Is Assassination Justifiable? A Look At Utilitarianism

Is Assassination Justifiable? A Look At Utilitarianism

Most Americans' immediate (and correct) answer to this question would be no, but why?
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Is it possible to justify the assassination of a political leader? It’s a provocative question with a seemingly obvious answer: no.

No matter how much one disagrees with a politician’s political views and ideology, it is a generally accepted principle that to attempt to kill--or enact any violence--on them is unjustifiable and inhumane.

This topic was brought to life this past week at a Congressional baseball practice when a crazed gunman opened fire and shot five people, including two sitting GOP Congressmen. Even in a political atmosphere as rancorous and toxic as ours, the crime was met with swift and forceful opposition from just about any and everyone, with condemnations crossing every partisan and ideological divide.

Senator Bernie Sanders, for whom the shooter had volunteered for this past election cycle, even said “I am sickened by this despicable act. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

As blanket as this opposition may seem, under at least one prominent ethical philosophy, this kind of attack might (depending on the target) not only be theoretically justifiable but also theoretically imperative.

Utilitarianism is, in the simplest of terms, a philosophical doctrine centered around doing the most good for the most amount of people. It is respecting the good of the majority over the good of the individual. In the famous hypothetical train situation, wherein one can flip a lever, condemning one person to death, or do nothing and let two people die, utilitarians would immediately flip the lever. This line of thinking can also be tied to Machiavellianism, the belief that “the ends justify the means.”

Of course, this all sounds wonderful in theory: doing the most good for the most amount of people, no individual life matters more than any other individual life, strive in all your decision making to make a choice that leads to the most net good (or least net bad).

In practice, this philosophy can be a lot more problematic. Imagine, for example, you see a child drowning in a lake or a stream. He could die any second so there is no time to take off your nice, expensive suit. Should you jump in anyway and try to save the child?

The immediate response you should all be having is “yes, of course, I will sacrifice my suit to save this fictional child’s life.” And I would guess that would be most people’s initial reaction.

Utilitarianism would, however, suggest you instead let the child drown, sell the suit for hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on how nice it is, and give the money to some charity that feeds starving African children for pennies a day. This would, in theory, be the most good for the most amount of people.

Theoretically, this focus of deciding based on the most good for the most amount of people could be applied to political assassinations, as well.

Take, for instance, President Donald Trump. Nearly every person, myself included, regardless of political leanings would likely condemn any violence--perpetrated or attempted--against him as wrong and un-American. However, many liberals, myself included, consider his Presidency to be a threat to thousands of people, as well.

Despite the proposed travel ban’s failure to pass muster with the Courts, President Trump is still very likely to admit fewer Syrian refugees than his predecessor, President Obama, and is almost certainly going to admit fewer Syrian refugees than his 2016 opponent, Secretary Clinton.

Despite the fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric surrounding one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, refusing to offer aid to some of the most vulnerable people in the world could very well result in the deaths of many refugees in war-torn Syria or desolate refugee camps who could have otherwise found a home in the United States.

Much like President Obama, President Trump has also already killed hundreds of civilians in the Middle East.

In late May, a series of attacks on an ISIS-occupied town in Syria killed 106 civilians, including 42 children. According to the UN, at least 300 civilians have been killed by US airstrikes in the northern city of Syria of Raqqa alone since March. Another strike in March on Mosul, Iraq reportedly killed about 200 civilians, which is the most deadly US strike (in terms of civilian casualties) since the War in Iraq started in 2003.

These are just a few of the many state-sponsored acts of terror committed by the US in the Middle East. Though the Trump administration is by no means the first or only administration to have killed civilians in the Middle East in the name of the War on Terror, it certainly appears that the numbers are higher now.

As Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world [is] my own Government.”

Now, let’s talk about healthcare. This issue has been in the news a lot lately as Congressional Republicans seek to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Though it is likely to see changes in the Senate, the bill as was passed in the House stands to force upwards of 23 million Americans to lose their health insurance, per CBO reports.

This could and likely would lead to earlier deaths for some of these people, and that is solely on the conscience of the Republican Congresspeople who voted for this bill before even seeing what the CBO report would show.

Taking all of this information into consideration, a utilitarian could reasonably justify an assassination of President Trump. And, under utilitarianism, this would be a fair and just ethical decision.

Much like the instance of the child drowning, this is a perfect example of how, though wonderful-sounding in theory, utilitarianism collapses into the realm of seemingly insane in practice. If someone were to commit this type of violence, I and upwards of 90 or 95% of all other Americans would voice our collective disdain for the hypothetical political coward. But why?

It is clear why we would all collectively agree that murdering anyone, maybe even especially the President of the United States, is wrong. We as a society generally place a high premium on individual lives and the taking of one is considered the most heinous of crimes.

This makes sense and I think one would be hard-pressed to find any substantial amount of people willing to disagree that murder is wrong and should be illegal. But, can something morally wrong still lead to something good?

Many liberals--and some conservatives, too--would consider it a good thing if President Trump were to resign, to be impeached, or to have never been elected in the first place. Yet, all of us would grieve if he were to die, either of natural causes or by some deranged attacker.

