Situational Ethics, a Guest Post by Caitlin I. Woods

Situational Ethics, a Guest Post by Caitlin I. Woods

Is it wrong to steal if it’s to feed your starving family?

No, no, wait—I mean, what if you *really really* needed the food, and you had no alternative way to get it, and you had a huge extended family that was going to die, *literally die* if you didn’t procure food for them *right now*. And you live in a hideous dystopic world where the powers that be are intentionally starving everyone, and the only people who have food are the ones that are actively starving

everyone else, and…

Stop. Just stop.

Yes, I’m sure it’s possible to posit a world where the only reasonable alternative to death is theft, and even a world where any moral person would cheer the decision. You win. I will completely and totally agree that it is theoretically possible to come up with the circumstance.

So. Freaking. What.

I think the best comparison is really something like… I don’t know, gravity. The effects of gravity vary wildly depending on where in the universe you’re observing it. In a black hole, it is an astoundingly inescapable force that even light is powerless against. On Deimos, a human could, unassisted, attain escape velocity.

For pretty much all practical purposes, though? Gravity is 32ft/s^2, and anyone who needs to deal with it being different than that will certainly know it well enough in advance to be able to make the proper allowances.

In the same vein, while it’s possible to come up with a circumstance in which it isn’t wrong to steal… it’s not here, it’s not now, and it’s a circumstance none of us are likely to come across. Ever. Let me put it this way: While we can have an argument about whether it is more moral to steal than to allow someone under your care to die of starvation, there are *so many millions of options to take* before that’s even remotely an issue that I’m astounded at the sheer fatuousness it requires to come up with the circumstance.

But it’s not fatuousness. Not really.

It’s an inherent, knowing attempt to destroy the entire idea of things being always right or wrong *at all*.

Think about it. Let’s just go and assume it’s all right to steal so long as you’re trying to feed your starving family, take it as a premise, as obvious as water being wet or fire burning.

Well, that means that stealing *isn’t wrong*, per se. Not for the fact that it involves taking something that isn’t yours. It’s just wrong if you do it for the wrong *reasons*. It takes the question of morality from the *act*—and, perhaps even more importantly, from the *victim*—and onto whether you had a really good reason to do it.

This itself is pretty horrifying. I mean, let’s say you and your family are escaping from some sort of murderous chainsaw clown. Is it okay to push a bystander in front of him in order to distract him long enough to get away? If we think about it in this way, there’s no question. You do what you have to in order to save your family. The

victim… well, is the victim really important, anyway?

But it gets even worse when you think just another step further.

Because if right and wrong is just a matter of circumstance, who is it that gets to decide the circumstances?

Circumstances are a slippery beast. You can’t codify them in advance; there’s just too many of them, and there’s a real impulse to make every different detail you can into a question. (This is one of the reasons that common law gets so confusing so quickly.) The only way to *really* gauge if something is a circumstantial right or a

circumstantial wrong… is to appoint a judge.

A judge, see, who can see past the bourgeois concepts of things being right or wrong in and of themselves, and able to see instead the entirety of the circumstance behind them. The petty puffery behind an act of charity, say, or the true helplessness behind an act of theft.

No more condemning people for something that isn’t *really* wrong, not given the circumstances.

Wouldn’t that be *great*?

(And again, pretty much anyone in any of the countries with commenters on this blog have about a zillion options to turn to before they’d really be reduced to theft or starvation. Seriously, we are in an era of plenty *undreamed of* in any past age, where  he only real way to starve people *at all* is to actively prevent them from getting any of the food that charitable souls are trying to send their way. We might as well talk about whether it’s right to sacrifice a virgin in order to prevent the

village from being torched by a dragon.)

So sure. I can see a world and a circumstance and a time and a family where it wouldn’t be wrong to steal.

But it’s sure as hell a lot harder to come up with than the situation where puffed up jackasses try to eliminate the idea of right and wrong in order to consolidate power into their own greedy little hands.

Go live in that world if you care to. If you can find it. But leave *my* world alone, before you destroy everything good about it.

Because believe me—the concept of objective wrong is not the only thing you’ll be losing.

405 responses to “Situational Ethics, a Guest Post by Caitlin I. Woods

  1. Is it wrong to steal if it’s to feed your starving family?

    Yes. Understandable, but still wrong.

    • This…circumstances does change if something is right or wrong but may provide those with empathy a reason to choose mercy.

      Justice is blind and must be…sight is given to Mercy so she can see when to stay Justice’s sword.

      I have noticed those who preach situational ethics have little familiarity with Mercy when it does come to wield Justice’s sword.

    • Yes – but we are not perfect, nor perfect judges. We WILL do wrong. That doesn’t absolve us from trying, at least, to balance wrongs so as to do the least harm when we see no other choices.

    • It may be”wrong”in some screwed up morality, but I would steal or even kill to feed my starving child, and anyone who wouldn’t is not my idea of a human being. I’m pretty sure RAH would agree.

      • I understand the overwhelming motivation. I can see that hard circumstances and the great need of others who depend upon them would drive people to steal to survive. Yet however bad the circumstances, while the theft may be justifiable, it does render the theft right. That is the tragedy of the situation.

  2. I am the last person to try and proofread something. but I believe the first sentence has Feel instead of Feed.

  3. Seriously, we are in an era of plenty *undreamed of* in any past age, where he only real way to starve people *at all* is to actively prevent them from getting any of the food that charitable souls are trying to send their way.
    Oh this, so much this. Had an argument about this with my socialist brother and pointed out to him that almost ALL famines in recent history were caused by governmental influence and not because there was insufficient food stores (Holdomor, Ethiopia, etc.). His only counter example was where a government rule and regulation eventually caused a “natural” famine.
    Currently there’s no need to steal anything, so many people are trying to give away food. Actually there’s situations (good old government regulations again) where people can’t give food away.

    As to stealing food to feed yourself or your family, I am reminded of one plot in “Night Court” where Harry has to give away money that someone doesn’t want. Word gets around that he’s doing this. Little old lady was arrested for shoplifting cat food to eat because “It was more pathetic”. See so many stories of people shoplifting for food for the family. With one quick phonecall I can be assisted by a local food bank easily if I need it.

    • *clickity click*

    • Holodomor is a good example of when it should be ok to steal…but it’s a far better example of why it’s sometimes ok to overthrow your government, and replace it with one that will protect your natural rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

      The problem, of course, is that the people don’t always have the resources for revolution, and that revolution won’t always succeed. To be sure, the Cassacks *did* fight against the Communists, and lost, before Stalin turned his attention to the Ukranian kusaks — but all this demonstrates is that (1) *everyone* should have the right to bear arms, not just Cassacks, and (2) it’s better to die fighting on your feet fighting, than on your knees grovelling for food that should have been rightfully yours.

    • $HISTORY: You have OVERproducing land?! Your *poor* people’s biggest problem is… being FAT?! You can have nearly anything, nearly any time? Tropical fruits in the dead of far northern Winter?! And the cost is… minimal?! You have more than three of any item of clothing? Dozens?!! TAKE US WITH YOU!

  4. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Yep, people always find “excuses” for doing something they know is wrong.

    It’s bad enough when it’s done on a small scale but when a powerful person is “allowed” to excuse his wrongful behavior because the powerful person is “doing it for the greater good” is really dangerous.

  5. It is ALWAYS wrong to steal. There are times when it is WORSE to refrain from stealing. Schindler was a scoundrel. When he ‘stole’ a thousand Jews from the Nazi death camps, he was being God’s scoundrel. It is possible to do something for which God will forgive you, but which is still wrong.

    Young black man in the ‘hood steal and deal drugs, and this is wrong. They should not escape punishment for it, if proof can be brought. The men and women who have ruined the inner city schools, driven out the entry level jobs with their ‘minimum wage’ scam, and other wise made it horribly difficult for black young men in the ‘hood to do anything BUT steal and deal drugs are also in the wrong. The young black thieves should be required to pay restitution. The Progressive Left apparatchiks should be impaled in a short stake and left to shriek their excuses to the crows.

    • Young black man in the ‘hood steal and deal drugs, and this is wrong.

      Ignoring their acts is an injustice to all those young black men in the ‘hood who refrain from stealing, who refuse to deal drugs. It renders them not noble and honorable but suckers. It legitimizes the cynicism of those who defy “White Man’s Law.”

      • Very much so. To refrain from punishing lawlessness fairly both harms the perpetrator and the victim- the former by encouraging behaviors that will eventually destroy his life, the latter by depriving him of justice done for wrongs committed against him. And if the government, which holds the monopoly on force, refuses to do this, the victim will search for other means of justice. Thus is the rule of law destroyed.

