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To take a life

Absurdity

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This thought process stems from a conversation I had last night with a housemate.

How hard must it really be to take a life?

We came to the conclusion that it must not be as difficult as it is portrayed in movies and books and what not, but obviously neither of us have physically killed anyone, so this is mere speculation of the most obnoxious kind. However a look at human history reveals that it is a relatively common occurrence for a human to kill another human.

I've only ever spoken with one person who has actually killed another about what it is like. This person was conscripted into the Russian army at a young age and fought in the Caucasus. He opened up because he had been drinking, and admitted it was relatively easy to take a life. What seemed to weigh more heavily on his mind was watching his brother step on a land-mine. I am not sure whether or not he survived.

Yet this only takes physically violent killing into consideration. I have a friend whose father is a doctor, and she admitted that her father has killed people by prescribing the wrong treatment to a patient. This patient was going to die soon anyway, but the incorrect treatment he received from the doctor was the actual cause of death.

How far does this responsibility extend?

I myself, at some point in the future, may even be guilty of killing someone. I introduced one of my closest friends to cigarettes, and while I smoke on and off, rarely more than two a day and occasionally going months without one, my friend is a heavy, regular smoker.

I won't go into the violence that occurs in the process of creating the goods we in the West love to hoard, such as the conflict in the DRC that centers around extracting minerals to be used in our electronics. While it is undeniable that there is blood on our hands, that we are complicit in this violence when we purchase cell phones or PS3s or what have you, I want to focus on instances of life taking that are fewer degrees of separation away for the purpose of this thread.
 

DreamMancer

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A fascinating, but heavy topic.

I think it's largely contextual: the situation of the killing (is this during war? etc), the state of mind of the killer, and the killer's perception of the victim all condition how difficult it is to take a life.

It's probably not difficult at all for the people operating the predator drones that routinely kill people (many of whom are civilians) in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere. The drone operators are thousands of miles away, only see their "targets" as little blips on a screen, and are far removed from the effects of their actions. It's quite telling that the military slang for a successful drone strike is a "bugsplat". Clearly, the lives of the victims here are not perceived as having any value, or even as being human; the drone operators may as well be swatting insects, for all of the difficulty it takes them to kill.

On the other hand, if the same drone operators had to see the life stories of every person they killed, and instead of being able to kill them via remote control, they had to engage in face to face gladiatorial combat using knives, it might take more of a psychological toll on them.
 

Absurdity

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It's probably not difficult at all for the people operating the predator drones that routinely kill people (many of whom are civilians) in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere. The drone operators are thousands of miles away, only see their "targets" as little blips on a screen, and are far removed from the effects of their actions. It's quite telling that the military slang for a successful drone strike is a "bugsplat". Clearly, the lives of the victims here are not perceived as having any value, or even as being human; the drone operators may as well be swatting insects, for all of the difficulty it takes them to kill.

On the other hand, if the same drone operators had to see the life stories of every person they killed, and instead of being able to kill them via remote control, they had to engage in face to face gladiatorial combat using knives, it might take more of a psychological toll on them.
There are a small number of drone operators who develop PTSD from their job. Unlike traditional pilots, who drop a bomb and fly away, drone pilots are often required to "assess the damage," which often includes civilian casualties, and from what I have read the video feed is much more detailed than simply showing "blips." They will also often survey the same area for days, observing people's every day routines, and then receive a kill order - in a sense seeing "the life stories of every person they killed."

I read elsewhere that living a life where you're blowing up a Pakistani child in the morning and then taking the kids to soccer practice in the afternoon can be seriously damaging to some pilots.

These of course apply to some, not all.
 

snafupants

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I can imagine that experience being unforgettable and exhilarating. :phear:
 

TriflinThomas

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Depends how I would be killing the person. I could never kill anyone with a blunt instrument, maybe a knife if I was really mad, but probably a gun would be easier.
 

DreamMancer

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There are a small number of drone operators who develop PTSD from their job. Unlike traditional pilots, who drop a bomb and fly away, drone pilots are often required to "assess the damage," which often includes civilian casualties, and from what I have read the video feed is much more detailed than simply showing "blips." They will also often survey the same area for days, observing people's every day routines, and then receive a kill order - in a sense seeing "the life stories of every person they killed."

