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Celebrating the death of a murderer

Posted by Richard on July 25, 2009

At our breakfast gathering this morning, I told my compatriots about a joke Jimmy Fallon told regarding the probable killing of one of Osama bin Laden's sons. One person in the audience cheered, and a couple of people applauded. The rest sat in stony silence. A friend suggested that maybe they thought it wasn't appropriate to joke about the death of anyone.

I consider that explanation unlikely. I suspect that a significant percentage of the typical Jimmy Fallon audience considers slasher movies and Grand Theft Auto to be high entertainment. But it got me thinking. 

It's a common belief among Christians that all human life is sacred/valuable (many other religions/cultures share that belief, and some extend it to other creatures as well), and that therefore the death of even the vilest murderer or brutal tyrant should be mourned — or at least not celebrated.

I completely disagree. That belief shows a callous disregard for the murderer's future victims. When an al Qaeda leader is killed, how many people will not be blown up or shot, how many women and children will not be brutalized and subjugated, how many men will not be beheaded as a consequence of his death?

If you've studied free-market economics, you may be familiar with Frédéric Bastiat's essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.” In it, he argued that we tend to focus on the immediate, intended consequences of an action (what is seen) and fail to recognize the later, unintended consequences (what is not seen). For instance, when the government allocates a few hundred billion dollars for "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects, we see the jobs created (they put up big signs at the project sites to make sure we do). But we don't see the goods that would have been purchased, the investments that would have been made, and the jobs that would have been created if the government had left that money in private hands instead of taxing or borrowing it away. 

I contend that the death of a murderer represents a moral issue analogous to Bastiat's principle of economics. You can see the lifeless body of a terrorist or serial killer (or at least the news reports) and recognize that a human life has been taken. But too often, you fail to see the lives that have been spared in the future as a consequence of his death.

Not me. I celebrate the deaths of barbarians like Saad bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — because I'm gladdened by the thought of the innocent victims, the honest and peaceful people, who will be spared because of their demise. And I unashamedly value the lives of the latter more than the lives of the former. Ridding the world of such evil men and preventing their future acts of violence is the noble, decent, civilized thing to do. It is virtuous and it is just.

If you still insist that all killing is always wrong, here's a thought experiment. You see a man with his knife raised, about to stab the chest of a helpless, bound woman. There is a gun at hand. What would you do? Would you shoot him, trading his life for hers?

Would you do nothing, because taking any life is wrong? Then she dies, and he can move on to the next victim.

If all human life is equally valuable, and pain and suffering are bad, maybe you should shoot her! Either way, someone dies, and (since you don't care who) you can at least spare her a more painful death. 

I would shoot him without hesitation, and if I succeeded, I'd be relieved and happy for her and for his future victims. The lives of honest, peaceful, innocent people are infinitely more valuable than the lives of murderous predators.

Likewise, I hope that Predator drone did take out Saad bin Laden, and I'm gladdened by the thought of the lives that will be spared as a result of his death. Making a joke or two at the scumbag's expense is not out of order.

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