        Fair enforcement of the law is anathema to the progs. Yet it is the very thing which shields them from what it fears the most- oh, not *who* it claims to fear, but *what.* Progressives fear that should people begin to look at the real effects of their actions and not simply parrot the latest microaggression, paranoia trigger, or dog whistle, that they will never again hold power or relevance in the American sphere for a hundred years or more.

        • One of the things to look at for if a law is just– does not enforcing it harm the people being punished, as well as those who follow it?

          It’s not 100% by any means, but it is a factor to look at.

        • I think that, deep down, a significant portion of the Progressive Left is deathly afraid that one day the poor blacks of the inner cities will wake up to just how badly they have been used by Suburban (mostly) White Intellectuals and the Black Quislings like Sharpton, and then all hell will break loose.

          A lot of their power rests on the backs of people they despise as savages, and one day they fear they will be savaged.

          • their track record of opposition to allowing the free exercise of certain constitutional rights by residents of the inner cities who aren’t ‘connected; would certainly support this theory.

      • Don’t worry. Following law does make you a sucker in today’s society regardless of your identity.

  6. “A judge, see, who can see past the bourgeois concepts of things being right or wrong in and of themselves, and able to see instead the entirety of the circumstance behind them. The petty puffery behind an act of charity, say, or the true helplessness behind an act of theft.”

    This is why personal charity is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. Oftentimes those giving the charity don’t choose the best places to donate it to; and other people don’t give anything to charities. The government should collect the money and then redistribute it to those who Really need it. That way not only can we be sure it goes where it is needed most, but we can be sure that it is fairly collected and everybody supports the proper charities sufficiently; rather than some tightfisted skinflints either being greedy and not supporting charity at all, or only supporting select charities that they cherry picked because they support their own interests, rather than the greater good.

    • Hey RES, is bearcat stealing your shtick?

    • And because I have a high IQ and have studied all the right subjects in all the right schools, I will selflessly take on the task of collecting the money and giving it to all the right people. You can trust me to get it right.

      Oh, that small percentage I’m taking off the top for my own use? Well, that’s just to insure that I don’t need to worry about my family or my own needs so that I can even more selflessly devote myself to the task of giving your money to the right charities. Besides, as I said, percentage-wise it’s so small that no one will even miss it.

      • And it’s a credit to and proof of your natural born abilities that you make that insignificant amount stretch to afford the best imported goods, a summer place on the coast, and superior education for your children. Your competence knows no bounds, does it not?

      • The two of you are getting the sarcasm on my shoes…don’t slop it around so much 🙂

    • Well, I do know such a Judge. But mortal others who are appointed to that role are imperfect; for proof, note that society would rarely need to use force within itself if its judges were not imperfect.

  7. A lot of people seem to confuse ‘it’s wrong but it’s necessary’ with ‘necessity makes right,’ which, when it comes down to it, is no different than ‘might makes right.’

    Which is a shame, since I’ve always liked stories where the hero is placed in a situation where he’s forced to violate his deeply-held principles, but never pretends that what he did – while necessary – isn’t wrong.

    That’s why I love these new DC movies, where Superman is forced to kill Zod and Batman is willing to deal out lethal damage in the heat of combat when he’s fighting for his life.

    Because on the other hand you’ve got Spider Man and his refusal to take a sentient life no matter what, even in the Maximum Carnage storyline when he’s dealing with supervillains who are, for all intents and purposes, rabid dogs that need to be put down.

    • “his refusal to take a sentient life no matter what,”

      James Alan Gardner, in his Expendables series, has an interesting take on the subject. In his universe, there are aliens of all levels. Some of them are at the “godlike” level, and they basically have one prohibition on lower races: No killing sentient beings. The interesting part is how they define “sentient”—and that is a being of a certain intelligence level who does not kill other sentient beings. They enforce this by instantly killing any non-sentient that crosses out of a star system.

      Now, this makes for interesting storytelling, because you can’t have interplanetary war, but there’s a whole lot of other messes you can get into. (It’s only killing that is prohibited, not anything from exploitation to genetic tinkering.) And because it’s not a crime to kill a “dangerous non-sentient”, you can have law enforcers crossing systems… but if they cross that internal moral line in the course of their duties, you find out when your ship crosses that line.

      I like that formulation. It enables lethal self-defense, if that’s what is required to keep you or your family safe from predators.

      • I may have to look that up.

        Quick question: do the godlike beings have to find and catch the killers first before killing them? Because that opens the door for some interesting situations with mercenary or assassins guilds of people who are willing to live dangerously, kill on someone else’s behalf, and retire with loads of money and a new identity.

        • Read a lot of the books. Uber aliens are essentially omniscient and omnipotent. Minute a ship breaks light outside a system guilty parties immediately die. Plot point for a few stories where the bad evil guys were confined to star systems and plotted by FTL communications.

        • Oh no. See “godlike.” There’s a line between each system (and in the books, people know where the line is), and if people fall into the “dangerous sentient killer” category, they just die as the ship crosses the line.

          In fact, that’s a plot point in one of his books. A whole ship aside from one person dies as they cross the line, and he has to figure out what happened. And he’s not too bright, either.

  8. Lying, I think is an easier one to justify in this day and age. You’re right that those of us on this blog will almost certainly never have to face a choice between theft and certain starvation, but we may very well have a job that puts us an in a position where it’s necessary to lie in order to uphold a greater good.

    The thing is, I at least see no problem with upholding a general principle (“Lying is wrong”) and allowing for the possibility of exceptions where the principle is turned on its head. The acknowledgement that the right thing to do is lie if the Nazi SS officer were to ask you where that family of Jews is hiding does not mean, “Lying is not wrong, it just depends on why you lied and what the circumstances are.”

    • That might be one of those situations where it’s legitimate to consider letter vs spirit: the rule itself or the reasons behind it.

      You ask yourself ‘why is lying wrong?’ and I’m guessing none of the reasons you or I could come up with could apply to the Nazi situation.

      • We just must avoid allowing the letter be spirit to be a function of whose of gets hired. Been seeing a huge chunk of that idiotic docs comic today where it basically says that we can drive you to suicide for thinking wrong things as long as we don’t explicitly use government to silence you…And even that is a stretch if they can use civil rights laws.

        But since they have whip hand line don’t care about spirit of law. Just how they can justify.

      • There’s a hierarchy of laws. For example, the Talmud teaches that the commandment to save a human life overrides all prohibitions except three (idolatry, premeditated murder, and gross sexual immorality [incest, animal “husband”ry]).

        Paraphrasing one scholar: “I am not being lenient on the law against theft, I am being stringent about the commandment to safeguard life.”

        This is without even entering into the need to temper the quality of justice with the quality of mercy. There is a discussion that compares a world run by either alone to immersing a glass in ice-cold or boiling water: in either case the glass will shatter, and the world will not endure. But mix both together and you get lukewarm water, and the glass won’t shatter—like a world with both justice and mercy can endure.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      IMO lying is wrong period.

      It’s just that we can easily be in situations where “lying is the lesser of evils”.

      • I get very tired of movies and books in which people destroy relationships, etc, because “I cannot lie”. There’s degrees in lies. And some of them are “what enables society to function.”

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Nod.

          Of course, I find the “lesser of evils” concept more realistic than “situational ethics”.

        • I can’t remember where I read it, but it seemed fitting:

          Those who pride themselves on being brutally honest are generally more brutal than honest.

      • Unfortunately, some seem to have taken the lesson that because choices offered do not always include a optimal choice then we must redefine what is optimal.

      • scott2harrison

        I disagree. Lying is expensive, very expensive, both in maintaining the lie and in loss of reputation when the lie is found out. False testimony on the other hand is wrong. They are not the same.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Well, I’m including the “white lie” in “lying”. 😉

          • White lies are necessary. Do you really want to tell your Aunt Gertrude that you hate her present?

            • I have often argued that many of what we call “little white lies” would be better termed “polite fictions.” Much as we willingly suspend disbelief in a work of fiction in order to be entertained, we politely ignore or decline to inquire as to the factuality of certain categories of statements (frex, the dutiful expression of gratitude for a perfectly horrid present or social event) in order to maintain the smooth functioning of society. We’re not trying to deceive, just make life a little more pleasant for all involved.

              • Oooh, that’s a very good angle… I’ll have to figure out where it fits in what I think….

                You see, THIS is what makes this place good: there’s actually new stuff to think about, and figure out if it fits into what you think.

              • Polite fiction? Such as when you drop by unannounced to visit friends and they are all disheveled and slightly glowing and somewhat breathless when they answer and you say, “We hope we haven’t interrupted anything?” And they answer, “No, we were just sitting around hoping somebody would stop in to break the monotony.”

                That kind of situation?

