Friday, September 30, 2011

because I am involved in mankind

An interesting question from an email this morning.
I suppose that you object to the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki, out of some sort of pacifist conviction. That's fine as far as it goes, I guess. But I'm curious about how this opposition can stand compared to your loud opposition to the execution of Troy Davis. [he's likely talking about this.] If you oppose all intentional taking of human life, doesn't that mean that there's essentially no difference between your opposition to killing Troy Davis, a likely innocent man put to death, and Al-Awlaki, a terrorist? Or Osama bin Laden? I don't understand how a blanket opposition to killing people gives you room to sort good from bad from worse.
There are some provisos and qualifications, but then there's the answer.

For a society of law, the killing of Al-Awlaki should be even more disturbing than the killing of Troy Davis. Davis at least enjoyed some kind of due process, although it was the flawed, biased due process of a hideously racist system and one that is massively bent towards maintaining guilt and punishment. Al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was given no trial, no representation, no appeal, no opportunity to defend himself legally at all. None. He was declared a terrorist by the government, again with no due process, and assassinated. That doesn't mean that the moral discrimination about the killing itself is changed, only that the consequences for a supposedly free society are different.

The two men are of course different animals and I judge them, in that way people do, as of different moral character. I have different feelings towards all of the many victims of murder that I'm aware of. I don't suggest that Anwar Al-Awlaki is the same as Troy Davis, nor do I judge Davis in precisely the same way that I judge the victims of any other killing. My stance on the righteousness of killing is not the same as my stance on the righteousness of individuals.

But let me be absolutely clear and unambiguous: on the moral status of the act of killing Troy Davis, or Anwar Al-Alwaki, or the victims of 9/11, or of American soldiers killed by insurgents, or of insurgents killed by American soldiers, or of Osama bin Laden-- I recognize no difference. Not one solitary ounce of difference. The character of someone killed is utterly and permanently irrelevant to the moral status of that killing. It is as wrong to kill Hitler as it was wrong to kill his victims. I have thought for a long time and I have decided that I am forever out of the business of adjudicating the rightness of this killing or that. It has taken time but my conscience has decided on "always wrong."

Please, tell all the keyboard warriors you know, and let them flame on. I really don't give a shit.


Jack Crow said...

Due process is a sanctification ceremony. The murder of Al Awlaki was cleaner, for the lack of it.

James said...

Hey Freddie,

Friendly question from someone who agrees with your position on capital punishment.

Would you apply similar logic to imprisonment. For example: it's obviously wrong to forcefully imprison someone on a whim. That's wrong.

But is it wrong to imprison a murderer? A rapist? Is it wrong to section someone who's going through an extended psychotic episode?

Skye said...

Forcefully argued, Freddie. But I think you meant mankind, not "makind."

Tyler The Crator said...


edwin said...


Got to be one of the most abused words in the English language.

Hitler -

Hitler was part of a process - a process that involved large segments of the German population and I would think a majority of the elected representatives, either not caring about democracy or being outright hostile to the concept of democracy.

It is that same process that we are playing with now. Al Awlaki, assuming he is dead, is part of the process of trading democracy to feel-good nationalism.

Anonymous said...

"But is it wrong to imprison a murderer? A rapist?"

On a whim? Why yes.

Awesome, Freddie.

Art Deco said...

Someone who can make no distinction between the acts of cop killers, terrorists, fascist partisans, American soldiers, and the king's executioner is not someone 'involved in mankind'.

Paul said...

My God, after arguing for hours on the Balloon Juice thread yesterday, it was a relief and a pleasure to come here & read such a righteous and beautifully articulated post. Thanks, Freddie.

It's very disturbing to me how willingly most Democrats now abandon the principal of due process. All you have to do is make the enemy's (alleged) crimes bad enough, and no one cares about anything but vengeance. I swear, 3 out of 4 Balloon Juicers think the point of the line about "giving the devil himself a fair trial" is that the devil isn't really such a bad guy, and FUCK THAT BECAUSE YES HE IS! Extremely discouraging.

Anonymous said...

It's a noble position to take regarding the absolute sanctity of mankind but do you ever worry that we fetishize human life for a number of reasons, not least of which so that we may largely terrorize/destroy most other species and maintain a clear conscience?

And, by the way, I just found your blog and love it. The topics covered and writing is superb. Very thoughtful. There's about six I check daily, yours is now added to the list.

edwin said...

but do you ever worry that we fetishize human life for a number of reasons, not least of which so that we may largely terrorize/destroy most other species and maintain a clear conscience?

Interesting question. I think that I would almost reverse the logic here and say that until we recognize people as sacred, we aren't going to be able to recognize the sacredness of the web of life.

Just as a note - recognizing the sacredness of the web of life does not require becoming a vegetarian or vegan.

bluto said...

I'd argue that the hunters I've known consider the sacrifice involved of eating meat much more than many of the vegetarians I've met.