Killing: Is our moral flexibility and pragmatism right?

In times of peace, killing one person will earn a prison term.
In times of war, killing lots of people will earn a medal.

We condemn an evil or illegal act by one person in one situation and then condone the same act by the same person in a different situation, or a different person in some other situation. The situation and person changes our response.

If anything, we humans are very pragmatic. We are able to justify to ourselves any position that we take. We are very good at justifying conflicting moral acts, even when they are committed by the same person. And ourselves.

Consider our different views of  killing: Murder is a crime; in war killing is one’s duty; euthanasia (helping a suffering person to die) is illegal but is accepted by most people; suicide (or ‘self murder’ as some would have it) is morally reprehensible; and accidents (medical or otherwise) just happen.

But what is the real result? The murderer goes to prison for a short term and is then freed; the soldier gets a commendation and a medal; the doctor is rarely condemned as long as the euthanasia is done quietly; the suicide is seen as psychotic and becomes just a statistic; and the accident victim mainly becomes just another statistic.

We have many differing views of killing. Is any of them right?

It depends on the situation. But should it? Why is killing acceptable in one situation but not others?

The answer, which says a lot about humans, is that it depends on how it affects ourselves and whether we have anything to lose or gain from it. Pragmatics at work.

As long as we aren’t the one being killed (except in the case of euthanasia) we tend to not think about it too much. We see or read about it in the media, and then forget about it because it only affects someone else who we don’t know.

It’s only when the killing gets closer to our home and family that we worry and start to wonder why and what it means, and whether we can do anything about it. Murder, war, euthanasia, suicide, only become our problems when we are hurt by them.

Otherwise, when we are not involved, we don’t worry about the killing: It’s someone else’s problem, let them sort it out.

One day you might have to stand up, make a decision, and be counted. Pragmatism might not be enough.

What will you do then?

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