Unavoidable Tensions

“All life must be protected at all costs/the individual is the most important” vs. “Do the maximum amount of good when the opportunity presents itself.”

Thales at The Declination articulates a point I’ve been making for some time now: the tension between principles and self-defense:

When it comes to principles, I can really only speak for myself, but I suspect what I’m about to discuss is something that holds true for most people. We naturally hold having principles to be higher, that is to say morally superior, to not having principles, or to violating them arbitrarily. However, this can lead to absurdities such as guilt-ridden, suicidal cultures (see: most of the West right now).

Most people, I imagine, would agree that non-aggression is generally a good principle. Indeed, Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists have this enshrined as a core principle. Violence can only be used on someone who, in turn, has violated the non-aggression principle. This sounds well and good on the surface, but is subject to complexities. Imagine for a moment that you are sure – absolutely sure – that someone is about to commit murder. But he has not made his intentions to do so clear to others, nor has he actually done it yet. By the non-aggression principle, are you allowed to preemptively deal with him accordingly? Or must you wait until the violence has been committed?

Must, for example, a society of Libertarians allow hordes of Communists into their borders? Communists, I might add, who express a desire to kill them and take their property for redistribution, should they obtain sufficient numbers. Taken to its logical endpoint, strict adherence to the principle may well result in the extinction, both of the society in question, and adherence to the principle itself.

It goes much deeper. Pacifists would appear to favor peace as a principle. However, many of them take the principle to absurd lengths, such as not even fighting back when said murderer starts killing people. Without restraint on murderers, without defensive action against them, soon there are many such murderers. Violence increases when pacifism is used, for the violent are no longer restrained by fear that they may suffer consequences for their actions.

Pacifists are moral cowards. If their principles incline them toward peace they, seemingly-paradoxically, must be willing to fight for that peace.

I’ve often said, quite accurately, that pacifists are those content to let others do the heavy lifting of civilization so they can feel good about themselves while castigating the people who allow them to be pacifists.

But Thales doesn’t just write about pacifism. He also discusses asymmetrical warfare (emphasis mine):

When one group adheres to principles – or at least tries to – and another does not, the one that does not is often granted political advantage. This is something we have seen with the Left (though sometimes on the Right, too) for many years. It has created a House advantage, so to speak, for the Left. Consider how every close election that resulted in a recount almost invariably resulted in mysterious piles of Democrat ballots being discovered. Or how Hillary won every coin toss against Bernie Sanders.

The principle for them is power. No more or less than that.

I don’t argue for us to abandon principles, however, for then we become like our enemy. The challenge, rather, is to articulate them – to ensure that they do not become a noose around our necks. For like pacifists leading to more violence, so too will poorly articulated principles ensure the extinction of our own principles.

One current example is when Rightists come out and champion the censorship campaigns of Facebook, Twitter, et al. The usual principle given as justification for this view is that private companies may censor speech on their property as much as they like. Having discovered that Rightists will often adhere to this principle even against their own obvious interests, Leftists have concentrated much of their recent efforts on subverting the Right from within businesses. Every day, more businesses declare open support for the Left, and disdain for the Right. Indeed, Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick’s face in their advertisements has been boiling over the airwaves today. Papa Johns recently declared their affiliation with Social Justice. And the position of Starbucks on guns is known well enough. Most companies have a decidedly Leftist bent, these days. Exceptions exist, but not that many – at least not at the large company level.

Leftists realized that the Right would fight to the death if the government was openly used to suppress the Right (see the IRS scandal), but the Right would stand by passively if the same was done through businesses, due to strict adherence to the principles of private property. This is being used as a weapon against us.

Thales is spot-on. Business worship gets you clobbered when those businesses hate you.

His ideas are remarkably in line with my discussion of the tension between bright line rules–i.e., principles–and the flexibility required to not have said principles be used against you, or worse, lead to suicidal outcomes:

So where does this leave us when it comes to more serious situations where you refuse to back down, to unilaterally disarm, to throw your own friends under the bus? Aren’t these things antithetical to bright line rules? I say no.

This is where things must be balanced.

Yes, an opponent using a tactic puts that tactic on the table. Sometimes ramming their own medicine down their throat is the best way to keep things from getting worse. But having bright line principles can still keep you from going too far down that road, or utilizing a tactic that is evil.

Ask yourself this:

1 Is the tactic in question evil or wrong?

2 Will you using it induce your enemy to stop attacking you or your loved ones?

3 Will you be able to limit your use of said tactic?

First, if you’re even thinking these things, you’re likely doing alright. Most decent people–and most people are decent–don’t enjoy hurting others, even when necessary, and don’t want to continue to hurt others just for fun.

Second, this is one of those instances where potentially violating a bright line rule isn’t done for reasons of convenience or venal personal gain. It may be done for survival of self or others, whether that’s physical, monetary, or otherwise. Everything must be balanced.

And third, this is where the concept of forgiveness comes in. You don’t have to end up best friends with your enemy. You just need a mutual understanding that things will escalate and neither side will like it.

Existential crises and the fight for survival sure create interesting moral dilemmas. I am sure there was much more angst than let on, for example, when the decisions were being made to firebomb German cities or drop the nuke on Japan.

Would that our leaders had some of this moral courage in, say, prosecuting the war against Islam (because don’t kid yourselves: that’s what it is). We might have been out of the Middle East a dozen years ago.


  1. Reblogged this on Citizen Tom and commented:
    Alex tackles a tough issue in this post. His post reminds me of a question I had to answer when I applied for AFROTC. “Would I have been willing to pilot one those bombers that dropped bombs on Germany and Japan during WWII?”

    Why that question? It was 1970. Overindulged flower children and a self-proclaimed morally pure news media had denounced war. Why? What principles did they adhere to? None that could be discerned. The pictures of the Vietnam War shown on TV were just ugly. War, as some have observed, is Hell.

    Do principles weaken us? That is the question Alex tackles in his post, and there is no simple answer. I think Jesus addressed this issue in this passage.

    Matthew 7:1-6 New King James Version (NKJV)
    Do Not Judge
    7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

    6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

    Why do some demand that “we” not judge them? Sometimes we render judgement inappropriately, but consider verse 6. Are we suppose to trust dogs and swine? If dogs and swine drop bombs and weapons of mass destruction upon our family and friends, how should we respond, by tying our hands behind our backs? Of course not.

    What is the purpose of the law? The law exists to provide justice. Just laws separate those people who are willing to live by the principles the law upholds from those who will not. Just government punishes the dogs and the swine.

    If alaw allows dogs and swine to trample upon pearls of love and tear the innocent to pieces, then that law is unjust.

    Liked by 1 person

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