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?

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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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.

What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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5 Thoughts You've Probably Had About The Government Shutdown If You, Like Cardi B, Are Paying Attention

I'm not sure if Trump thinks he's playing a real-life game of "The Sims," but I can assure you that a wall will not keep out those that are truly determined to get in.


2019 — what a time to be alive, am I right? Normally I would use that phrase sarcastically, but each day I am more and more confused, transfixed, and curious (with just a dash of anticipation) about our current state as a society and the direction we're going. Even though most of the time the world seems like sh*t, you've got to admit that out of all the times in history, the current one we're in has a lot of cool perks. I mean, 70 years ago, who would've guessed that there'd be computers and a world wide web filled with endless information and apps that allow 125 million people to see cute pictures of Kim Kardashian's baby. And compared to life in the 1600s, an airplane seems just as extraordinary as the second coming of Jesus.

We're making a lot of wonderful and exciting progress, like our advancements in medicine, but for some reason, we've hit an impasse in terms of social improvement. Not even three years ago would I have guessed that the U.S. would elect an unqualified, most likely racist, reality TV star as president, but alas, here we are, which brings me to his latest antics.

The government shutdown.

Despite how bleak the future seems, a little part of me is just a tad grateful that I'm alive to see this all go down. Like everyone else, however, I've had quite a few thoughts about it all over the past few weeks...

1. So we're screwed, right?

We briefly had a government shutdown in 2013, but for some reason, I have absolutely no recollection of it (my 14-year-old self was probably too preoccupied with who was posted on my high school's Instagram "thot page." Spoiler alert: I was), so this is like my first experience dealing with one. There have been more than a dozen in U.S. history, but the current shutdown is the longest out of the list. My first thought when hearing about the news was "what the hell does THIS mean?" I immediately jumped to the conclusion that we were in a total state of anarchy, but of course, that isn't even partially true. According to The Balance, a government shutdown is "when non-essential discretionary federal programs close." The shutdown doesn't affect state social services, like the Department of Public Safety, and thankfully for us broke college students, funding for financial aid was approved last September, meaning there's no current effect on student financial aid programs.

However, federal services and agencies like the IRS (don't get too excited... you still have to pay taxes), Department of Labor, Department of Housing and Urban Development, National Institute of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration are completely shut down while the budget process is in limbo. With no current end in sight, this is bound to get very bad, very soon.

Already, hundreds of thousands of government employees have been sent home without pay and will continue to not be paid as long as the shutdown is in effect. People living in low-income housing may be evicted as HUD freezes funds for programs. Without funding, all of these services very well may close. Not only that, but the shut down is costing us money: approximately $1.2 billion every week. I wouldn't normally be worried, but Trump is the exact type of immature and petty to where he'll keep this going until he gets his way (or he's impeached, whichever comes first). His attitude firmly suggests that he's not backing down, and if services do close, there will be terrible effects on affected departments and citizen well-being.

Should we just drink the kool-aid now?

2. All of this over... a wall?

Out of all of the things that a president could request funding for, the one we currently have wants $5 billion for a damn steel wall? I'm not sure if he thinks he's playing a real-life game of The Sims, but I can assure you that real humans are much more crafty than we give each other credit for and that a wall will not keep out those that are truly determined to get in. Trump has said that the wall is the "only solution for a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border," yet common sense and many politicians/organizations can tell you that that's complete and utter bullsh*t. Not only that, but Trump's whole presidency has revolved around quelling illegal immigration, but no one has stopped to ask why he's only focusing on the border.

How would a wall decrease the number of people who overstay their visas? How would it decrease the number of illegal immigrants who aren't even crossing the border?!

While I am not well-versed in how much of a threat illegal immigration presents to the U.S. people and government, I still am convinced that there are way more important issues that the president should be concerned with. F*** global warming and renewable energy, let's build a wall, right?!?

Trump's obsession with his wall is a pathetic attempt to flex his self-professed prowess and a way to appease his hate-filled fanatics who only voted for him because he promised he could get it done.

What happened to Mexico paying for it? Oh right, that was just more bullsh*t.

3. People actually donated to this sh*t?

I just... People's stupidity and callousness never cease to amaze me. Before GoFundMe rightfully shut this fundraiser down, over 345,000 people actually donated $20 million dollars for a (wait for it) steel wall. Why is this the thing that people feel their money is worthy of being spent on? Imagine if we all banded together to raise $20 million dollars to help end homelessness or food insecurity. Or better yet, pay the federal employees who are getting screwed over by this whole ordeal.

4. How do Trump supporters feel about all of this?

I know that die-hard fans can take a lot of sh"t from their idols, but I think that after a while it's only natural for them to get fed up. Out of the 62 million people who voted for Trump, there's probably a good portion of them who are significantly affected by the shutdown. The ones who are government employees are feeling the brunt of it now, but if this continues on for months or even years like Trump is threatening, then we're all going to feel it and I can't think of any good excuses that someone could come up with in order to justify such a foolish and reckless decision made by the president. To a federally-employed Trump supporter, I can't imagine how it feels to go 26 days without a paycheck because the president you voted for is desperately trying to propose funding for a wall that you want to be built. It's got to be a catch-22, but hell, I feel like almost all Trump supporters are delusional anyway, so they're probably thinking they're undergoing some grand act of martyrdom.

5. Even Cardi B is worried... Now you know we're screwed.

Cardi B took to Instagram recently to post a video of her addressing her worries about the government shutdown. While not eloquently put, the rap princess is really only just voicing the thoughts and opinions of a lot of us out here. If Cardi B is taking the time out of her day to stop popping off at her haters and fantasizing about Offset's peen, then you know that this issue is a pretty big deal. The self-proclaimed gang member and boss bit** has admitted that she's scared. I think that warrants us to all be.

Well, there you have it, folks. Five of my most pressing thoughts about the government shutdown. As it continues, I'm sure they'll be thousands more that pop into all of our heads. But hey, let's look on the bright side -- we've made history; now's the only time we can say the government has been shut down all year.

Hopefully, we won't be able to say it for much longer.

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