Hurt People Hurt People
Updated: Oct 12
Years ago, when reading Jonathan Haidt's "Righteous Mind", I kept thinking of what things I would do under duress. For example, most of us would murder in self defense, right? So what else would we do under extenuating circumstances?
What follows is a dark discussion of how I think of these things, how parenthood radically changed the crimes I would commit, and has made it hard to denounce victims of genocide (i.e. Israel & Palestine) from trying to protect their loved ones. I end by coming back to a rational stance and putting blame where blame is due.
Moral Foundation Theory
This is going to be a dismal post. So let's start with some grim context. Haidt starts his book asking us to think about the morality of this situation:
A family’s dog was killed by a car in front of their house. They had heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and cooked it and ate it for dinner. Nobody saw them do this.
So that we internalize what the book will be about he follows with a second question: How moral is this?
A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it.
Neither is a question I'd ask on first date. But these are questions that provide strong guttural and rational reactions. My engineer brain was fine with them. But something inside me was not. Even less so when going to the rotisserie or patting a pet dog. Yet. I digress.
Before we dig deeper we need to stipulate some ground rules on what questions we will ask. These are hypothetical intuition pumps, similar to the Trolley Problem in philosophy. Or more recently Iyad Rahwan' moral machine experiment In their basic form they are simple two options, but one can add complexities and learn a lot from people along the way.
These questions provide definite repercusions. For example, if we were to think on the question: Would you rape a person if..., the setting implies that the action you would perform would be seen for all intensive purposes by the victim as a premeditated rape made under your own volition and no one elses. The same for any other crime we look below. There is no sugar coating, no simplification, nor chance for explaing and showing that you are a good person. In these hypotheticals the repercussions are exactly what the crime stated implies. If it is rape, the victim will feel raped. If murdered, as they die, they will wonder why you wanted them death.
Furthermore, it is assumed that you have the agency to do this choice and that you are capable of doing the actions. No scenario will focus on things I cannot do because they would just be too superfluous, to me. I will never commit "suicide by pilot" as I am not a Lufthansa trainee. Andreas Lubitz could have engaged in these questions before he crashed his full plane into the French Alps, I cannot.
When would you rape someone?
When thinking about which crimes I might commit I kept reversing to thinking about rape. Mainly because rape is something inexcusable. Before reading Haidt, I found rape unacceptable under any circumstance. Thou shall not rape was written deeply in the stone foundation of my self.
Haidt's book made me realize the how thin that foundation was. I realized that, for me, murder is worse than rape. Therefore. The set of conditions that would make me murder someone would also lead me to rape someone. Furthermore, there ought to be conditions under which I would rape but not kill.
One complication arises though: one cannot rape in self defense. We need to adapt the question to make the situation work. From now on the question will focus on extorsión. Someone puts two options out for selection. Option A is what they would do to me. Option B what I need to do to someone else.
So raping for self defense would be a case in which option A is someone killing me, option B raping someone. And honestly, I would rape someone to save my life. I am certain about it. I would still go to the police directly after but I think I would under threat of death, I would rape someone. And call me romantic, but I would do it also if my partner was under threat of death.
What is creepy about this, is that I would not kill under these conditions. If someone said they would kill me unless I kill someone else, I would not do it. I would rather die knowing I did something good. But I would rape them, which is all forms of messed up.
I did not go much further after this. I did not dare imagine under which circumstance would I rob a bank or beat a person. I was too weak to push further.
Push forward five years. My daughter is born and new certainties enter my life. I have new morals and they include a myriad of crimes I would do under duress. And I did not even have to ask myself, it just changed. In aninstant, I knew I would do a lot to save her.
I would kill for her. No question, no doubt. That is, faced with option A my daughter is murdered and option B I murder someone I would kill that innocent person. Not a second had passed after her birth when I had this in built certainty that actions I would never before do were now within the realm of possibility.
It takes time to internalize this new moral operating system. A body and mind I used to know and whose boundaries of actions I had explored in depth is now deeper and different. It is self evident that I would rape if she is under threat of death. But what else? How can I get to know what I would do? Is there anything I would not if she were to be murdered?My gut feeling is no. I would do anything. But is it really? If so the repercussions are monumental.
Tale of Two Genocides
Think of the land sorrounding Jerusalem. It is filled with parents. Who just as me would do (almost?) anything to keep their children safe. But who for reasons often out of their control, routinely fail at doing so. (www.businessinsider.com/gaza-israel-airstrikes-children-doctors-without-borders-2023-10)
I cannot judge them for wanting to keep the people they love safe. But I can judge the people whose actions and inactions led this to happen. Israelis wanted a state even before Hitler's policies led to a mass (forced) migration of Jewish people to the Middle East. But it was German racism that made that version of the Zionist dream come to fruition.
Similarly, the Balfour declaration stated that "His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object," Palestine was not even a British territory. It was part of the Ottoman empire an Ally of the German.
Somehow though, a racist genocide led the migration of millions of Jewish people to a land his enemies opened up form them to inhabit, without asking at any point in time whether they'd be ok with he intrusion. Genocide and lies are wobbly foundation for peace.
One could say that these actions happened ages ago. But no global policy has set them right. Multiple treaties have been stated but no one has stepped in and made them a reality. It makes sense that hurt people hurt people. But there are international organisms that, if humanity wanted would make these mess go away.
But we don't, we are still kind of ok with the victims of a genocide commiting a genocide. Not even a retributive genocide, no Germans are being killed. Just the people Balfour declared should be hurt.
So when I think of what happens in the Middle East, I would rather think of what we will do to stop it. To accept that Europe, the United Nations, and humanity at large has failed the inhabitanta of this region. They kill and torture each other not because they are bad people but because they are hurt. And for the sake of bringing this point home. HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE!