Friday, May 06, 2011

A Celebration of Violence

One of the moral questions raised in the wake of the killing of Bin Laden is whether it is wrong to celebrate the killing of another person.

After the announcement that U.S. Forces killed Bin Laden, there was dancing in the street - dancing that made some people uncomfortable because it seemed an inappropriate response to killing.

For my part, I will begin by saying that I think I am a great deal safer in a community that does not celebrate killing. People who cheer killing and other forms of violence worry me. I do not know how far their love if violence will take them, or if there is enough aversion to violence to prevent them from acting out in a moment of frustration or anger.

The fact of the matter us, I am far more likely to lose a friend or family member to standard forms if violence - or to see them suffer great harm – then for them to become a victim of terrorism. More friends, relatives, neighbors, and innocent strangers will become victims of violence from the people around them then from foreign agents.

The immediate knee-jerk response to a comment like this tends to be, "Hey, just because I celebrate Bin Laden's death, this doesn't mean that I beat my children or that I will slash the tires of the neighbor who angers me."

No, it doesn't. I never said it did. This is a straw-man argument, though a type of counter-claim I hear most often.

What I said is that a person living in a community that celebrates violence is probably more likely to become the victim of violence than a person living in a community uncomfortable – or that actively condemns – the celebration of violence. That type of claim cannot be countered by asserting, “Well, I would never do such a thing.”

Furthermore, these celebrations of violence – broadcast on national television and made available to children - teach lessons to young minds. Not all young minds are going to learn the same lessons. Here, too, even if a small percentage of young minds are caused to have an affection for violence, or even have their aversion to violence weakened, as a result of seeing violence as something to be celebrated, others are put at greater risk as a result.

We should remember that Bin Laden himself, and most of those who did his bidding, were raised in a culture that embraces and celebrates violence. The cheering of violence is very common in that culture.

Some people might read this and jump to the conclusion that I object to the killing of Bin Laden. That would be false. If my advice had been asked, my advice would likely have been to kill him unless he obviously surrendered. My advice would have been to send in troops because air strikes tell the world that Americans have no aversion to slaughtering and maiming young children – a message we communicate to the world far too often. All things considered, I have no objections to the operation. However, I did not celebrate the killing of Bin Laden. It viewed it as a necessary evil.

There are a lot of empirical assumptions in this post about which I might be mistaken. Perhaps these celebrations promoted a stronger aversion to terrorism and, as a result, made the world safer. Perhaps those who are averse to the celebrations would be so reluctant to stand up to terrorists and tyrants that these evils would flourish in such a community. People would no doubt raise these objections – and they may be right. My answer will not be to dispute them, but I would assert any who expressed utter confidence that these are true to provide their basis for that confidence.

I am not strongly convinced that my conclusions here are correct.

This illustrates the fact that I think there is a science of morality and that there is research to be done to determine the moral facts. I am offering, at best, a hypothesis that we are safer among those who do not celebrate than we are in a community of those who do, and we have reason to bring social forces to bear to create more of the former and fewer of the latter.

1 comment:

Rex said...

I have seen celebrations in the Muslim Middle east (usually in the theocracies) where the deaths of our civilians are cheered (death to America, and the like) and our flags are burned and usually our Presidents are burned in effigy.

If we were having celebrations here that echo those activities, I would be very concerned.

I may be living in a sheltered bubble, but I took our demonstrations to be pro USA and a celebration of our commitment to be relentless until justice over attacks on our civilians was served.

Again, I saw no "death to" anyone demonstrations here. I only saw pro USA demonstrations, so I have no problem with them.