I'm just not sure where this leaves us.

Saturday, November 21, 2009
It was recently suggested to me, rather upsettingly, that I might have some "mixed feelings" about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter of recent note. This was meant to say that I might be sympathetic to the man and condone his actions. I'm still not sure why this accusation was flung at me, but I believe my accuser thinks that my liberal political tendencies cause me to be sympathetic to an (allegedly, by the way) hostile view towards my own country; that I had been "brainwashed" by my cultural circumstances, growing up in California and spending some time in the ultra-liberal Bay Area.

Before I move on, I would like to note that growing up in California, I lived in a Libertarian household and had little exposure to anything other than conservative media. I had no reason to question these ideals and I didn't. Later on living near San Fransisco, I had very naive nationalistic ideas as a young private marching to the sounds of the post-9/11 war drums. Paradoxically, it was in a church in the Great Republic of Texas that I first recognized the credibility of Liberal ideals, and it is only now, living in the NY 23rd congressional district, known for regularly running Conservative party candidates and not having elected a Democrat in twenty years before 2009, that I have begun enunciating any liberal thoughts I might have had. If anything, I have been "reverse-brainwashed." I'm doing it all wrong.

I should say that this accusation came almost immediately following the incident at Ft. Hood, where Major Hasan went on a shooting rampage that resulted in the murder of many innocent people. In a sea of voices supporting immediate execution, or disappointment that Hasan had not been killed himself in the spot he made his violent action, my "wait-and-see" silence must have been mistaken for tacit support. I was attacked.

I've been upset about this a while. I've tried to work through it. But what I've spent more time on is evaluating the accusation itself. That is, whether I supported Hasan's actions because "I believed that the country deserved it."

Let me be clear. Major Hasan's actions were deplorable and I do not agree with them. Period.

But that is not to say that I don't have mixed feelings about other circumstances surrounding the incident. Specifically, the chorus of calls for Hasan's execution or the sentiment that he should have been killed himself, or that he should not be treated for his wounds or made to suffer. These are all the things you could hear around me in the days following the incident.

What I had to ask myself is if I could approve of these vengeful things that were being suggested. Was it right to want retribution-in-kind for Major Hasan?

You can probably tell by the language I use here that the answer I have decided on was no, Hasan should not be murdered himself or caused to suffer in the same way his victims were.

Here's why. I assert that every single human life is equally valuable. If I can't assert that then I really do have a problem, because it is the foundation of human morality. There must be something to be valued somewhere, and it ought to be my own life. Furthermore, if I expect others to acknowledge that my life has value, I must acknowledge that their life has the same value. Each human life then hold the same value.

But Hasan killed thirteen people, right? How is that fair? If all of our lives are of equal worth, then Hasan not only should be killed, but should be killed up to thirteen times! That's just a thirteen-to-one comparison, right?

Here is the problem with that. I assert that every single human life is infinitely valuable. If human life is the highest moral value, as I mentioned in the last statement, then nothing can be more valuable. Or else it will be like President Reagan attempted to do and assign a dollar value to a human life (I believe the figure came out to around $2 million, now about $5 million adjusted for inflation). If the dollar benefit is worth more than this statistical life, then a policy action should be undertaken, even if people die.

This is not a moral code. This is a cost-benefit analysis. By comparing thirteen lives to one at $5 million apiece, you are not doing morality, you are doing math. A tougher math problem is to divide infinity by thirteen infinities. Impossible. Do you see how this gets tougher to condemn Hasan to death if you assign real  moral value of human life, and not just dollar values submitted to cost-benefit ratios?

The ethical answer to this has been sorted out before. It has been sorted out by the largest minds in Ethics. It has been proposed that the foundation for your moral value as a living human is that you have the duty to respect the moral value of other's lives (this is starting to sound familiar, what with all the duties and such). When you cease to fulfill that duty to value other human lives, you no longer have the claim to any moral value to your own life. Hasan gives up his right to live the moment he takes another life. This is the typical justification for the death penalty, and I think that it's very compelling.

But here's where the mixed feelings come in. I'm just not sure where that notion leaves us. Jesus said, "If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also." Gandhi said "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." Is this kind of justified killing to be acceptable? Do we want the whole world to be blind? Or dead? Maybe some mixed feelings here are okay.

Here's a bigger problem, but for my precious infant Soldier-Citizen-Sapien ethic. Particularly the Soldier. It is the Soldier's duty to defend others from harm, but the primary technique that the Soldier uses is violence itself. Killing violence. With bullets and bombs and some of the deadliest technology ever made.

My mixed feelings remain. I've got some things to sort out as I continue to write about this ethic. It is going to be a big challenge finding a way to fold these duties into a unified ethic. I'm not sure if the answer will be justifiable killing, or if it will be pacifism, or if it will be something else entirely in between, but when I find out what it is, I will have solved the puzzle of this apparent Soldier-Sapien paradox of the S.C.S. ethic.



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