Survival ethics and outlaw civilizations..

Most people agree that there are multiple valid moral models, depending on the environment you’re in. There’s the base model of vague liberalism in which everyone agrees not to attack or violate the rights of everyone else, and edge cases are dealt with via the agreed-upon arbitrators of the legal system. Then there’s wartime morality, where you designate the militant arm of an enemy soceity as acceptable targets and then use violence at them until they stop being militant. (Obviously, this can also lead into much less agreed-upon but still common morality modes if you don’t actually stop then.)

We agree collectively that if there’s a great mass of people trying to kill you, it’s perfectly acceptable to kill them right back. But reading To Destroy You Is No Loss made me think about this. One of the things that the Communist regime did in Cambodia was work hard to make as many people as possible complicit. Neighbors were encouraged to report on neighbors and family for minor infractions which could, depending on the political state of things and the desire for more or less murder at a particular point in time, lead directly to those neighbors or family being marked for death. And if you didn’t do this, then you’d be marked as uncooperative and be killed yourself (along with your family, naturally).

When you’re captured, enslaved, and threatened with death daily, everyone agrees that then is an excellent time to kill your captors. But does it change things if your captors are captives themselves, forced to betray you lest they die in turn?

I don’t think it does. We accept the necessity of killing conscripts in the service to evil regimes. We look for alternatives, but when they don’t exist, we accept that taking up arms for an evil cause means that you can be morally killed.

So, in a society which weaponizes its entire civilian populace, it follows that morally speaking, you’re weapons-free. It’s tragic to have to kill a child soldier with an AK because he will most likely shoot you with it, and it’s equally tragic to quietly poison the neighbors and their children because they might report on the Jews in your basement, but if one is permissible, the other should be as well. (Modulo the rules of war and so forth.)

On the other hand, I also can’t imagine “Well, we the despised minority group is being targeted for harassment again. Time to poison all the wells, loot the valuables from our dying ex-neighbors, drop a few plagues on our way out to cover our retreat, and group up in a nation that’s not harassing us to live in peace and prosperity!” actually working for any minority group. Maybe the most ethical thing to do if you find yourself in an oppressive regime is to do absolutely whatever it takes to escape, then make up heartwarming tales about allies and collaborators.

Really, I think the best thing to do is to remember that yes, it can happen here, yes, it can happen to us, and to be ready to drastically change your living situation once you get a hint of people in charge restricting your ability to save money, arm yourself for self-defense, or travel freely.


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