              • You don’t have to choose to lie or be brutally honest. \you can choose to deflect “I love that you cared enough to get me a present” (No need to mention the present itself is hated and will be regifted.)

            • When Aunt Gertrude gives you that terrible present you can honestly thank her for giving you a present. And you can say honestly that you have the perfect spot for it, even if you believe that spot is the circular file.

              I bet you are thinking that you can tell I grew up surrounded by lawyers. Yet it was the southern grande dames of the family that taught me this.

              • One year The Spouse received as a holiday gift the same book from several people. It was an excellent choice, a lux Smithsonian publication and front and center in a field of interest. The Eldest-Step-Sister, who had observed The Spouse unwrapping it and politely saying, ‘This is perfect, I really look forward to sitting down with it,’ each time he received it Christmas morning. She commented to me when The Grandfather presented it Christmas evening, ‘But he already has been given it three times.’ (What she did not know, it was five, both The In-Laws and I had given it a week before during Hanukkah.) I told her that the secret here is that The Spouse is telling the truth.

      • Sorry, but lying to the PTB, the IRS for example, is a moral act, in fact a duty.

    • I would note that in this day and age public officials, in particular school officials, have almost as much power over our children as those Nazi SS officers did in their day.
      Given this fact, my grandchildren have been very carefully taught to lie to such officials when confronted with certain questions. Innocent questions like how much money do your parents make? Are there any guns in the house? Do your parents drink? What sort of visitors come to your home?
      Answer any of those wrong and it could result in further intrusive investigation, potential legal trouble, and in some extreme cases the removal of the children from their natural parents.

      • And let’s not forget this kind of exchange

        Social Worker: “When does your father drink?”

        Kid: “When he watches sports”

        Social Worker: “What sports?”

        Kid (not really knowing): “All of them”

        Social Worker: “The father is a drunk!”

        • Social Worker, eagerly: “And what does he drink?”

          Kid: Pepsi.

          • Indeed. As a kid, I never understood why drinking was considered such a bad thing. After all, didn’t everyone’s parents include a drink (usually a juice box) in his or her lunchbox every day?

            • Oh yes. I grew up in a community so teetoaling that I didn’t even realize the specific meaning of “drinking” as “consuming alcoholic beverages,” as opposed to the general meaning of “consuming beverages” until I was at least in grade school. It wasn’t even in my conceptual universe before then, and when I first heard a “don’t drink and drive” Ad Council spot, I thought it was about distracted driving (as in, if you’ve got a cup of coffee in your hand, you don’t have both hands on the wheel). Mom had to explain to me about alcoholic beverages and drunkenness, because it was so far from my experience.

            • Since it was Wisconsin (if you can’t get alcohol in WI, you just ain’t trying) kids knew the intended meaning but played with context switching for some amusement.

              The term that bewildered me was “touch yourself” which made it sound like something as common as slapping a mosquito on your harm was somehow sinful. It was some considerable time before the intended meaning of the euphemism was either realized or explained. It was on of those cases of “everybody knows” where not everybody did. Or was it because my experiences were Lutheran rather than Catholic? Still, the comedian who ‘touched himself’ (hands all over his torso, as if he was a “centipede with a case of poison ivy”) seemed a reasonable response to the silliness of the term to me, but others were if not offended, found it pointless or crude. Some things I twig onto rather late, alas.

              • You know, STILL in my fifties, periodically I pause as the meaning of one my aunts’ jokes to mom or vice versa hits me. there are three of them and before parties they get together (usually to cook) and TALK. As a little girl I used to hide in a corner of the kitchen and listen. I got some of my best sex-ed that way. But the jokes bewildered me. No, seriously. And sometimes, you know, while cleaning the kitchen or making dinner, it suddenly hits me “Oh, THAT’s what she meant by candle!”
                And I’m not generally accounted dim. I’m just slow on some things.

                • “And I’m not generally accounted dim. I’m just slow on some things.”

                  Oh, I know THAT one! I’ve had several “obvious” things pointed out to me that had never occurred to me. (Haven’t in a while, but I think it’s because I’ve gotten better at both finding things out and hiding my ignorance.)

      • This is not new. When very young my Daddy, innocently enough, told his class that his father was a printer and that he made money. The government sent people to check.

        • My dad broke into houses, safes, and cars. . . . But then again, he was a locksmith and the cops already knew him and called on him to help THEM out in certain situations.

          • I knew (of a) pharmacist who would occasionally describe himself as a “drug dealer.” Not sure I ever met him, but he (his call was AA9Y, Silent Key now) was amusing on the air.

      • The proper answer to such questions is the truth, “That’s none of your business!”

        • Indeed it is, but you find out quickly that brings child protective services down on you, too.

          • Thus the moral necessity of lying to all government agents whenever possible. “What children? Oh, they live down the street.”

          • It just has to be re-phrased is all.
            “I am a minor and I am uncomfortable answering these questions without my parent(s) present.” (Or something like that.)

            A school had some sort of demo or such trying to show how easy it was to get information.. and selected a friend’s child, who said that and shut things right down. Yeah, Mom is used to getting calls about that, and then asking why they are upset the kid knows how to do thing right – and yes, she taught her that.

          • The Daughter wrote, ‘That’s none of your business. It is personal,’ in response to a writing prompt given for the end of grade tests. This garnered her a zero from the graders. This started a cascade of worry, as she was in a program for highly academically gifted. Concerned teachers told me that The Daughter’s attitude might need fixing.

            When I spoke to her later The Daughter informed me that the prompt had been, ‘describe an embarrassing moment.’ I must be broken as well because I fully agreed with her answer.

            • “There was this time in school when I was told to write an essay about something extremely personal and intimately revealing. I was deeply embarrassed that such an institution could be so intrusive, so indifferent to my feelings, so careless of my need for a safe environment. I was mortified for my teacher, a nice lady who I knew would never dream of treating anything so intimate as a mere writing exercise. I was horrified at a government instrument which should so disdain the privacy rights of those entrusted to its care …”

        • Or “I don’t know” and immediately go tell mommy and daddy.

          The advantage to THAT one is that the questions social service folks might use as an excuse are the same that a criminal might use.

          • Yup, a “mommy and daddy said not to talk to strangers,” or an even simpler pretense of being shy and refusing to say anything works, at least up to a certain age. And if they keep pestering the child a loudly yelled, “leave me alone!” tends to put the social service people on the defensive.

            • Oooh, “mommy and daddy said to NEVER answer questions like that, because Bad People use them to hurt people… are YOU a Bad Person?”

              • Good One!

              • Pa once got a phone call supposedly asking for contributions to police fund. His reply? “The police are the people who tell me not to give money to strangers who call.” *CLICK* (Yeah, it was while back.)

                And perhaps more amusingly was the time some long distance telespammer called to try to get him to switch long distance companies. Reply was:
                “But, I don’t even have a telephone.”
                “…then how are we talking?”
                “I don’t know.”

    • A lot of the answer for “is it wrong to lie” is in what, exactly, someone means by a lie.

      Is it to say something that’s not true? That means you can unknowingly lie, which means that it’s not a deliberate choice, which means it’s not a sin.

      Is it to not give someone the information they want? Then declining to answer is a lie– gimme your social security number, date of birth, etc.

      Is it to knowingly say a thing that is not true? Then you just defined 90% of manners as a “lie.”

      Is it to knowingly say something false based on your best interpretation of what someone means? Now it’s all manners and any ability to avoid a fight that’s a lie. (Example: “how was the pie?” “it was inedible” vs “We really appreciated that you made it for us”)

      Is it to knowingly say something that is false to someone who has a right to that information from you? Dangerous, but allows polite responses (Jane is not in, meaning she isn’t accepting company, not that she’s out of the house) and avoiding fights/slaughters (‘do you have any Jews in the house’ with the unspoken ‘so that we can kill them,’ in which case saying ‘yes’ would make you complicit in the death of innocents).

      *****************

      You want real fun, this is actually an active theological debate among people who do not want to make excuses for wrongdoing, they’re just trying to figure out WWJD.

      • I believe JC said something along the lines of “sell your cloak and buy a sword”.

      • For further consideration: “Thou shalt not bear false witness”, as I understand it, is “Don’t go to the police and knowingly provide witness that someone committed a crime that they didn’t commit.”

        The punishment for such a crime was to apply the punishment of the crime to you, as if you were the one who committed the crime.

        In this sense, I fail to see how refusing to give someone information, or even giving misleading information, is wrong, if the person requesting the information has no right to it.

        I have sometimes wondered how well it would go over to require such a standard for allegations of rape — ignore “He said/she said” as unverifiable on either side — but punish anyone for whom it could be proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they lied about being raped…

        The screams against such are usually of the form “but people who were raped won’t go to the police, fearing they would be prosecuted!” but such people who scream out this concern are never concerned that allegations of rape, even when *provably* false, can be just as devastating to the accused as the act itself…

        • I’d change it so that the punishment is as if they’d tried to directly inflict the criminal punishment penalty of what they knowingly, falsely accused a person of, plus some sort of lying under oath penalty.

