Morning Thoughts on the Ethics of Interpersonal Violent Conflict

Thank you so much. I think this is a great response, which raises a lot of very deep questions.

However I am still not convinced that such a gun will help you survive a proper revolution.

There’s a possibility that it won’t, and a possibility that it will, and it’s really an impossible question to know the answer to without knowing the circumstances in advance. One thing is clear, though, at least to me. Having a gun won’t reduce your chances of survival in any scenario I can imagine.

Does being threatened gives you the right to kill hundreds of other people, just because they do not have the same opinion as you and are in the revolutionary side?

Allow me to steelman your argument a little. The chances of anyone needing to kill hundreds of other people to survive is probably very low, unless those people are military belligerents, in which case those people “signed up for it.” Further, the chances of successfully killing hundreds of military belligerents are also very low, so I think your counterfactual as stated is not likely enough to warrant concern. I could definitely see a scenario where someone stuck in a major anarchic event may need to kill a dozen people to keep their family safe, though, and since that scenario poses the same underlying ethical question you raise, let’s discuss that. Here’s your ethical question:

is your life really worth so much that you would be entitled to end [a dozen] other lives in order to survive?

This really depends on your chosen ethical framework, and different people are going to vary widely in their opinions on that question. Before I had kids, I might have said no. Now that I have two small children, and I absolutely value their lives far more than someone random off the street, my position on this has changed tremendously. At a policy level, we can’t meaningfully differentiate the value of lives, but at a personal level, we do so all the time.

One of the best treatments of the ethics of violence I’ve ever found, in my opinion, comes from the teachings of Aikido. Here’s a link that goes through it.

Aikido acts with respect, even with his aggressor, acting with a clear head filled not with rage, but with compassion. These illustrations of the different martial situations are from the book, Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook. Here, different levels of the ethical ladder will be shown and explained, with Level 1 being the most unethical and Level 4 as the ideal ethical action:

Level 1

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Above the man on left, without provocation and on his own initiative, attacks the other man and kills him. Ethically, this is the lowest of the four levels unprovoked aggression in the form of a direct attack.

Level 2

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Above the man on the left has not directly attacked the other man but he has provoked the other man to attack him. It may have been an obvious provocation, such as an insulting remark or the more subtle provocation of a contemptuous attitude. In either case, when the other man is invited to attack and does so he is killed. While the first man is not guilty of launching the actual attack, he is responsible for the other man to attack. There is only a shade of difference ethically between this example and the earlier one.

Level 3

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The man on the left neither attacks nor provokes the other man to attack. But, when attacked he defends himself in a subjective manner, i.e. he takes care of only “number one”, and the other man is killed or at least seriously injured. Ethically, this is a more defensible action than the other two examples. The man still standing was in no way responsible for the attack, neither directly nor indirectly. His manner of defense, however, while protecting him from possible harm, resulted in the destruction of another man. As you can see the result in the three examples is identical:a man is killed or seriously injured.

Level 4

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In this last example, we have the ultimate in ethical self-defense. Neither attacking nor provoking an attack, the man on the left defends himself in such a way, with such a skill and control that the attacker is not killed. In this case he is not even seriously injured.

I personally find this to be the best treatment of the ethics of interpersonal violent conflict, but they’re missing a Level 5 because of where they’ve drawn their scope. Level 5, to me, is avoiding the confrontation entirely.

There’s another thing I would clarify about Level 1. There is no virtue in being killed. Choosing not to defend yourself not only sticks the whole confrontation in the Level 1 bucket, it also ensures that the most unethical actor in the conflict is the survivor.

Now, guns change the dynamic significantly. There is no path to Level 4 with a gun. If you are an ethical actor and a conflict erupts, you’re capped at Level 3. There may, however, be a path to Level 5 if your assailant knows you’re armed. “Back off, I have a gun.” The value in being armed is twofold:

  1. You don’t have to be an Aikido master.

In a historical sense, guns were invented specifically so peasants could kill trained warriors on the field of war. This played out historically on the island of Japan with the fall of the Shogunate model of government, as guns arrived from Europe and made the samurai obsolete. And we can’t uninvent the gun.

Now, to the question of your life versus a dozen other lives, I think it can simply be broken down into a question of your life versus someone else’s life, twelve times over, and we apply the above model. If being armed doesn’t scare them all off (Level 5) then maybe they’ll flee after you shoot one of them. (Level 3 for the first, Level 5 for the rest) Or two of them. Etc.

Taking this into consideration should change the cost/benefit ratio in my view, seeing all the statistical correlation between gun ownership and the endemic gun deaths right now in the US

I’ve written extensively on this already, and there is a lot of misinformation that many people have adopted to their thinking on the topic, because of some very unethical media practices. In short, the following are true things:

  1. There is no clear relationship between gun proliferation and gun homicide, domestically or internationally.

The series begins here, the first article focusing on points 1 and 2 above, and continues with links at the end of it:

Before you respond to refute any of 1–6 above, please read the series.

Conscientious objector to the culture war. I think a lot. mirror: writer at: beggar at:

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