I read elsewhere that living a life where you're blowing up a Pakistani child in the morning and then taking the kids to soccer practice in the afternoon can be seriously damaging to some pilots.

These of course apply to some, not all.
Interesting, I hadn't heard of this before, although that makes perfect sense. It seems to me the ultimate issue is whether you see your enemy as a human being, with hopes and dreams and desires and ideas much like you, or if you see them as an abstraction - a Target or a Terrorist or an Infidel or Untermenschen. If it's the former, you will most likely have at least some negative psychological effects; if it's the latter, you will be less likely to experience them, and may even experience positive psychological states; Norweigan mass murderer Anders Brevik comes to mind as a recent example of the latter. From reading coverage of the trial, it's obvious that he took a great deal of delight and pride in his killing. I attribute this to the way he saw his victims; as 'The Enemy' or enablers of The Enemy.
 

Absurdity

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Interesting, I hadn't heard of this before, although that makes perfect sense. It seems to me the ultimate issue is whether you see your enemy as a human being, with hopes and dreams and desires and ideas much like you, or if you see them as an abstraction - a Target or a Terrorist or an Infidel or Untermenschen. If it's the former, you will most likely have at least some negative psychological effects; if it's the latter, you will be less likely to experience them, and may even experience positive psychological states; Norweigan mass murderer Anders Brevik comes to mind as a recent example of the latter. From reading coverage of the trial, it's obvious that he took a great deal of delight and pride in his killing. I attribute this to the way he saw his victims; as 'The Enemy' or enablers of The Enemy.
This ties back to the Russian fellow I met. When he was fighting the enemy (in his case, "crazy fucking Muslims") they were indeed subhuman, and he made no attempt to understand them. But watching harm come to his brother devastated him. Incidentally, it also strengthened his hatred of the enemy.

This also makes sense in a medical setting. Many doctors become trained to see sick people as broken machines, more or less.

I guess the question that looms large, then, would be to determine how to view our fellow man. There are many occasions when it is instructive for me to view other humans as mammals, and demystify them. People are a lot easier to understand when you keep this in mind. But does this devalue them? Or perhaps we devalue all other living creatures, and arbitrarily elevate the status of man. And for what? Because he figured fire out, and the rest is history? A staggering amount of the technological progress mankind has achieved has led to the more efficient extinguishment of life: human and non-human, purposefully and incidentally.
 

DreamMancer

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I guess the question that looms large, then, would be to determine how to view our fellow man. There are many occasions when it is instructive for me to view other humans as mammals, and demystify them. People are a lot easier to understand when you keep this in mind. But does this devalue them? Or perhaps we devalue all other living creatures, and arbitrarily elevate the status of man. And for what? Because he figured fire out, and the rest is history? A staggering amount of the technological progress mankind has achieved has led to the more efficient extinguishment of life: human and non-human, purposefully and incidentally.
I think it's context dependent; sometimes it is more useful or ethical to view humans in particular fashion; at other times, one may be forced into adopting a certain perspective to keep one's sanity. The doctor example you mentioned is a good example of this; if physicians don't maintain some degree of detachment from their patients, they become too emotionally involved to make objective decisions or simply become devastated every time a patient dies. On the other hand, if the doctor is too detached, they will come off as cold and unfeeling. It's a fine balancing act.

I also find it useful to see humans as mammals. But I don't find this to be a devaluing exercise at all, since I also value other mammals and the other non-mammalian species with whom we share this planet. :cat:

I agree entirely with you about how technology often simply enables our most violent tendencies; however I think it is also possible for us as individuals and even as groups to cultivate other qualities, like wisdom, creativity, compassion, etc.
 

RubberDucky451

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Before someone reaches the point of taking another life, it seems necessary to abstract or generalize the victims existence. Like DreamMancer mentioned, technology like unmanned drones allows the murderer to kill from a distance, an emotional distance in which the subject is abstract.

