Friday, October 23, 2015

Ethics of killing Hitler

The NYTimes asks us: if we could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby, would we do it? There's actually several questions here: emotional, moral, and ethical. Consider a rephrasing of the question to focus on the emotional question: could you kill a baby, even if you knew it would grow up and become Hitler?

But it's the ethical question that comes up the most often, and it has real-world use. It's pretty much the question Edward Snowden faced: should he break his oath and disclose the NSA's mass surveillance of Americans?

I point this out because my ethical response is "yes, and go to jail". The added "and go to jail" makes it a rare response -- lots of people are willing to kill Hitler if they don't suffer any repercussions.

For me, the hypothetical question is "If you went back in time and killed Hitler, would you go to jail for murder?". My answer is "yes". I'd still do my best to lessen the punishment. I'd hire the best lawyer to defend me. It's just that I would put judgement of my crime or heroism in the hands of others. I would pay the consequences, whatever they were.

Another way of looking at the question is: "If you had a time machine, is killing Hitler the best option?". Maybe if you sent a hot chick back in time to get Hitler laid as a teenager, he wouldn't be so angry at the world. Maybe if you went back in time and purchased his crappy paintings, or hired him as an architect, you could steer his life onto another path. Seriously, the time stream is full of butterflies that simply need to flap their wings in order to divert Hitler from genocide.

I point this out because it's "murder" that is the question, and Hitler is only window dressing.

There is a cybersecurity bill, "CISA", in front of congress right now that will be voted on next week. But "cybersecurity" is only the window dressing. The tech industry and cybersecurity experts oppose it. Its only supporters are the intelligence community, like the FBI and NSA. It's really a disguised surveillance bill. Just like people seem uninterested in stopping Hitler through some means other than murder, government is uninterested in stopping hackers through some other means than mass surveillance and a police state.

Anyway, those are my two answers to the "kill Hitler" question. If I had a time machine, my first choice wouldn't be "murder". If I did choose "murder", I'd expect to go to jail for it.


Sixth Estate said...

That this question is often asked makes it no more ridiculous.

If you had a time machine you could go back and keep him from being conceived in the first place. Then there could be no question of it being murder, even though the result would be exactly the same.

Ethical problem resolved.

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Simon said...

A more interesting question : "How History would change if there was no Hitler ?".

History would be basically the same. Because crazy psychopaths always existed, and always will.
Why that specific crazy guy became a totalitarian ruler with millions of minions ready to kill for him ? Because many people were ready to follow him. Because many people wanted that war.
It wouldn't have been him, it would have been another guy.
Maybe a different flavour, still the WW2, and still millions of deaths.
The problem is not the crazy guy, but the people willing to follow them.

But I see how this question is important. It is because it pushes responsibility on one crazy individual, instead of putting it on the people.
That way the people of today don't understand that the permanent anti-freedom / pro-State message is actually the cause of all wars.
Bush administration destroyed millions of lives in Iraq for nothing ? Don't worry it is only his responsibility, not yours for voting for him. Not yours for supporting the centralisation of power in a few hands.