To Kill or Not to Kill

If we agree that murder is the “unauthorized” or “unapproved” taking of a life, then before we can proceed to investigate what acts should be considered as “murder” and which ones as “justifiable homicide,” we have to define the “authorizing” or “approving” authority.

Dual morality suggests that there are two ways to look at the fundamental source of authority: the individual or the group. In Mind 1, the authority can be the family down to the level of the individual.  In Mind 2 the authority is tradition or the group.

We humans kill for a host of reasons in a variety of circumstances:

  • Self-defense
  • Criminal executions
  • Jealousy
  • Suicide
  • Abortions
  • War
  • Revenge
  • Personal gain
  • Euthanasia
  • Sheer pleasure

But regardless of the reason we kill, it is only an individual who actually performs the deed. So we ask:

When is that individual a murderer, and when is he not?

Killing in self-defense

When my group agrees with the reason I give for killing someone, it is called “justifiable homicide.” When my clan does not condone it, I’m labeled a murderer. For example, if I kill an intruder who has broken into my home, menacing me with a machete, my group may presume I acted as any of them would have acted. It is further presumed that had the assailant never entered my home and willfully brought about the confrontation, I would never have killed him and he would still be alive.

In this case, my violent behavior is felt to be morally correct. I acted in a Mind 2 fashion of violence because he put us in a “him or me” situation. One life had to be preferred over the other. Both could not survive.

Circumstances of danger and threat elicit Mind 2 urges. So, most members of my group will have little trouble condoning my decision. However, reflecting on the deed later, in easier and non-threatening circumstances, we might feel a twinge of (Mind 1) shame or guilt that we had to resort to killing another human being for any reason. Our Mind 1 antipathy to violence might move us to plead with the intruder for our lives rather than resort to violence ourselves.

Killing at the behest of the state as soldiers

When at war and as a soldier we are asked to kill people we have never met and who have never done us any harm. We simply kill them on sight, as we have been instructed to do. We have become Mind 2 instruments acting in the larger Mind 2 effort of societal or national defense. “Society itself” has proclaimed that the enemy has put us all in an “us or them” situation, and consequently, as with the home-invader, we are merely defending ourselves. Almost invariably, invading nations use some pretext of “self-defense,” or “liberating and coming to the aid of the weak” to morally justify their aggressive actions.

In most cases our Mind 1 sympathetic outlook is against war.  The conscientious objector, together with the innumerable number of “peace societies,” tends to promote Mind 1 values of equality and shared prosperity. In a Mind 1 outlook violence is objectionable because everyone has intrinsic value.  

Killing at the behest of the state as an authorized executioner (capital punishment)

When an individual acts outside the established laws of his group, our dual moral minds approach the problem in two ways – with Mind 1 reform or Mind 2 punishment. 

At the extreme, a Mind 2 outlook toward criminality places the wrongdoer outside the protection of the state, and the state seeks to eliminate the threat. In effect, the criminal is viewed as putting society in an “us-or-them” situation. So society kills the criminal in “self-defense,” or as retributive justice (an eye-for-an-eye).  

Another justification for capital punishment is its potential to act as a deterrent. Horse-thieves are hanged, not to bring back the horse, but to prevent other horses from being stolen. 

The executioner is hired to hang the horse thief or to lower the guillotine acts on behalf of “society.” It is through him that society achieves its rightful retribution.

In a Mind 1 view, killing by the state is just as much murder as killing for personal reasons. The reasons people steal horses or commit other crimes may be because society has failed to provide the wrongdoer with a decent education or respect. The criminal is a victim of society’s injustices; his life is as valuable as anyone else’s and worthy of rehabilitation. 

Killing oneself as a personal choice (suicide) 

In a Mind 2 outlook, your life gains meaning by how much it serves the aims and ends of the group. To die in battle defending your people is a noble death. To volunteer to go on a suicide mission to protect others is a heroic act. To refuse to eat and choose to starve to death for a worthy cause is an admirable deed. But if one commits suicide to spare oneself from emotional or physical pain, it may seem cowardly. You should face adversity with stoic resolve. Virtue demands we see our life as not our own to be lived or given up for our own purposes; our life must serve the greater good.  

In Mind 1, your life is your own, to live or dispose of as you please. No one has control over you in life and so they certainly do not control you in death. 

Killing as an act of mercy (euthanasia) 

In Mind 2, a person’s life is lived for the greater good, that is, for the groups to which he belongs: his family, his clan, his country. To kill another person requires the group’s consensus that this person’s life is no longer of service to others. When the authority to kill another is in the hands of those outside the level of the state, such as doctors or suicide-assisting neighbors, it becomes difficult to control. If a person is discovered standing over his neighbor’s corpse and claims he was there helping his neighbor in an assisted suicide, it is difficult to know if this was indeed what the neighbor intended. For all these reasons, in most Mind 2 dominated cultures, euthanasia is discouraged. 