        • First off, they don’t believe that “proven, beyond a reasonable doubt” clause — they certainly don’t hold to it in their condemnations.

          Second, their concern is not over rape, per se, but rather at undermining and punishing the patriarchy. Else they would be equally zealous in prosecuting rape when males are the victims.

    • Credit where it’s due: GRRM crafted a particularly poignant moral dilemma regarding lying for his most honorable character, Ned Stark and the events surrounding Jon Snow’s birth.

      There’s a lot that can be said about GRRM and the directions his series took, but there was real artistry in portraying Ned’s inner turmoil and all that was conveyed in that simple phrase: he is my blood.

    • I once decided that an interesting superpower would be to make someone incapable of deception towards or about people for whom they had no empathy. I proposed that to a group of people who immediately declared it to be “the most boring superpower ever.”

      But think about it. What if you dropped this superpower upon a group of politicians? Hijinks would ensue. (And of course, the effect is immediately negated if you develop empathy towards a group. It’s a MORAL superpower!)

  9. For the stealing motivation, I’ve always preferred the scenario of: reformed thief or assassin has seen the error of his ways, either paid his debt to society or adopted a new identity and settled down, then the bad guys find him out, kidnap his loved ones, threaten to kill them unless he does one more theft/killing, forcing him back into the game, and him confronting why he once enjoyed it so much, in conflict with him understanding that it’s wrong. A tough scenario to pull off, and it can go all sorts of different ways.

  10. Once again this is my problem with the whole Robin Hood legend. Sure, you’re robbing the “rich” to give to the “poor”. (Or so the claim is made.) But you’re still *robbing* someone.

    • actually he was robbing the tax collectors and returning the taxes to the poor who were being starved by the government. The left won’t tell you that.

      • We’re discussing the legend, not the historical conditions when Richard made John run the unimportant little island, right?

        • LOL. Some of the oldest legends ARE about stealing from the tax collectors. I was researching it for a book that never gelled. The “rob from the rich” is a modern overlay. Most rich in the middle ages were noblemen and their wealth was from tithes and taxes.

          • As Ayn Rand pointed out, stealing from them was merely an inconvenience to them. They simply collected more taxes and authorized more repressive treatment of the poor.

            The only thing stupider than the Robin Hood philosophy is that which says it is okay to steal from banks and businesses because they are insured — as if the insurance companies won’t simply raise premiums, spreading the damage more widely.

            • Same logic that says businesses don’t pay taxes, so it’s not a problem when government steals their money.

              • Same logic that they used to say that GE doesn’t pay any taxes- by subtracting the money that the government pays GE for useless things like jet engines from what they pay.

          • And Richard Lionheart, Robin’s old lover, just couldn’t bear to send the royal forces after him. That’s one common variation.

          • Early modern, to be sure, first seen in Tudor times.

            But which tales are you thinking of, stealing from tax collectors?

            • The ones where he’s not quite human, but a figure of the green woods, possibly covalent to Puck. He fights all authority and steals from tax collectors. he’s somewhat of a trickster.

              • I’m afraid those aren’t early. The earliest tales, like a “Geste of Robyn Hode” and “Robin Hood and the Monk”, are simple and straightforward tales of outlaws having adventures, wholly human, and in conflict with the sheriff.

                There were some Victorian folklorists who tried to connect him to wood spirits but the evidence they cited really was weak. (Robin Hood
                by J.C. Holt is a good overview. Treats the Child ballads as “Later Tradition.”)

              • Most of those I’ve encountered have Robin as an avatar for Herne the Hunter, with his followers representing the Wild Hunt that pursues the wicked.

                Depending on how blatant the connection is, they range from good to mind-numbing awful.

            • Btw, the sexual ambiguity is typical of mythological tricksters, so it’s right that the romance-with-Richard should attach to him. But still, the further you pursue Robin Hood, the more he becomes a figure of .legend and fog, with no more real existence than a dream.

          • I believe the technical term is “revenooer”

        • In the oldest tales, he lived in the days of Edward our comely king.

          • I sort of like Parke Godwin’s take (Sherwood! and Robin and the King) that places him during the Norman Conquest and immediately afterward, with William the Bastard and William Rufous as his opponents.

            • Well, Hereward the Wake was in that era, and he was one of the sources. “Robin Hood and the Potter” is clearly “Hereward and the Potter” with little more than a filling off of serial numbers.

      • “Taxes! Taxes! AHAHA! TAXES!”

      • Of course, that would get in the way of robbing the “rich”.

        It is funny how leftists in gov’t like to talk like Robin Hood but when you peek under the green cap they’re actually the Sheriff of Nottingham.

      • Thank you for saving me from having to say this. It’s one of the most legendarily common misconceptions I feel the need to correct every time I see someone mention Robin Hood. 🙂

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Question: “Why did Robin Hood give to the poor”?

      Answer: “Robin Hood was buying the poor’s silence when the sheriff came looking for Robin Hood”.

      👿 👿 👿 👿 👿 👿 👿 👿

      • If it worked for John Dillinger, why couldn’t Robin Hood follow his model? 😛

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Going somewhat serious, that was Jessie James’s “secret” to not being caught.

          He “shared the wealth” with his neighbors.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            Well, it was also a political appeal to ‘South will rise again’.

            • The James/Younger gang went on robbing because they could not be paroled, they weren’t proper Confederate soldiers, they were raiders, terrorists, with the Quantrill gang. Multiply the James Younger gang by a hundred thousand and that’s what you might have had if Robert E. Lee had not told the Confederates to lay down their arms and obey the U. S. authorities.

              • And, not long after, cue the depopulation of the South in what would have amounted to a similar situation to the way the British Empire became forced to deal with the Afrikaners…

                While Lee was, to a large degree, why the South lost the war, I’m of the opinion that he was likewise a big part of why they eventually “won the peace”. It took up until recently to see the fruits of all that, but he did set the conditions.

                I’ve often wondered if there wouldn’t be a good story in the idea that Lee was prescient enough to see the future, and consciously sabotaged the Confederacy–Because, he damn sure wasn’t helping on the military side of things.

                • His letters tell the story better than I can recall, but he had great moral turmoil over the subject. I rather doubt he consciously sabotaged anything (his moral code was too strict for that to fly), but subconsciously? Oh yeah, I’d buy that.

                  As for prescience, he *did* consciously avoid incursions into the North, far more than his civilian leadership would like. And quite a few of his officers. His reasons, again, if I recall correctly at the moment, did have to do with securing the peace after the war. He just didn’t really expect to lose, until the last that is.

              • *raises eyebrow* Not going to start any flames here, Charles, but you might want to read up a bit on Quantrill. He and his men did many things that qualify, but why did they do that?

                There are stories from both sides of the war. If you already know the history of those “terrorists,” read “Three years with Quantrill” by one John McCorkle, and a few other sources from that time (first sources where you can find them are gold). Pay particular attention to paroles, captures, and what overtures were made from one side to the other. *Both* sides committed atrocities. Both used these as opportunities for reprisals.

                Consider that once the thugs on both sides were brought to heel, things settled down considerably. The North was not blameless by a long stretch, no more so than the South.

                And “The South will rise again” is pure foolishness. We are Americans, and that’s all there is to it.

            • Until they went north to Minnesota and got their butts handed to them.

          • Thus making them accomplices after the fact.

        • Cough! I see you must have been educated under our current system. 😉

  11. What about stealing bases? Surely it’s OK to steal bases? 😛

  12. Ironically, my current story starts off with a kid stealing something, and having that “almost always wrong” conversation. It’s one line, not the point of the story. Yes, it is okay to steal a nuke from Hitler to save the world.

    You can even make a case to push Hitler in front of the chainsaw clown to save your girlfriend. But that requires Hitler to be handy to the situation, the character knows Hitler, and Hitler needs to have already done all the bad things. Do I want to read that contrived scene? Only if the author is -magic- and makes it awesome. The righteous justice as Super Bad Guy gets chopped better be worth the tediously predictable setup.

    I’d sooner read about the Bad Guy made to ATONE for his deeds. As distinct from -suffer-. My bad guys are usually a looming threat off-stage. This time he’s on-stage, but his punishment is going to be life, not spectacular carnage in death. They’re going to make him live and contemplate his actions.

    Because that’s what I’d do to old Adolph if I got my hands on him. Make him go around and experience what he’d caused. For decades. And maybe, God forbid, become a better man from it.