I'm not sure how I feel about defining humans as mammals. I'd like to believe our ability to rationalize enables us to be more empathetic.
 

Absurdity

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Before someone reaches the point of taking another life, it seems necessary to abstract or generalize the victims existence. Like DreamMancer mentioned, technology like unmanned drones allows the murderer to kill from a distance, an emotional distance in which the subject is abstract.
Unless it was a crime of passion, where the victim's existence is too visceral and emotionally upsetting, and they therefore had to be eliminated. As TriflinThomas said, perhaps if he were angry enough, he could kill someone with a knife.

Maybe (since we are all nerdy INTPs here) the scenarios where one takes a life could be plotted along two axes, emotional and physical distance. US President Truman, who dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, would be in the upper right of this graph, and crimes of passion would be of more proximate emotional and physical distance (since it is doubtful someone would want to kill an unfaithful lover with a sniper rifle), and thus, closer to the origin. Drone operators would be closer to Truman.

I'm not sure how I feel about defining humans as mammals. I'd like to believe our ability to rationalize enables us to be more empathetic.
How are humans anything other than mammals? And what does the ability to "rationalize" (not sure what definition you are using) have to do with empathy?
 

Da Blob

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Yes, an interesting topic for all of the paradox.

I have killed animals cold-heartedly and I could kill a human with the same dispassion. It is easy to see how disposing of Them could even viewed as a righteous thing to do. However, here in America most murders are not those of strangers, but of people known to their murderers, often in an intimate relationship (?)

This is weird. Former husbands and wives, boy friends and girl friends, family members and co-workers etc. are all victims of murders. Not to mention the utter selfishness of suicide. Even abortion is in the mix, in the eyes of some...

I am now of the opinion that the taking of human life really does not solve very many problems, unless the life taken is a human trying to take one's own life...
 

DreamMancer

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Unless it was a crime of passion, where the victim's existence is too visceral and emotionally upsetting, and they therefore had to be eliminated. As TriflinThomas said, perhaps if he were angry enough, he could kill someone with a knife.

Maybe (since we are all nerdy INTPs here) the scenarios where one takes a life could be plotted along two axes, emotional and physical distance. US President Truman, who dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, would be in the upper right of this graph, and crimes of passion would be of more proximate emotional and physical distance (since it is doubtful someone would want to kill an unfaithful lover with a sniper rifle), and thus, closer to the origin. Drone operators would be closer to Truman.
Interesting - does anyone know the rate at which murderers who commit "crimes of passion" suffer from PTSD, express remorse, etc?
 

DreamMancer

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Yes, an interesting topic for all of the paradox.

I have killed animals cold-heartedly and I could kill a human with the same dispassion. It is easy to see how disposing of Them could even viewed as a righteous thing to do. However, here in America most murders are not those of strangers, but of people known to their murderers, often in an intimate relationship (?)
I remember reading somewhere that a significant portion of murderers in US had sexual relationships with their victims at one time or another. It sounds strange, but when one considers the kinds of passions that can be aroused in those situations (jealousy, anger, feelings of betrayal, etc), perhaps it is not very surprising after all.

I am now of the opinion that the taking of human life really does not solve very many problems, unless the life taken is a human trying to take one's own life...
I very much agree with this.
 

Absurdity

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It is easy to see how disposing of Them could even viewed as a righteous thing to do.
Pentti Linkola is a radical Finnish ecologist who supports massive human depopulation. Linkola believes that life, including human life, is sacred, but only to an extent. After a certain point, each additional human life diminishes the value of the others. He believes that we as a planet are well beyond that point and must take drastic measures to correct this.

What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and [there is] only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides of the boat.
 

nil

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It would not be at all hard for one who does not value either life or the continuation of human existence.
 

Absurdity

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It would not be at all hard for one who does not value either life or the continuation of human existence.
I think it is much easier to espouse this position than to actually believe and live it.
 

nil

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nil

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Do enlighten me.
All I mean is that there perhaps there exist people who do not consider killing another for any reason very difficult at all. Society would most likely label these people "sociopaths" and other, more derogatory terms. Whether or not they should be considered to have an actual mental defect is up to you, I suppose.

