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November 30, 2004


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My, all this *and* hedgehog lanterns, too! Yours is truly a delightful blog on many fronts.

It looks rather like this question boils down, as so very many others do, to "Do the ends justify the means?"

Only if you want to be the bad guys.

That's how you can tell the good guys from the bad guys. The bad guys torture their prisoners. The bad guys shoot unarmed opponents in the back. The bad guys take ransom money and don't deliver the kid. The bad guys do that stuff because the bad guys feel results are more important than the process used to get to the results.

The good guys honor a surrender, no matter how much they want to kick the *Y$#T@ in the teeth. The good guys treat their prisoners fairly, even though they know full well that favor is not being returned towards their own troops. The good guys do not shoot unarmed opponents. The good guys do not kidnap, but if they did, you'd get your kid back, unharmed, once you handed over the money.

It isn't easy being one of the good guys and, though nobody likes to admit it, sometimes being one of the good guys is not a strategy that maximizes human happiness and safety and stuff. It'd be pretty to think so...

Look at the Buffy episode where Giles kills Ben/Glory. (Er. I hope you've seen enough Buffy for this to make sense.) Ben, who is an innocent, a doctor, a GOOD GUY, happens to also be inhabited by the evil and malignant Glory. Glory is gunning for the usual enslavement of humans, ruler of the world demonlord sorts of goals and she takes over Ben and does what she deems necessary to gain entry to this world. What Glory deems necessary usually involves human pain, suffering, and death. Ben is pretty much an unwilling portal for Glory -- he's not doing it on purpose and he can't keep her out.

Now, Buffy is one of the good guys, and she can't cold-bloodedly dispatch one innocent to rid the world as a whole of a Very Bad Thing. (And the show puts it in just those terms. Buffy is a very moral, educational show at times.) But Giles... he's not the hero... and he kills Ben. The good guys don't do stuff like that, even when it's clearly necessary.

And the people like Giles? Are they the good guys? Not exactly. They do things that the good guys don't do.

Are people like Giles necessary? Yes, I think so. But they're not the good guys and they should never, ever get to act with impunity. It's all about checks and balances.

Should their actions go unpunished? No. The price for doing the necessary bad-guy activity (like killing an unarmed, defenseless innocent like Giles killed Ben) has to be paid, and all such acts should come dearly.

Are we then trusting to the... effective martyrdom of the Giles-like people, to put themselves and their sacred honor on the line to do the correct bad-guy activity if they really, really think it needs to be done and are willing to pay the price for doing it? Yes. We are.

Is that right? Dunno. It's the best I can do and it lets me look in the mirror in the morning.

Am I a good guy? I try to be. Sometimes, I'm not. Sometimes it's more important that something gets done... and if that's how I see it, I do what is necessary and plan on taking my punishment afterward.

Magnus G. is a twisted, sick individual with absolutely no morals whatsoever. He should be put to death for, among other things, having the chutzpah to accept ransom for a dead boy.

Jakob was an innocent boy who certainly didn't deserve to die.

Daschner was wrong. He would still be wrong even if his methods had recovered Jakob alive. He is guilty. I cannot imagine how he could possibly, honorably, plead 'not guilty'.

Would I have done what he did? Probably not. I'd have figured the child was dead from the get-go. They frequently are, in kidnappings.

Would I torture in another, more-useful circumstance? I might... but if I did, I'd step up and take my lumps afterward.


To me this is the primary reason for juries.

The government MUST prosecute crimes -- especially of goverernment enforcers of the laws all others must subject themselves to; and even in the hard cases where the "good" choice and the "legal" choice are opposed. The government must pursue justice.

I see no particular reason why a randomly selected jury of representative "good" and "law-abiding" citizens can't or should not -- once in a while in extreme circumstances -- decide in favor of mercy instead of justice. Perhaps to shut their eyes to the fact -- perhaps to acknowledge the crime but impose less-than-mandated, even trivial, penalty.

Most systems also have authority to pardon or parole vested in the king or head of government. So Richlieu can issue letters of carte blanche -- "What has been done has been done upon my order and for the good of France..." This is perhaps a necessary authority for the orderly administration of a populous society, but it seems fraught with opportunities for abuse.

Juries, too, mistake or abuse their temporary powers. Humanity lurches from sin to error to delusion and back. But we try all the same.


This discussion reminds me of one of the best lines Kipling ever wrote (and I consider him on of the best writers ever).

"It requires either blackguards or gentleman, or, most expeditiously, blackguards commanded by gentlemen, to do butchers' work with efficiency and dispatch."

There is a certain amount of "butchers' work" that must be done for there to be a safe, stable "good" country. But it is done at the risk of body and soul, and the doing of it risks destroying the goodness that it protects.

I would say that the government should prosecute Daschner--the law must be upheld--but it would be desirable for the jury to find him not guilty, and desirable for him to be pardoned were he convicted, given the extenuating circumstances.


Very interesting article. I'd hate to be a police chief faced with a case like that - you really are damned if you do and damned if you don't. On the one hand, I think that if they are pretty sure about the identity of the kidnapper/murderer, the gut reaction is that they deserve what they get. Of course, a legal system cannot work like that; that is why we have independent judges and so on. And we do not atone for the wrongs of others by committing wrongs ourselves.

That said, from what I've read in this article, I think the solution to me is fairly obvious. Punish the policemen for transgressing the law (and the constitution, which is perhaps the more important fact here), but use the other wonderful fact about having an independent police force and judiciary. Which is that they can punish according to circumstance rather than dogmatic attachment to "tariffs" etc. So convict, but give a highly lenient sentence for the crime. The punishment sends the message that these options simply are not acceptable, but by having a lenient sentence, it shows the wonderful flexibility of a western legal system, that is still capable of making moral judgements on a case-by-case basis.

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