    That is a huge problem I have with the Grey Goo on the market these days. The “Good Guy” will do things that are morally indefensible, for no discernible reason at all. The example that still disgusts me is “When the World Turned Upside Down”, the recent and undeserving Hugo recipient. In it, the MC allows a woman to fall to her death while he’s rescuing his goldfish. I’m sorry, not acceptable. I’m not reading it, I don’t care how ‘well crafted’ the sentences are.

    • Does it seem to anybody else here that the people decreeing “Trump = Hitler” are also the ones most prone to make arguments that killing infant-Hitler would be wrong?

      Of course, this is why my inclination when confronted with such arguments as this in real life requires suppressing the urge to knock the proponents of moral relativism down and empty their wallets, while declaring that they just argued theft was not morally wrong.

      I don’t suppose it is morally wrong when corporations do it, either?

      • The exact opposite, from where I’m sitting.

        The libnuts seem positively enthusiastic about infanticide, as long as it’s someone on their approved hate list.

        They don’t seem interested in any “final solution” other than outright murder.

        There were *many* times where a gentle nudge would have sent young Adolf down an entirely different path. But apparently that wouldn’t satisfy their bloodlust.

        • I admit I have not delved into the history and thus do not truly comprehend the issues of the day, but it strikes me that “preventing the Hitler we know and loathe” would be if not trivial, not an excessively taxing undertaking for a posited time traveler… but preventing World War One, er, The Great War would be much trickier. It’s not as simple as ‘just’ keeping Archduke Ferdinand alive, it would seem. It seems it would take.. well, the clearing of the hidden (political) collection of interlinked booby-traps that was Europe. Would it even be possible?

          • The key to WWI was Wilhelm II, who was a sad little git who wanted gangbanger-style “respect” from his relatives, and latched onto the idea that a proper little war would show he was Somebody.

            There’s a lot of handwavery and excuse-making, but in the end, it all comes down to WWI happened because Willhelm decreed it.

            Ferdinand’s assassination was just a convenient excuse, reported by too many historians who really should have known better.

            • Not that I’m any fan of the Kaiser, but putting it all on him is probably going a bit far. A lot of factions in the German, French, and Russian governments were quite eager to have it out. Wilhelm II may have exacerbated things a bit, but an unified Germany with a strong and growing economy sufficiently disturbed the earlier European balance that something would have led to a great war eventually. Long-simmering French anger over Alsace-Lorraine, Russian desires to act as overlord of all Slavic peoples and ambitions, and the Balkan situation in general were all tinderboxes; all that was required was the right spark at the right time.

            • Just to add to the list of alt-hist ideas – what if something inconvenient had happened to the doctor that misdiagnosed Willy’s father? By all accounts, his survival would have changed the course of Germany somewhat. (Perhaps not enough – Zsuzsa is correct that there were deep and strong currents in Europe towards a showdown.)

              • That probably keeps Germany and England from having a naval arms race, or at least delays it somewhat. Perhaps it keeps England neutral when a different great war breaks out.

            • The Russians were also, if not looking for a fight with Austria-Hungary, at least not loathe to exacerbate tensions in order to have a reason to go after A-H and “reclaim” territories such as Galicia and Poland.

              • There was that bit of double-dealing by Austria-Hungary in 1908, where Russia was supposed to support the annexation of the Serb states, as long as the Austrians supported neutrality in the Bosporus.
                After that didn’t work out, the Russians were bound and determined to not let Austria push them around in the Balkans.

          • Long before the Archduke died, everyone with eyes to see knew that a large-scale European war was coming. Many of them even realized it would be “some damn thing in the Balkans” that was going to set it off.

          • I think eliminating Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg around 1860 would likely prevent the Great War.

            What we would have enjoyed in its stead is difficult to predict.

            • Interesting thought: what would have happened if Germany hadn’t violated Belgian neutrality and France had done something so monumentally stupid as to cause the British (and likely the Americans) to come in on the other side?

              • If Germany had lured France into violating Belgian neutrality, Von Spee would have hit New Caledonia, while an Anglo-Japanese force (probably including the Australia New Zealand Army Corps) went for French Indochina. North Africa would have been a major war theatre, and Britain’s “China River Gunboats” would have been serving their intended purpose in the Baltic.

            • Perhaps if Napoleon III hadn’t started the Franco-Prussian War, resulting in the loss of territory the French revanchist spent the next five-ish decades lamenting, there might have been fewer tensions in Western Europe and no great war there in the early 20th century.

              • Long time since I read the History, but as I recall it Bismarck initiated that war, he simply set it up so that whatever the Frogs did it would start the war. Sort of the geopolitical equivalent of crowding a man until he throws the first punch.

                Admittedly, I could look up the details, especially as I doubt Wiki would have it notably wrong (it is the “current” politics where they are most sorely afflicted) but where’s the fun in that?

                • There was one history book that was recommended to me years ago. Author is Kagan? The author looked at three major wars that changed history. He wasn’t looking at the wars themselves, he was looking at the causes that led up to the wars. WWI was the second conflict he examined and the rats nest of diplomacy that was set in place about 50 years before and continued to the outbreak was part of why it got so bad so fast. Have to dig it out of storage one day and get through it properly.
                  First war he covered was the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta. Forget what the third conflict was. Didn’t get that far.

                  • My recollection is from Manchester’s Arms of Krupp read some twenty – thirty years ago. Manchester’s presentation was along the lines of Germany concluding they could win a war if they provoked France into initiating it. France was big dumb and arrogant enough to play its part. Germany’s new steel cannon and railway usage made the war a bit of a farce and greatly depressed the market for brass (bronze? I am old and memories fade) cannon.

                    The logistical advantages of railroads had been demonstrated, of course, in the American war of Southern Secession.

                • Bismarck did take advantage of the situation, but it was Napoleon III that was pushing things, and Napoleon III who decided to declare war on Prussia. Frenchmen sallied forth from theaters and cafes eager to enlist and march on Berlin. How’d that work out for them?

          • Yes. It would be possible. Czar Nicholas II was interested in expanding East. Siberia, Manchuria, Korea, etc. It was his adventures in Korea that lead Russia into conflict with Japan in 1904-5.

            Port Author should have lasted for years, tying down the majority of the Japanese troops, but the commander was a well-placed cowardly nobleman who surrendered first chance he could. The main point is that a victory in the Russo-Japanese War would have meant that Russia would have continued to expand to the east. They were only forced to turn back to the west once the Japanese bottled them up.

            So, in 1914 when Serbia was begging for help against the Hapsburgs, Russia would not have been willing to back them up.

            • A Second Russo-Japanese War or its imminent potential might also keep the Russians too occupied, but short of that I think the Russians were too much into being “Protector of the Slavs” to keep from backing Serbia.

              • This. And keep in mind, the Russians were seriously worried that Bulgaria might grab Constantinople from the Turks and try to usurp Russia’s “rightful” claim to Tsargrad (and the straits). They actually started moving ships for an amphibious move to block the Bulgars from attacking Constantinople during the First Balkan War, in part because they were afraid, for good reasons, that the Turks would slaughter the Christians inside the city.

          • Wouldn’t it be better to have WWI and no WWII? I guess in this case there’d be a Pacific War still but no European. Would the Germans still attack the rest of Europe without Hitler?

            • Would the Germans have attacked the rest of Europe without Hitler? Possibly, but who knows.

              It is quite likely that if there had been no charismatic leader such as Hitler at the front of the NAZI party the KPD (Communist Party of Germany), which was allied with the Soviet’s internationalist movement and had strong and growing support, would have taken power in Germany.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              It’s hard to say.

              Hitler appeared to be the only person in Germany who wanted a massive war.

              However, his existence may have prevented the rise of somebody else who might have tried it.

              On the other hand, if Germany had won the Great War, somebody like Hitler wouldn’t have been able to take power.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              You’ve heard my ‘root cause of WWII is the USSR’ theory?

              1. After the Bavarian SSR, the Germans knew the Soviets were interested in taking over, and the Bavarians especially knew they didn’t want that.
              2. The peoples of Europe were all over the place. In particular, Germans in the Ukraine. They saw the Holodomor, and told their German relatives in Germany and the US about it. (We know this because we have documents from the US Germans.) Plus, the Holodomor would have sucked for the Ukrainian Germans because they were neither Ukrainian nor Russian. The German aristocrats knew what was waiting for them. The German middle class, because of the Ukraine, knew what was waiting for them.
              3. The Soviets were fishing in all troubled waters, and looking to expand into their neighbors.
              4. Waters in Germany were very troubled. In part because of Soviet sponsorship of the communists, in part because things were screwed.
              5. The neighbors that the soviets were also expanding into had German populations, the way the Ukraine did.

