There comes to us from Iraq the news that a terrorist group
calling itself Sword of Truth has kidnapped four people from a group
called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and has threatened to kill
them unless some demands for the release of certain terrorists from
Iraqi jails are met. What makes this interesting is that CPT exists
to oppose the U.S. occupation; that is, they are in effect (if not by
intention) allies of the terrorists threatening them.
When I first learned this, my first gut reaction was to think “Ha!
Off with their heads!” My second reaction was to feel ashamed of my first
reaction. How have things come to such a pass that I find myself
rooting for terrorists to kill Westerners?
I had to think about that for a while. I’m with the hawk side on
the Iraq war, but reluctantly; I am all too aware of the long-term
risks of violence as a method, even when we adopt it under stress of
necessity and for defensive reasons. One of the risks is that we may
come to love violence and embrace it too readily. Was this happening
Time for some what-if scenarios and ethical analysis.
There are two features of this mess that make it different
from a “normal” hostage situation. One of these is that I consider
the members of CPT my enemies, because I consider them enemies of my
civilization and my country.
Note that I did not say ‘enemies of my government’. That they
undoubtedly are, but I’m not real fond of my government. I do not in
general feel any desire for its enemies to die, unless they pose a threat
to my civilization and my country. My country is not its government; my
country is my neighbors, and their neighbors, and everybody who identifies
with the American vision of freedom.
“But…” some of you will say, “peace groups like the CPT aren’t
your enemy. Or at least, they don’t intend to be.”
It’s not at all clear to me that groups like the CPT don’t intend
to be enemies of my country. So much of the soi-disant “peace”
movement is run by
unreconstructed Stalinists and Maoists that these days I tend to
presume any so-called “peace activist” group is just another one of their
fronts. I don’t think that assumption has yet turned out to be
But even if that’s a wrong assumption in this case, CPT’s
intentions matter much less to me than their effects. David Duke, Noam
Chomsky, Pat Robertson, and Michael Moore would certainly deny being
enemies of my country, but the effect of their speech and actions is
to suck up to totalitarianisms of all kinds and give aid and comfort
to people like Osama bin Laden who are unequivocally enemies of my
country. That makes them the enemy, too.
(Oh, boy, there’s a fantasy. David Duke, Noam Chomsky, Pat
Robertson, and Michael Moore chopping each other to pieces with
Sword-of-Truth scimitars in a Rabid-Right-vs.-Loony-Left deathmatch.
I wish I could sell tickets.)
This is sufficient to explain why the thought of those four CPT people
being executed doesn’t bother me. In general, I don’t mind when my
enemies kill each other. It saves my friends the trouble — and,
more importantly, relieves us of the moral burden of killing. I suppose
I would consider it a better outcome if the CPT crew killed the terrorists,
who are on the whole more dangerous; and the best outcome of all would
be if CPT and the “Sword of Truth” gang managed to kill each other.
But if only the CPT people get whacked, they’re no loss.
But my gut reaction was stronger than that. The thought that these CPT
people might die didn’t just leave me indifferent, it filled me with
satisfaction. I had to meditate for a while to understand why. I did
finally get it.
I like it when villains or dangerous idiots are killed by their own folly.
That seems just to me. More importantly, it’s how other people learn not
to be that way. It’s evolution in action; it improves the meme pool,
or the gene pool, or both.
This is actually one of my gut reasons for favoring drug legalization,
though I’d never thought it through quite so far before. I don’t think we
have enough selective pressures against idiocy any more; I’d like
idiots to have more chances to kill themselves, ideally before they get
old enough to vote or reproduce. Not because I relish their deaths,
but because I want to live in a future with fewer idiots in it.
(By the way, I’m using “idiot” in its original sense here. To the
ancient Greeks, an “idiot” was a person too closed in on himself to be
a net plus to his neighbors and his society. Distinctions beetween
mental impairments, communicative defects like deaf-muteness, or
insanity were not clear and not considered important; the important
question was whether the ‘idiotes’ (private person) was capable of
discharging the responsibilities of a citizen in the agora.)
If the CPT people aren’t villains, they’re idiots. Idiocy is the
least it takes to ally yourself with terrorists against Western
civilization. — not because the West is the fount of all virtue,
but because, whatever the West’s flaws, Islamofascism is incomparably
worse. The death of those four CPT people would at least diminish by
four the number of dangerous idiots in the world; therefore, it’s a
I checked this line of thinking by asking myself how my evaluation
would change if drug intervention (say) could make idiots into
non-idiots. In that case it would still be a good outcome for
villains to off themselves, but there wouldn’t actually be any point
in selecting against idiocy. Idiocy would become like
nearsightedness, a defect too easily correctable to bother being
I felt much better once I thought all this through. I don’t want
to become the kind of person who takes joy in the death of other
people; but if rooting for a future with fewer idiots in it is wrong,
I don’t want to be right.