Sure, it makes sense for us as humans to feel sad for the death of another. As despicable as his politics may be, Donald Trump is still a human being and so are his family members, friends, and associates.

A certain amount of this grieving would be performative outrage, as well. We would feel a collective duty or an obligation to be public with our grieving. We would feel the need to make sure everyone knows that we, too, are sad and/or angry.

Functionally, the death of President Trump would result in the same as his resignation or impeachment. Plenty of Presidents have died or been killed throughout history without a Constitutional or democratic crisis. Yet, no one would celebrate a death the same way. Even if someone thought it was ultimately a good thing that he was dead and out of power, they wouldn’t celebrate.

Part of this is political and societal pressures, but part of it is also genuine human emotion. It’s not natural to feel glad about someone’s death or feel that it is somehow right, no matter what circumstances accompany that death.

This is, I think, where utilitarianism fails. It does not recognize the unique and individual value of every single life. Instead, it thinks of lives as mere numbers. Even if the death of President Trump were ultimately good for the world as a whole, it would still be tragic.

Cover Image Credit: Nigel Parry

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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Terrors Behind "Toddlers & Tiaras" - Beauty Pageants Need To Go!

Why Honey Boo Boo is not the girl we should be idolizing...

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Honey Boo Boo is famous for her extravagant persona, extreme temper tantrums, overwhelming attitude, and intense sassiness. All of these qualities are shared by many other young girls who participate in beauty pageants - not just in "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" but also in TLC's notorious "Toddlers & Tiaras," a show that depicts the horrors of little girls who have dedicated their childhood to winning the crown.

These shows, and the pageants they glorify do nothing but force girls to grow up too quickly, send negative messages to viewers and participants and pose health risks for the girls involved.

Therefore, beauty pageants for young girls should be abolished.

The hypersexualization that takes place in these pageants is staggering. Not only are young girls' minds molded into having a superficial view on beauty, but they are also waxed, spray-tanned, given wigs, retouched in pictures, injected with Botox and fillers, and painted with fake abs and even breasts.

Sexy is the goal, not cute. Girls of ages 2-12 wear skimpy clothing, accentuating only their underdeveloped bodies. A 4-year-old girl on "Toddlers and Tiaras" once impersonated Dolly Parton with fake breasts, another dressed as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (so basically, a prostitute), and another even pretended to smoke a cigarette to look like Sandy from Grease.

In Venezuela, people are so obsessed with pageants that they send their daughters to "Miss Factories," to train them to win. At these factories, underage girls undergo plastic surgery and hormone therapy to delay puberty in attempts to grow taller. In addition, they often get mesh sewn onto their tongues so that they are physically incapable of eating solid food. This idea of taking horrific measures to look slimmer is not unique to Venezuela. A former Miss USA explained that she would "slather on hemorrhoid ointment, wrap herself up with Saran wrap, and run on a treadmill with an incline for 30 minutes to tighten her skin and waist up." Many countries, including France and Israel have banned child beauty pageants because it is "hypersexualizing." Why has the US yet to follow in their footsteps?

Additionally, the pageants strip their young contestants of a childhood by basically putting them through harsh child labor. Oftentimes, girls as young as 18 months old participate in pageants. There is no way that a girl under 2 years old has the capacity to decide for herself that she wants to participate in a beauty pageant. Not to mention, education often takes a backseat in pageant girls' lives as long practice sessions interfere with sleep and homework. This causes long-term distress for the contestants, including widespread unemployment for former pageant girls.

Moreover, these pageants tie self-worth and self-esteem to attractiveness. They teach girls that natural beauty and intelligence are not enough, when in actuality they should be doing the opposite. In fact, 72% of pageant girls hire coaches to train girls to be more "attractive."

Finally, these pageants pose potent health risks for the girls competing. Not only do intense rehearsals interfere with their sleep cycles, but they are also impacted by the harmful methods taken to keep them awake. One example is Honey Boo Boo's "go go juice" - AKA a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull. She is known for drinking this continuously throughout pageant days to stay awake and energetic - but the health risks associated with the drinks, let alone for such a young girl, are completely ignored.

And, the future health problems associated with pageantry cannot be looked past. Participating in beauty pageants as kids leads to eating disorders, perfectionism, depression - in fact, at least 6% suffer from depression while competing. "The Princess Syndrome," as Psychology Today calls it relates to a small study published in 2005 that showed that former childhood beauty pageant contestants had higher rates of body dissatisfaction. This sense of dissatisfaction can so easily be translated to more severe mental and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. The average BMI (Body Mass Index) of a Beauty Contestant in the US in 1930 was 20.8, which is universally in the middle of the "healthy" range. In 2010, it was 16.9, which is considered underweight for anyone.

So, despite the entertainment these shows and pageants provide, they should most definitely be stopped due to the immense amount of issues they cause for those involved and those who watch.

Although Honey Boo Boo is (sadly) considered one of America's sweethearts, her experience in pageantry has certainly not been a positive influence in her life nor in the lives of her fans - and this is the case for nearly all young pageant girls.

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