              So you can see why the Germans were primed to want someone to come save the world, why they could easily see expansion as worthwhile, and why the political circumstances were favorable to a batshit insane political movement. The NSDAP probably outcompeted the communists because they were similar to the communists, and had an insane evil doer who was more effective than the insane evil doers the German communists had.

              Given Jewish cultural favor for education and communism’s appeal to intellectuals, anti semitism was always a possibly for any anti-communist nutjob regime that took over Germany.

              A sane enough alternative regime would probably need to be built around the aristocracy and the middle class, and have leadership just crazy enough to beat out the communists in a power struggle. That is not necessarily going to avoid WWII. It does have a bigger chance of avoiding the Holocaust.

      • Killing infant Hitler would have been wrong, as he hadn’t yet done anything deserving killing.

    • The chainsaw part had me thinking how to take out the clown. You can bind the teeth of the things, as happened when one kicked back on a friend and his metal framed glasses bound the chain and kept it from going through his head. Protective chaps are made of material that frays and does likewise. So, first thought was to throw an article of clothing over the bar and yank hard. Hopefully it gets bunched where the chain feeds back into the saw and at the very least it deflects the blade, making it easier to attack said clown.

      Throwing someone else to the clown only delays the clown. Better to face it with a chance to take him out while your family gets away, than to take off, leaving him able to follow.

      • My first thought was, anyone who posits a chainsaw wielding murderer rampaging down the street has not wielded a chainsaw. They are well designed for felling trees and bucking them into managable chunks, they are a VERY poorly designed weapon. If anyone came at me with one in an open area like a street, I wouldn’t be running and pushing random pedestrians in his way, I would be facing him where I had room to maneuver. Chainsaws are unwieldy and as soon as the wielder makes one swing without connecting, you have ample time to get inside his reach and disable him before he could recover.

        • This. Even with my limited chainsaw experience, it’s obvious they are unwieldy swinging around. I’d rather face a clown swinging a chainsaw than one with a machete.

          • Which is probably why the jihadis who run into crowds and start chopping usually wield machetes (or axes, in the most recent rash of killings in Germany). Chainsaws make for a good scare in a movie because they’re loud and have moving parts, but they make terrible weapons IRL.

            • If one wanted to weaponize garden tools, I think a weedeater with a brush blade and the guard removed would be a pretty effective in a melee.

              • Square bladed garden spade, suitably sharpened.

                • Sickle, scythe, mattock, there’s an embarrassment of choices.

                  • Heck, pretty much “if it is used for tearing up the ground or chopping plants for hours on end using just muscle power, it will do pretty well on humans.”

                    • This is actually where a lot of the medieval pole arms came from. Many of them were ‘lop that limb way up there that I cannot reach’ tools (Halberd and Glaive come to mind.) If I recall the flail was a threshing tool (so was the original far eastern Nunchuck or however it’s properly spelled).

                    • Caveat because my inner consistency nut insists: I know flails an nunchucks are not pole arms. They are, however, examples of farm implements used against humans. (Now maybe she’ll leave me be.)

                    • Given the number of smart asses here, she’s just got your interests in mind….

                    • This is fair, at least this time, but she also loves locking stories up because she insists I have a consistency error SOMEWHERE (won’t say where) that I must track down before I can proceed. Sometimes she’s right (current WIP) sometimes she’s just being irritating.

                    • Wish she’d be more specific, but I admit to recent irritation at a book where the author appeared to forget the plot setup partway through….

                    • If you don’t track it down yourself, how ever will you learn to spot them?

                    • muses. Like mother cats teaching kittens to hunt.

                  • Brush ax. Light, handy, quick, has some reach. Shovel, as a stabbing weapon (deep, wide wounds). Anything with a handle as a bludgeon, but better balance will fatigue you less.

                    • Loved the pick axe handle we were issued for trench digging (pick itself easily popped off for transport). Nice grip, wide end, good length, and a proper impromptu weapon if needed for close quarters.

                    • Carpet beater.

                      One of those really nice weeding hoes– the one where you basically just need to identify the weed and it slices out like butter.
                      *shudders at the mental image of what that’d do to a human*

            • As a swinging weapon, absolutely. And the human body is something like wet wood for consistency, with more flexible “fibers.” Gums up the workings something awful (I live in a rather rural area, chainsaw injuries and motorcycle injuries are common enough).

              The chainsaw makes a decent terror weapon, but if you need to use it *as a weapon,* aim at the soft bits and push. Or come up from below. You need some penetration to do lethal damage, but just mangling the living meat will create bloody screaming chaos. Keep the weight closer to your body (and the saw out, of course) for (somewhat, slightly better) controllability.

              Still stinks as a weapon, though.

              • Among all of the other issues already stated, chainsaws are heavy. There’s only so much you can do with a heavy weapon that you can’t even rest in a usable position. I’ve been doing a lot of chainsaw work lately*, and even with the little battery-operated 10″ dealie, there’s only so long I can go before I have to put it aside and do something else.

                *The yard. Oh lordy, the yard.

                • Then there’s the ‘quickie saw’ problem that would likely also hit any chain-saw wielding mad man (not as fast as the actual quickie saw wielding madman that is a VERY self-limiting problem). Unwieldy, heavy, and usually requiring some level of bracing… if it ‘slips’ or is swung wrong, the madman may wind up slicing himself rather than his victims.

  13. Even in situations where you can believably conceive of a society that think’s it’s right to steal, it’s always with the proviso that it’s right to steal from THAT group THERE, and not from each other.

    George RR Martin did good example of this with the Iron Islands, where stealing is associated with virtues (bravery, cleverness, etc), but it was only good if you stole from the landlubbers, not each other.

    With the Wildlings, the code was universal and anything goes (but theft, murder, ravishment, etc were still seen as encouraging virtues in their practitioners) and the Wildlings were only a civilization by the most tenuous of definitions.

    Still, I give Martins credit for consistency: a Wilding man’s got the right to steal any woman he likes, and she’s got the right to kill him if she doesn’t like it. A Wildling woman can terminate a pregnancy whenever she likes, and the Wildling man can’t say anything about it.

  14. It is never right to sacrifice a virgin to a dragon. Dragons don’t have any d@mn use for a virgin. We need books, chocolate, coffee, and people who can procure more of the same for us. So unless that virgin is a librarian barista, leave him alone.

    • Wait: I thought they were bait for knights, which dragons find delightfully crunchy and the armor an important source of iron.

    • And putting aside the certainly relevant dragonly “Oh, jeez, not another virgin. Hell, I’m inclined to torch the damn town just for that.” “No you’re not, John, and you know it. Go get the poor thing and bring her here so the older ones we saved can get her to stop crying.” “Oh, alright, fine. But I really want to!” “Of course you do, dear.” reaction, but look at it from the villagers standpoint:

      In most societies the concept of “virgin” is basically the same as “child” so what “sacrifice a virgin in order to prevent the village from being torched by a dragon” really means is “Hey, I know! Lets kill one of our children in the vague hope that a bad thing therefore does not happen!”

      And in my opinion, the “right or wrongness” of that is pretty darn clear.

      • I think it goes to the idea that the magnitude of the sacrifice drives the magnitude of the effect.

        If one values children, sacrificing a child may be needed for driving a truly powerful effect (like getting rid of a dragon)

        • *nod*
          And this is one of the issues when symbolic stories are turned into literal ones– if a bunch of people were actually deliberately killing their little girls, symbolically both the most vulnerable and innocent members of the group, the Christian knights would be breaking more heads than just the dragon’s.

      • now I want to read that story…

        • Patricia C. Wrede “Talking to Dragons” The dragons don’t eat the princesses, they want to keep them as status symbols and someone to do work around the caves.

      • “Hey, I know! Lets kill one of our children in the vague hope that a bad thing therefore does not happen!”

        Dragons as a medival expy of Moloch? Interesting.

        Also plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

      • … the concept of “virgin” is basically the same as “child”…

        And with this, the thing about unicorns and virgins makes some sense: many might wish to ride, but children are lighter to carry.

    • Virginal coffee beans? Barristas named Virginia, or Virgil? Virginal cocoa beans with vestigial wings? Virginian chocolate coffee cakes? The texts are unclear on this.

    • So basically, “Put a full pot on the altar, along with a devil’s food cake and an Amazon gift card, or your town gets it?”

    • Professor Badness

      So…we just started serving coffee here in the library, (one of the Keurig cup machines). Does that make me a librarian barista?
      Though I’m two sons past being a virgin.

    • Depends on the dragon. there are regional variations. For instance, in Eastern Europe, the dragon might marry her.

      (I based The Dragon’s Cottage on real fairy tales!)

  15. If nothing is ever and always wrong, then we must conclude that racism, sexism, whateverphobia are not always and forever wrong, Nicht wahr? And that environmentalism can be wrong, too.

