The Tragic Implications of Moral Relativism and the Necessity of Punishment for All Aggressors
G. Stolyarov II
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2001 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007. The essay was written shortly after the terrible attacks of September 11, 2001, in which Islamic fundamentalist fanatics murdered over 3,000 innocent people. My reaction to these attacks was a strong desire for justice to be served and for the perpetrators to be punished. While I do not condone many of the measures that were subsequently taken as reactions to this tragedy during the so-called "War on Terror", I continue to agree with the core argument of this essay, that those who commit acts of physical aggression bear moral responsibility for such aggression and therefore deserve punishment.
To preserve a record of my writings following the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices in 2014, I have given this article a permanent presence on this page.
The Tragic Implications of Moral Relativism
Throughout the past and present, acts of definite wrong had been committed with or without a deliberate wrong in mind. September 11, 2001, serves merely as one of the most recent large-scale example of an atrocity taking place as a result of a misconception. Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists, driven by dogma that they twisted to justify murder, acted to destroy the lives of thousands of innocents, who had absolutely nothing to do with the vague notion of "American imperialism."
According to the pseudo-Islam practiced by those radicals, oppression, persecution, terror, conformity, and fear were all "good," while freedom of expression, competition, and opportunity have been labeled as "evil." That, of course, is an obvious reversal of values as far as virtue is concerned. It was this reversal that led to the World Trade Center tragedy. Yet the act of wrong, the murder of civilians, was intentional.
What can we learn from this tragedy? That thinking of good and evil as relative terms can result in catastrophic consequences. In human societies across the world there is an absolute good and an absolute evil, with fine boundaries defining the two.
Many people seem to look at the good/evil spectrum in terms of shades of gray, not whites or blacks, which creates a wide fuzzy line that is usually deemed acceptable by such thinkers, although within it are contained some of the least moral deeds. The adherents of the "fuzzy line" theory often excuse acts ranging anywhere from disrespect to genocide, blaming the act on the environment in which the perpetrator had grown up or simply saying that "everyone has their own perception of good and evil."
This relativism leads to a lack of punishment for those guilty of horrific deeds, and thus to a continuing proliferation of evil until it nearly blends in with mundane society. Walter M. Miller, Jr., in his novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, eloquently explains this: "If a man has committed an act and is ignorant of its wrong, then this ignorance may excuse the man, but it may not excuse the act. And we would be committing wrong by permitting that act to be carried out."
Therefore, to dismiss an act of definite evil as a result of attempting to see where the other person was coming from is not at all the proper approach. Numerous German army officers had, for example, worked in Nazi Death Camps duringand carried out the killing of millions of innocents. To execute many of those pawns of evil would be folly, since they did not mastermind the operation nor know of the degree to which they were violating every principle of virtue that can possibly exist, yet their act was a definite evil, and those truly responsible, the leaders of the National-Socialist Party, have been rightfully put to death following the Nuremberg Trials. The ones that initiated the evil knowing that their future act would be immoral are the ones who must be punished for willingly proceeding with murder and forcing others to assist their monstrous schemes.
The Necessity of Punishment for All Aggressors
Contrary to certain purveyors of moral relativism, I advocate holding those who commit any acts of physical aggression as completely responsible for those acts and liable to punishment under Murray Rothbard's "two teeth for a tooth" criterion.
Before we proceed to demonstrate the necessity of punishment for objectively aggressive acts, let us define our terms. What is the absolute good, one might ask? For an infallible definition, let us examine an excerpt from a letter written by Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire.
"Place two men on the Earth; they will only call that good, virtuous, and just which is good for both of them. Place four, and there will be nothing virtuous except what is suitable to all four; and if one of the four eats another's supper, or beats or kills him, he will assuredly arouse the others. What I say of these four men must be said of the whole universe."
Such is Voltaire's definition of good, which coincides with the fundamental principle beneath my term, absolute good, which states that the ideal set of virtues permits an individual to commit any act whatsoever so long as it inflicts no harm upon any individual, including the person who commits the act.
Acts of evil can thus be classified into two categories, minor (or mental) violations of virtue and major (or physical) ones. Minor violations consist of unwarranted inhibition of others' activities through disrespect, insult, prejudice, and other actions that do not include physically harming the target. Major violations either directly undermine an individual's health or threaten to do so if that person attempts to utilize his freedom in a certain manner that, although harmless, seems to irritate the committer of evil.
Nevertheless, responding with acts that inflict harm upon the perpetrator of vice is acceptable when dealing with one who has initiated mental or physical damage. People who have without reasonable justification inflicted mental harm upon another can have the harms of disrepute and social censure thrust upon them (these, however, are the only permissible mental harms that can be done in retaliation, and they are not acts of vice when so used). Those who inflict merely mental harm, however, ought not be physically punished or restricted for it, and their social punishment ought not to be the province of government.
Those who have committed a physical violation, however, have made themselves susceptible to a physical punishment in accordance with Murray Rothbard's "two teeth for a tooth" criterion. Retaliatory acts done for the purpose of quelling evil are absolutely within the boundaries of virtue. Therefore, for example, inflicting the death sentence upon the bomber Timothy McVeigh was the most virtuous thing the authorities of this country could have done, for McVeigh had intentionally violated the sanctity of human life.
Although criminals like the Islamic Fundamentalists who murdered thousands in the World Trade Center attack believed that they were committing an act of good, the definition of absolute virtue proves otherwise.
We recall that Voltaire believes that absolute virtue exists as common sense among all peoples of the world. He writes, for example, that even the wildest savage would condemn the murder of one's neighbor or an assault on someone with peaceful intentions. Therefore, since the terrorists were on some level aware of their wrong, but, due to their tainted perspective on the world, committed it anyway, they need to be subjected to the "two teeth for a tooth" policy concerning major violations of absolute good.
Anyone who had masterminded the attack and was aware of its consequences ought to be put to death in order to ensure that the rule of fear and intimidation does not persist to violate the harmless freedoms of every individual upon the face of this planet. That is the aim which good struggles to achieve in a world of evil. The moral relativism which excuses crime must stop if we desire to secure a peaceful existence for the innocent.
Ben Ray Redman, ed. 1949 . The Portable Voltaire. Penguin Books: New York.
Murray N. Rothbard. "Proportionality and Punishment." The Ethics of Liberty. http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard145.html
Wikipedia. "Timothy McVeigh." 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_McVeigh
Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress.
In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage Right, Rebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas,
Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently
the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until
Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout
Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its
Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s
selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.
Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).
Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology, a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at email@example.com.Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.