkin to show that mutual aid, or what the Friends call “concern,” was not confined to the human species found rough going due to his lack of a zoologist’s union card, while today’s duly qualified spokesman for biosociology draws fire for reminding us of our immensely long biological background — fire, one suspects, often coming from those who have not read him with care.

    Garrett Hardin challenges philosophical communism with his now celebrated paper on “The Tragedy of the Commons” in which he demonstrates that ownership equally and widely shared is almost inevitably penalized for all by any who crowd their privilege. He further has appealed to common sense by pointing out that where lifeboats are loaded to exceed their capacity, there are likely to be no survivors.

    His Jessie and John Danz lectures, given at the University of Washington and published in this slender volume, deal with three topics seldom far from thoughtful minds and usually in somber, often tragic context. Here they are viewed in a more commanding perspective, tersely signaled by Hardin’s reiterated “and then what?” Actually this is an emphatic variant, from a biologist, of the message of a distinguished engineer. For Arthur Morgan, one time head of the Tennessee Valley Authority and president of Antioch College, urged and exemplified the importance of “conclusive engineering analysis”; by this he meant that the engineer’s responsibility does not end with design, but must include the analysis of consequences so far as possible.

    Prometheus, of course, was the symbol of forethought and hence anathema to the stand-pat Olympians. So far as death is concerned, human attitudes range from sheer terror of the inevitable to the gentle melancholy intoned by Thomas Gray:

    For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
    This pleasing, anxious being e’er resigned,
    Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
    Not cast one longing, lingering look behind?

    Hardin, for his part, considers what would happen if death were abolished and reminds us of Reverend Joseph Fletcher’s admission that skeptics about immortality appear to face death more calmly.

    Competition, the second ethical problem considered, is as inevitable for humanity as death, and no less in need of dispassionate viewing. Population increase and the resulting biological competition get the attention deserved. “People,” we are reminded, “who hate competition, or who are terrified by a Promethean inquiry into the consequences of competition, can play no role in the diminution of tragedy.” To which we might add, in this day when labor-saving devices are being huckstered on every hand, the biological truism that effort is the price of survival for any organism.

    The third problem raised is that of triage, a term especially used with reference to the treatment of battle casualties. Actually, it refers not to the three-fold categories of curable, hopeful, and hopeless, but to the business of judging, sorting, and assigning priorities. “The central problem, both philosophically and practically, is to find acceptable ways of weighing opposite goods . . .” — a closing sentence whose completion I leave, along with a great deal more of excellent reading, to those whom it may concern.

    Emeritus, Yale University

    If one applies “conclusive engineering analysis” — “the analysis of consequences so far as possible” — to the social engineering promoted by the Jews in their crack-brained efforts to “mend the world” (tikkun olam), one quickly and irrevocably reaches the conclusions that such social engineering is toxic to White civilization, that it is toxic precisely because it was designed to be toxic, and that radical measures against the Jews are in order. However, if we are to take these radical measures, we need to have a strong sense of identity, to appreciate what is at stake and the danger we are in, and to think and act with a long-term view. We need a new order of values that transcends the narrow, trivial, and ephemeral concerns of our contemporaries, and that privileges the long-term survival and advancement of our race. This demands triage in the sense of “judging, sorting, and assigning priorities.”

    I like Sims’ logical, incisive, and lucid manner of discussing things.

    The Jewish phrase “tikkun olam” reminds me of the title of a book written by the Jewish psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, Destroying the World to Save It. Judaism might be regarded as a form of malignant messianism. (Incidentally, Lifton’s Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism might lend itself to an analysis of Jewish social engineering.)

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