    I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ said cunning old Fury: ‘I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.

  16. Michael Brazier

    The traditional analysis of the “starving child” case is that private property was instituted to sustain human life and provide for human needs, so when the only way to save a life is to take what doesn’t belong to you, doing so doesn’t count as theft.

    It’s a poor example of the principle these days, precisely because the situations where it obtains are extremely rare. A case that can actually arise in our experience is an emergency – where someone’s life is in immediate danger, and the owner of the only tools that can save him in time isn’t present. In that case the need to act now overrides the owner’s right to control what is his.

    At any rate, there is a principle involved, which explains both the general rule and the occasional exceptions to it; we are not faced with the arbitrary decisions of a ruler who knows better than we do.

    • Proverbs points out that we understand why a hungry man would steal food, but that if caught, he’s required to repay seven times. It’s still theft.

      OTOH, tools used in an emergency that are immediately returned are arguably not stolen. Have seen that with a tractor used to pull out a bogged down ambulance. The owner, who wasn’t there at that moment, was informed of what happened and why.

      • and if you HAVE to break your aunt’s window to get in and watch the moon landing, you should leave an apology note, and money for the glass. 😛
        Okay, it was wrong. I regret nothing!

      • Didn’t complain when my truck was used to pull a stranded motorist out, either, during the blizzard a decade or so back. Wasn’t theft, even considered they had to hotwire it (old truck, “hotwiring” doesn’t even need to get into the steering column). I’d have offered, were I there to do the deed myself. Some things may be the wrong thing to do, technically, but were done right nonetheless.

      • OTOH, tools used in an emergency that are immediately returned are arguably not stolen

        Anything taken without the intention to permanently deprive the owner of it is not stolen at law.

        Of course, that’s just to say that the charges would be “criminal conversion,” but you could plead necessity.

  17. I think the main reason for debate here is the inclination to conflate what is moral with what is the law. We like to think that the two run in fairly contiguous parallel tracks, at least in our modern society. But then we think a great many things that are less than completely factual, mostly to assuage our own guilty consciences.
    Feeding a hungry child is a moral act. Stealing to do so is generally illegal and may if it causes actual harm to the owner, immoral. One act does not negate the other.
    For those inclined towards a legal and moral equivalency I present two modern day situations. First, have you never driven even a mile over the posted speed limit? Second, is every item on your tax return totally accurate?

    • Feeding a hungry child is a moral act.

      Doesn’t that depend on what you’re feeding that hungry child to? Feeding that hungry child to a wood-chipper is a very different matter from feeding him to a school system.

      • Not as different as you’d like it to be, these days…

      • With about the same outcome of feeding.

      • For many among those who liberated the concentration camps one of the hardest things to do was NOT to feed the hungry children. Their situation was such that the treats the liberators carried with them would make them sick. They had to be re-introduced to food gently.

        • The scene in Band of Brothers where they liberate a Nazi concentration camp will forever be burned into my brain. The initial horror as the truth of the situation sunk in with the troops. The tragedy of having to keep the inmates prisoner for their own safety. And the willful expressions of ignorance from the townspeople over what they had to know from the smell alone what was being done in the camp.

    • “the law is an ass” — or at least, frequently very imperfect.

    • This is why I have a problem with the term ‘law-abiding gun owner’. If strictly adhering to the letter of every law is the only way you retain your right to KABA, you set yourself up for a ‘driving 37 in a 35 zone – lose your right to own a gun’ situation. I much prefer the term Peaceful Gun Owner.

  18. Also, one thing to remember with the “impending danger” type of scenario is that, when they’re presented as hypothetical situations, we get to debate them at leisure, in a comfortable chair. But when people are in actual impending danger and have only seconds to respond, there’s none of the careful reasoning of options. Instead, people act.

    And almost always, if a sacrifice has to be made, they sacrifice themselves, even if the result is suboptimal compared to sacrificing a bystander. Or they freeze up, flail around, or otherwise act ineffectively.

    And often the person who acts will report afterward that they had no memory of thinking through the possibilities before acting. Some even report a sense of standing outside their body and watching everything happen, as if their conscious mind was reduced to a spectator while a deeper, more ancient part of the central nervous system took over and responded appropriately to the situation.

    I know that, when I’ve been in several hairy situations on the road, it was only after I’d gotten through them that I realized just how hairy they were, how close we came to a bad accident, and how another course of action might have been the more reasonable, weighing the risks of possible outcomes in a rational manner, rather than that split-second response that came to me.

    • It’s an odd sensation, and I haven’t had it from that sort of situation. I have had a few experiences, some from sleep deprivation, some I not so readily traced, of “My mind is watching my body do stuff.” Since it wasn’t an emergency sort of situation it was more, “Okay… let’s see what happens.. but I’m yanking back control if I have to.” It’s still Very Strange to experience and I do not try to induce this state of…. dissociation?

      I have on occasion made a variant of “bulletproof coffee” (French press coffee, Kerrygold butter, egg whisked in, cinnamon optional) and found that I had to exert some control to STOP walking. It was kind of like the “Mind watches body act” state but not as.. severe? More like walking shifted from ‘automatic’ to ‘autonomic’ once initiated. I did NOT get that from so-called ‘energy drinks’ when I used to try them.

      • I had a coworker once when we were on a call at O’dark 30 after a couple other calls. I teched call and he drove while medic was with me for legal reasons. He still doesn’t remember driving to ER. I drove back.

    • There was an episode of Blue Bloods in which an appointed police monitor, played by Bebe Neuwirth, is challenged t go through the police department shooting course — then quizzed about what she (thought she) saw and did.

      Sadly, that clip is not available, at least not to my search efforts. It provides a marvelous demonstration of the effect of being in “the heat of the moment.”

      Understanding of that heat is one of the distinctions between the child and the adult.

      • This is my one concern when you get the civilian police boards. Of course the folks on em are activists and have no experience. So you get the problem of someone doing what he thinks is right and being honest vs someone versed in testilying getting hosed. So because people come with preformed views and don’t get opportunity to break them they tend to go after the least worthy.

  19. This is what I like about Catholic ethics, it takes multiple sides to answer whether an action is sinful, or whatever shades of grey there might be. Even if it is done for a good cause and provides good results, certain actions are ALWAYS evils. Intentions and results may lessen the degree of culpability, and there may be cases where one must choose the least worst option, but it doesn’t change the fact that such an action – murder, for example – is always something that is fundamentally wrong.

    By excusing something in the most extreme dilemmas, people lose that perspective and start to use that to excuse EVERY instance of an action.

    • There’s also the nice distinction between legal and moral. The former is the outward manifestation, and is judged by society. The latter us inward, and is judged by God.

      The problem comes when people attempt to use the former to judge the latter, or vice versa.

      • Good point. As they say, hard cases make for bad law. But ultimately God knows what is written upon our hearts even if Justice is blind.

        • *nod* I’m thinking it’s the same reason that communism is so appealing– in theory, only punishing the actually guilty is great, just like communism.

          But they both hit the knowledge problem where we can’t get the required information, either to make the judgement ourselves or pick someone who can.

  20. “No, no, wait—I mean, what if you *really really* needed the food, and you had no alternative way to get it, and you had a huge extended family that was going to die, *literally die* if you didn’t procure food for them *right now*. And you live in a hideous dystopic world where the powers that be are intentionally starving everyone, and the only people who have food are the ones that are actively starving”

    Except that in those circumstances, stealing food in order to feed your family would be murder – because you’d be stealing the food that some OTHER family needed to survive.

    • There’s a line jump before the sentence ends (mea culpa)–it should read “starving everyone else, and…”

  21. We might as well talk about whether it’s right to sacrifice a virgin in order to prevent the village from being torched by a dragon.

    I’d say it would be better to discuss the virgin and the dragon– it levels the playing field.

    It’s a lot easier to dehumanize people you can’t “see,” and discount circumstances you don’t know; fantasy situations make it so that all the people, and the situations, are roughly equal. The “do X wrong thing to theoretical people to save people who I know” setup tips the balance; flipping it around to “is it OK for someone to steal from me to feed their starving family, even if it means that MINE starves?” only works a bit.

    • I get the distinct impression that many people have a lot easier time putting themselves in the mindset of “I have not, so I must steal” than “I have, but little enough that a robber would starve me.” Even people who are pretty nearly actually in the latter situation.

      • Possibly because we assume that our stuff is well enough guarded it won’t be stolen?

        • or because we’re used to a more-or-less continuous flow of necessities – i.e. will stealing all my food today mean I can’t eat tomorrow? or for the rest of the winter?