In Mind 1 the individual should always be considered the final authority on what happens to him whenever feasible. If someone chooses to die to end their own suffering, or for any reason at all, it is not the place of the group to over-ride his decision.

Killing for revenge, jealousy or personal gain 

Killing for personal motives alone is never condoned, either from a Mind 1 or a Mind 2 outlook. However, the reasons why such killing is condemned differ according to the outlook.

From a Mind 2 perspective, as we have seen, killing and violence can be used to accomplish good, but only if it benefits and is endorsed by the group. When we venture to kill based on only our own self-interest, using only ourselves as the competent authority, the group objects.

In Mind 1, it is not the fact that the individual has set himself up as his own competent authority that is problematic. In Mind 1, the individual is his own judge in most matters. However, the principles of equality and basic human rights, which govern Mind 1 morality, are antithetical to any kind of violence and killing, and will only grudgingly allow them in special circumstances, such as self-defense, but never for selfish motives.   

Killing in abortions

The current battle over abortion revolves around whether the thing being killed is even a person. Only a person can be murdered, and if what is being killed is not a human being, the term “murder” cannot be applied.

Abortion proponents say things like, “Females should be free to do as they please with their own bodies.”  They do not say, “Females should be able to kill somebody.” 

If the thing being destroyed is not a human being, the group has less interest in its well-being, and the individual is freer to decide what is right.  In fact, if the aborted object is not a “person,” it is hardly a moral question at all. The procedure is of no more moral consequence than having a mole removed.

The legality or criminality of abortion has played out in assorted ways in countries around the world. In Mind 2 circumstances, the determination of its legality or criminality will vary in relation to the good of the group. If, for example, abortion has been traditionally banned (say, for religious reasons), or if it is agreed that the group needs to increase its numbers (for practical reasons), then the group will continue to criminalize it. However, if abortion is seen to advance the goals of the group or prevent its extinction, then it will be permitted. For example, after WWII, when Japan was threatened with over-population and mass starvation, it relaxed its restrictions on abortions and allowed individuals and their doctors to determine if the abortion was needed, based on “economic concerns.” Similarly, when Chinese state policy of the 1980s and 1990s was to reduce the growth of the population, abortions were encouraged.  

As increasing wealth and security pushed Western nations leftward, it was no coincidence that countries like the United States and Great Britain legalized abortions around the same time as they suspended conscription. In both the abortion and conscription issues, the idea of where and when a citizen’s life can or should be at the disposal of the state came into question. Traditional, sexually based social obligations were being challenged and altered for everyone. The two problems were logically linked:  

-       Should women continue to be required to put their bodies at the disposal of the group, to carry and bear children as society sees fit?

-       Should men continue to be required to put their bodies at the disposal of their group, to defend the nation and fight wars as society sees fit? 

In both cases, the question that traditionally had been answered with “the group should make the decision” came to be answered with “the individuals themselves can make that decision.” 

As we backed away from the customary position in one case, so we backed away in the other.  Now it is the individual female herself who decides if she wishes to carry her pregnancy to term, and the individual citizen who decides if he/she wishes to wear the uniform and carry the gun.

What was good for the individual came to be a question solved by the individuals themselves. The acting individual (Mind 1), rather than the group (Mind 2), became the competent authority.

Killing for sheer pleasure

In all cases where killing a human being is involved, it is understood to be a grave and serious act. It is an act of (bottom-of-the-compass) moral extremism, which should be taken only under dire circumstances. When a serial killer destroys a life for personal pleasure, the assailant is deemed psychopathic. The psychopath is incapable of assigning the proper moral value to his deeds. If the person who kills, be it a soldier, homeowner, or state executioner, has “fun” or displays top-of-the-compass personal pleasure or indifference to the act, that person is deemed deviant.

Normalcy demands that we kill only out of extreme moral necessity and that we always recognize the gravity of the act.   

Mind 1 - Liberal and sympathetic Mind 2 - Conservative and ethical
Self defense A person should rely on others (such as the police) to help in his defense. Violence is not condoned. Both lives are valuable. A person has the right to defend himself and if his life is threatened, he can kill his assailant.
War Justified only to liberate the oppressed Justified to punish an evil opponent or in self-defense of one’s society
Executions The death penalty or any cruel or unusual punishment is wrong. It is right to eliminate the threat to society through the death penalty.
Suicide A person’s life is his own to live or dispose of as he pleases. A person is an asset to his group, and he owes them some measure of effort. Suicide is selfish.
Abortion The pregnant female is the competent authority to decide when, where, how, and if ever she should have a baby. The group determines the rules regarding having, not having, or aborting a baby, based on the good of society.