This thought process stems from a conversation I had last night with a housemate.

How hard must it really be to take a life?

We came to the conclusion that it must not be as difficult as it is portrayed in movies and books and what not, but obviously neither of us have physically killed anyone, so this is mere speculation of the most obnoxious kind. However a look at human history reveals that it is a relatively common occurrence for a human to kill another human.

I've only ever spoken with one person who has actually killed another about what it is like. This person was conscripted into the Russian army at a young age and fought in the Caucasus. He opened up because he had been drinking, and admitted it was relatively easy to take a life. What seemed to weigh more heavily on his mind was watching his brother step on a land-mine. I am not sure whether or not he survived.

Yet this only takes physically violent killing into consideration. I have a friend whose father is a doctor, and she admitted that her father has killed people by prescribing the wrong treatment to a patient. This patient was going to die soon anyway, but the incorrect treatment he received from the doctor was the actual cause of death.

How far does this responsibility extend?

I myself, at some point in the future, may even be guilty of killing someone. I introduced one of my closest friends to cigarettes, and while I smoke on and off, rarely more than two a day and occasionally going months without one, my friend is a heavy, regular smoker.

I won't go into the violence that occurs in the process of creating the goods we in the West love to hoard, such as the conflict in the DRC that centers around extracting minerals to be used in our electronics. While it is undeniable that there is blood on our hands, that we are complicit in this violence when we purchase cell phones or PS3s or what have you, I want to focus on instances of life taking that are fewer degrees of separation away for the purpose of this thread.
I must say that if the situation demanded it (mostly in the event of my life or someone else's) I think I would be very easily able to kill someone. Actually, I'd wager to say that if I didn't kill the individual it wouldn't be because I am mentally and emotionally incapable of it but because I had lost all sense of self-preservation.

So, obviously, that covers direct, zeroth order killing, but what of the first degree of separation, such as you introducing cigarettes to your friend? This is a... tough question, especially since the less direct these situations become, the more likely it is that you will not even notice that a situation exists. As for your friend... the fact that you introduced him to cigarettes does not explicitly mean that you caused his death in that act if you dies of, say, lung cancer. Maybe you encouraged him or even forced him to try them, but you didn't force him to smoke the years before he developed a tumor. But then, that depends on far down the causal chain you want to go. These kinds of situations should be handled on a case-per-case basis, but I think the simplest answer in general terms would be: it is impossible to know. That would require not only intimate details of how your actions affected the causal chain but also knowledge of how things would turn out in a different causal chain, as far as I can tell.

Hah, but if stuff like that really counted as murder, it would certainly make our justice system more fun, wouldn't it? :smiley_emoticons_mr

No, it seems that intention is far more important for a case to be considered murder.

As for responsibility... even the simple fact that humans question the moral worth of some decision so often astounds me. There is no moral worth except what moral worth you make. There is no responsibility except what you feel there is. If your friend someday dies of lung cancer and you feel you were responsible for that, then be responsible. If not, than don't be.

I aim to someday be free fro the very notions of "moral worth" and "responsibility for one's actions." Useless concepts enforced on the masses to keep the order of society and civilization maintained. Useless concepts encouraged by biology to ensure the propagation of the species. No rationalization either. Not necessary. Rationalization is a tool used when the mind cannot handle the reality of the situation. If you are truly free, then there is no reason that you should have to validate your actions to yourself or to anyone else.
 

Niclmaki

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To kill out of passion / feelings probably wouldn't be that hard if you were notthinking.

If you are thinking, you would likely find a way to rationalize it.

And not to play devils advocate here, but I think people will throw away what they say is RIGHT and WRONG when they are subjected to these choices personally. You know what I mean?
 

redbaron

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I think there's probably a lot of people who would kill if given the chance. It seems as though it's more difficult to actually find an opportunity to not only kill someone without personal risk, but also avoid being caught. I wonder how many people would kill a cheating spouse/backstabbing friend if they knew there weren't any potential ramifications.