  22. I need to go to town in a few minutes and don’t have time right now to read all of the responses to this excellent article (I will finish reading them this evening after I get home, I promise!), so I don’t know if anyone has brought this up yet. I’ve been involved in/on the periphery of the preparedness/survivalist ‘movement’ for many years. Something I think nearly all of us in that group have encountered at least once is the person who says, “Oh, you have food stored up? Well, then, when TSHTF I’m coming to your house!” Or, even worse, the person who brags that they don’t need to store up food or other supplies for their family, because they have guns, and when TSHTF, they will just take what they need. I think you can guess what the typical response to either of these jerks would be. But going along with the article, these people are premeditating theft. They PLAN to be thieves when the world falls apart (which hopefully never happens, but hey, it’s happened before, and certainly could happen again. Not to mention that my stores of food have come in very handy when we had personal situations, such as being snowed in for a couple of weeks recently, or too sick to make the 45 mile drive to the grocery store for several weeks.). I think this tells you a great deal about the morals of the people involved. I certainly wouldn’t want any of them as my next-door-neighbors.

    • “Something I think nearly all of us in that group have encountered at least once is the person who says, ‘Oh, you have food stored up? Well, then, when TSHTF I’m coming to your house!'”

      Thing is, that kind of person might actually be useful–more bodies means more stomachs, but also means more hands to hold tools and guns, and more eyes to watch for thieves.
      The other kind, though…outlaws. To be dealt with as wolves are.

      • They might be useful, but their attitude is wrong. The point is that they should be making some effort now to be sure that they can take care of their own family in a bad situation, rather than turning to someone else, who probably doesn’t have the resources to prepare for all of their friends and relatives (let alone co-workers and neighbors).

  23. Dennis Prager has written an essay titled “No Act is Always Wrong”. It’s not intended to advocate that people are free to do whatever they want, but to point out that there are gradations of evil. In a fallen world, we don’t always have a choice between unalloyed good and unalloyed evil. Sometimes we have to choose between evils:
    Do I steal to feed my family or do I let them die of starvation?
    Do I break the speed limit to get a heart attack victim to the hospital?
    Do I vote for Trump or Clinton?
    The Batman of the 1960s TV series would let Robin nearly die because breaking the speed limit is illegal, but real people exercising real moral sentiments would see speeding as the lesser evil.

    Prager distinguishes between this and “moral relativism”. He defines “moral relativism” as the belief that the morality of an act is entirely a matter of opinion, and what’s immoral for one person could be perfectly moral for another. In the cases where “No Act is Always Wrong”, he posits that there is an objective right moral answer that obtains in each case, regardless of the culture or personal opinions held by those in each situation.

  24. I love it when one of my favorite, albeit likely apocryphal, stories seems germane to a discussion! Sadly, I no longer remember where I found this.

    In the middle of the Great Depression, New York City mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, strived to live with the people. It was not unusual for him to ride with the firefighters, raid with the police, or take field trips with orphans. On a bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told the mayor that her daughter’s husband had left, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving.
    However, the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

    LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous hat, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

    The following day, New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered woman who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Fifty cents of that amount was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

    • Despite having a good bit of pull, Fiorella LaGuardia let his sister languish as a refugee for two years after she survived years in a Nazi concentration camp. He claims it was because he didn’t want to be unfair, giving his sister special treatment. I have rather mixed feelings on that. Does anybody have clear thoughts about the ethics of that one?

      • Not familiar with the situation, but the first-glance issue seems to be– alright, he didn’t want to do anything using his official power, what about on his own?

        I absolutely oppose the idea that then-president Obama should have used his official power to help his half-brother.
        I absolutely abhore that, as best anybody can tell, he didn’t do a danged thing with his OWN money for that brother– set him up as some kind of (private!) good-will ambassador or something!

        • It rather says something about my assessment of President Obama’s character that I would be less surprised by his using his official authority to provide some form of sinecure for his brother than by him personally sending the brother a check for $100.

          Had it been the Clintons in such situation I do not doubt they would have found a way to let a Soros or a Steyer know that brother could use a job.

          • Sad thing is, I have less of a problem with the Clinton type abuse of power than the direct nepotism…..

          • While I think Obama should have helped his brother out with private funds, I wouldn’t even have objected too much if he’d found an appropriate low-level official job. Not that I’m happy with nepotism, but as long as it wasn’t displacing current qualified employees and wasn’t something the brother was unqualified for, much as I disliked Obama, that would have been toward the bottom of the list of much more serious complaints about his administration, somewhere around #666 or so.

        • No. He should have used his private purse, Foxfier.

          • Like I said, private good-will ambassador– if Obama was a real community organizer, rather than a publicly funded activist, he’d have jumped at the chance. Ask the guy what is needed in the area, make a point of doing it legally with every I dotted and T crossed, don’t make a big deal of it…..

            Sort of like Bush doing stuff with wounded troops, before and after leaving office.

            • Bush was different because he was personally responsible for their wounds.

              None of the troops believe that, but I wager a third of the American public would.

            • What I liked was that he “just showed up” in places to show support without big fanfare and such. Granted, part of that is simple security – potential attackers only know where someone was rather than where someone will be. It was still clear, even to distant civilian me, that it was about them, and not about him.

  25. Saying something isn’t bad depending on the situation also ruins some great storytelling opportunities, like showing what can compel a good guy to do something he knows is wrong.

  26. Professor Badness

    “Situational Ethics”, (if such a thing could be said to exist) is the exception to the rule. The fact that some are trying to make it the rule is both horrifying and depressing.
    Doesn’t this hark back to the “It’s not his fault! His parents didn’t teach him better! He grew up poor/abused/dysfunctional/misunderstood/transwhatever! He can’t be held responsible!”

    • Argh. “Situational Ethics” is something of an oxymoron. Ethics are the moral principles one uses to decide what is right and wrong in the real world. If they are situational, then they are *not* ethics! If your morality is dependent on the situation, then it is not principle guiding you, but personal preference.

      It all hearkens back to that hoary old Cultural Relativism crap. You’ll find it infesting nigh every leftist cause and -ism for nearly the last century. Cultural Relativism is the ultimate denial of *any* objective truth…

      …And I caught the soapbox sneaking up on me this time, and managed to dodge it. I really need to dig up my old research notes on the history of that crap and how it got to be so ingrained in (parts of) the culture these days.

      • its ok, the soapbox will get you next time… or the time after that…

        the soapbox around here is such an efficient predator.

    • Yes Ayn Rand wrote an article about this and said the issue is that life is not lived in a life boat.

  27. Pingback: Objective ethics? | retiredmustang

  28. Once upon a time, civil disobedience meant that you accepted the punishment that your actions caused. That is exactly the judgement one must make when one bends or breaks the law. But today we seem to have broken into the camp of ‘My tribe is justified to do whatever’ and now instead of greasing the interfaces of tribes by tolerating and realizing that people can be just as moral and intelligent as you are and come to different conclusions on things we dehumanize the other, calling them evil, stupid and unworthy of discussion. So they are this unworthy of sullying our gatherings. And given that those on offense, will have the advantage, tolerance will very rapidly become a character flaw. This will only make it worse.

    Because we are being driven to rule of man vs law, justifying reasons for unequal protection are going to be high priority.

    • [W]e are being driven to rule of man vs law

      The proof of this will be on display next week when the Senate holds hearings on the nomination of Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Democrat objections will largely revolve around the idea that “We want you t ignore laws we pass when we are unhappy with the consequences of those laws which we enacted.”

      National Review Online’s Ed Whelan has provided many perceptive analyses of this tendency, such as:

      Democrats’ Empty Case Against Gorsuch
      [SNIP]
      e. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, of course, doesn’t get it (or at least pretends not to). He complains that Gorsuch “sort of expresses sympathetic words in many of these cases, but then his decision is coldly—he would say pragmatic, we would say coldly—on the side of the big interests.”

      No, Senator Schumer, Gorsuch would not “say pragmatic.” Gorsuch soundly rejects the notion that judges have broad discretion to read statutes in furtherance of their own assessments of what is “pragmatic.” Gorsuch would instead say that he was striving to apply the law dispassionately in these cases. And any fair reading of them would support his account.

      • Yep. It comes down to “we wrote these words in in invisible ink. You gotta see em too.” And then the ever fun speech two-step. ‘That is bigotry, this is speech’

  29. But I want the dragon to torch Wullerton *spits* because they’re a**holes.

    Long Live Dog River

  30. And I think I’m going to have to c4c my own post, because it’s getting difficult to find the new comments…

    (*Really* liking the branches. WWI? Grumpy dragons? Fates vs virtues? Woot.)

  31. Dear Mind: What the [—-]?! How did you come up with the idea of ‘race’ and culture changing – rapidly, for and to the same person(s) – depending on the varying immediate surroundings? “Situation Ethnics” indeed.

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