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  • The cover-your-ass scenario.

    In the Philosophy Crash Course there was a scenario like this. I'll paraphrase:

    You're a traveler exploring a semi-devloped nation in South America. Coming out of the wilderness you come across a squad of soldiers. They are forcing twenty villagers to dig a mass grave. The officer to the soldiers tells you these villagers committed the state crime of supporting a rival to their leader, and are to be executed. But as you are a guest in their country, he will make you an offer: if you shoot one of them, yourself, he will set all the rest free, and then can hike to the border and beg for asylum. (A rough trek, but the neighboring country may take them).

    Do you shoot one of the villagers?

    Actually killing someone is rather hard on the psyche, and most of us cannot bear the thought (and might suffer from trauma as a result). But then, perhaps this is a small price to pay for nineteen human lives.

    Thomas Aquinas and Kant were happy to let the soldiers kill the villagers so as to avoid committing the sin of murder, themselves. Aquinas and Kant even would not lie to the murderer at the door, or Nazi Jew-hunters to save the lives of fugitives hidden in their home, since lying was sin enough, and they would count on God to know His own. Both had contemporaries who disagreed, and felt it was proper to suffer the trauma and do what was necessary (assuming the officer of the soldiers seemed inclined to keep to his word and actually spare the remaining villagers.)

    So, the cover your own ass response has a long history of backers, including known philosophers.

    • You just described an alternative version of the well known trolley problem, which the post is referencing.

      The answers to the problem from the philosophers is interesting.

      • The Trolley problem is a schoolbook example of the failure of creed-based philosophy (deontological ethics), but is also used (the various scenarios) to illustrate that circumstances that don't affect the basic scenario or outcome do affect our feelings and our response to the scenario.

        It's easier to pull a lever from a remote position than to actually assault someone or kill them by your own hand, for example.

        There are other scenarios that don't necessarily involve trolleys, but involve the question of doing a wrongful act in order to produce a better outcome. Ozymandias in The Watchman killing millions of New Yorkers to prevent a nuclear exchange, thereby saving billions of people. (Alan Moore left it open ended whether that was the right thing to do in the situation, but it did have the intended outcome.)

        We like the trolley problem because you can draw it easily on the blackboard, but other situations are much better at illustrating how subtle nuance can drastically change the emotions behind it.

        Try this one:

        The Queen of the land dies. On the day of her sister’s coronation, she declares that Anglicanism is now the faith and Catholics are now unlawful — a reversal of the old order — Catholics are to report to a town or city hall to convert or be executed. You are Catholic. Do you obey the law or flee? And if you obey the law, do you convert or perish at the hand of the state? Do you lie about your faith to state agents or to the national census?

        To a naturalist like myself, I'm glad to lie or convert to spare my own life, but to the devout, pretending to be another faith, or converting by force was a terrible sin, so it's a very sober (and historically relevant) look at religious principle.

    • How are you sure the soldiers will follow though with their end of the bargain? Once they give you the gun, can you try and shoot the soldiers? Could you bribe the soldiers to release all the prisoners?

      Thought experiments like this have two options, but real life is never only two options. Getting into that mindset can lead people to accept things for the greater good without exploring all the options.

    • @uriel238 @mondoman712
      In the days before Wannsee Conference (Nazis setting up death camps) but after the invasion of Poland where most executions occurred by firing squad, there were German tourists who would travel to partake in the firing squads. So the trauma is not universal across the human experience and there's some circumstances that would cause individuals to kill. Lynchings and massacres in the US, are examples of this occurring without a war to give cover to killings.

      • We've seen a similar phenomenon in some of the red states in the ideology conflict here in the US. There are people eager to kill someone just to have the experience, and who volunteer to hunt targeted groups (trans folk, lately) or as participants in an execution by firing squad. I remember in the John Oliver's first segment on the death penalty (he did a second one recently) executions were stalled due to difficulties obtaining the drugs used in lethal injections, and firing squads were brought up. The expert pointed out the difficulty finding one executioner, let alone seven. The officials suggested recruiting volunteers from the gun-enthusiast citizenry, which the expert saw as naïve.

        I can't speak to firing-squad executions during the German Reich and the early stages of the holocaust, but I can speak to the Einsatzgruppen who were tasked with evacuating villages (to mass graves) who harbored Jews, harbored enemies of Germany or otherwise were deemed unworthy of life. The mass executions were hard on the troopers, and as a result Heydrich contended with high turnover rates.

        This figured largely into the movement towards the industrialized genocide machine that pivoted around the Auschwitz proof of concept. Earlier phases included wagons with an enclosed back in which the engine exhaust was piped. The process was found to be too slow, and exposed to many service people to the execution process. The death camps were staffed to assure no-one had to interact with the prisoners and process the bodies, so no-one would have to confront the visceral reality of before and after. They were staffed so that anyone who engaged a mechanism was two steps away from the person authorizing (and taking responsibility for) the execution. The guy who flipped the switch was just following orders.

        Interestingly, we'd see a repeat of this during the International War on Terror, specifically the Disposition Matrix which lead to executions of persons of interest on the field by drone strike (Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone). During the CIA Drone Strike Programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the drone operation crews suffered from high turnover rate, with operators suffering from combat PTSD from having pulled the trigger on the missile launches. It didn't help they were also required to scan the damage to assess the carnage, and identify the casualties.

        Interestingly, this also presented an inverted demonstration of how the human mind can tell the difference between violent video games and the real thing. Plenty of normies play Call of Duty without dealing with the mental after-effects of war, but even when we conduct war operations from continents away, our brains recognize that we are killing actual human beings, and suffers trauma from the act. War continues to be Hell, and video games not so much.