There's not much reason TO kill someone you have no connection to, which is probably largely why it doesn't happen often (complete strangers killing other complete strangers).

To summise: I think that most people with a reason to kill don't do it because there are alternatives or because they don't want to risk their own well-being/freedoms (prison).

Then there's a group who don't have a reason to kill.

If there were more people with a reason to kill, who were able to do it with minimal/no risk to their own personal standing, I'd say it'd be pretty easy for them.
 

skip

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There are a small number of drone operators who develop PTSD from their job. Unlike traditional pilots, who drop a bomb and fly away, drone pilots are often required to "assess the damage," which often includes civilian casualties, and from what I have read the video feed is much more detailed than simply showing "blips." They will also often survey the same area for days, observing people's every day routines, and then receive a kill order - in a sense seeing "the life stories of every person they killed."
Where did you hear this?
 
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I think another interesting, tangential question is this:

Lets say you're attacked or someone tries to steal your wallet/purse, all quickly before you have time to think the situation over. Adrenaline is pumping through your veins, making everything seem like it is going much slower than it actually is but making your thoughts slower as well, and maybe your vision goes red from anger. You lash out quickly, throwing a lazy right hook that catches your attacker square on the temple. They fall over, a trickle of blood streaming from their nose. They aren't breathing.

In 20 minutes, the paramedics won't be able to revive him.

How do you feel now? If you're charged with murder? If you aren't charged with murder due to self defense?

What if you were drunk, someone insulted you, and not thinking it over you punch the guy, thinking nothing of it? They fall over dead.

I have a feeling a lot more people have been in fights, but didn't think that all it took was one oddly placed punch to kill someone. There have been multiple cases where this happened, landing the living participant in jail for life.
 

redbaron

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I think another interesting, tangential question is this:

Lets say you're attacked or someone tries to steal your wallet/purse, all quickly before you have time to think the situation over. Adrenaline is pumping through your veins, making everything seem like it is going much slower than it actually is but making your thoughts slower as well, and maybe your vision goes red from anger. You lash out quickly, throwing a lazy right hook that catches your attacker square on the temple. They fall over, a trickle of blood streaming from their nose. They aren't breathing.

In 20 minutes, the paramedics won't be able to revive him.

How do you feel now? If you're charged with murder? If you aren't charged with murder due to self defense?

What if you were drunk, someone insulted you, and not thinking it over you punch the guy, thinking nothing of it? They fall over dead.

I have a feeling a lot more people have been in fights, but didn't think that all it took was one oddly placed punch to kill someone. There have been multiple cases where this happened, landing the living participant in jail for life.
This does happen, but it's very rare. The people who end up killing are the idiots who king hit someone who is entirely unaware. Or when someone who is a trained/experienced fighter fights someone who clearly isn't.

When two people actually square up to fight it's actually less dangerous from my experience. They're both ready for the fight, and it's unlikely either one is going to be killed. Gang violence is not really the same, although in Australia it's unlikely you'll be killed. Hospitalized yes, killed, not likely.

Maybe my memory is letting me down here, but I feel like it's very rare for someone to be killed from at least a semi-expected blow.

Anyway just to satisfy your curiosity, I'd feel bad about the potential of going to jail for self-defense. The second scenario I'd probably feel genuinely bad about ending someone else's life for no good reason.
 

Sorlaize

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"The Man He Killed" by Thomas hardy




Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.


--

Well, the absurd thing IMO is that we put such great a meaning on "killing people"

When in fact all of society is entrenched in various civilian-level conflicts which could be argued to be a slow killing or defilement-- of self-esteem; quality of life; wealth; etc
 

snafupants

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With a pinch of effort I can imagine squeezing the life out of someone's neck or bludgeoning an assailant; something personal. Whenever I've been embroiled in physical altercations, this surreal wave of unreality suffuses everything. The feeling's exhilarating but simultaneously troubling in its funhouse intensity and idiot unpredictability. Perhaps it could be likened to masturbating in church. An enhancement of concentration takes place, time dissolves, and I'm unquestioningly alive. I can certainly appreciate why some young men go to war. There's a sexual vitality to violence.
 
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