If a guy tells you there is a 5% chance he might kill you someday in the future, do you have a moral justification to kill him today?

My answer is yes. You would have a big legal problem, but from a moral standpoint, it's close enough to self defense in my book.

But what if the guy is a bit hard to read on the subject of whether he might kill you in the future. Let's say you can't estimate the odds of it happening because you're not even sure if he means it, or maybe he has some motive in making you think he might. There's no way to know what's in his head. He's broken no laws because he speaks indirectly as in "Someone will kill you soon" as opposed to "I plan to kill you soon." Can you kill that guy and be morally (but not legally) justified?

I say yes again. You might be killing a relatively innocent man, but accidents aren't immoral.

Now let's say you know that if you kill this one guy, his brothers and sisters will hunt you down and get revenge. It's that sort of family. So killing this guy will only make things worse. But suppose you had a good opportunity to kill all of the brothers and sisters, by bombing their family reunion. You'd get all of the dangerous ones plus a bunch of total innocents. Would that be morally (but not legally) justified as self defense?

I say yes. The guy who threatened you is the one who put his family at risk. And if you misread the threat, that's a tragedy, but not immoral. Accidents are accidents, no matter how horrible.

All analogies are flawed, but that's how I see Israel looking at Iran. From my safe little chair in California, it seems highly unlikely that Iran would unleash a nuke, directly or through proxies, at Israel. But is there a 5% chance it might happen someday? Maybe. There's no way to estimate that sort of thing.

If I lived in Israel, I would feel morally (but not legally) justified in attacking Iran to reduce a hypothetical 5% risk of nuclear annihilation. But that's just the moral argument. On a practical level, I have a hard time imagining a massive attack on Iran making Israel safer in the long run. Still, if I were within Iranian missile range, a 5% risk would look exactly like a 90% risk to me. I'd treat those risks as if they were the same.

Here's an interesting view on Iran from Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria. Does his argument look like something you once read elsewhere?


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Jun 8, 2009
Well I guess the problem with interfering with the affairs of other nations is that you never know when or how it'll come back to bite you in the ass.

Who was it who overthrew a peaceful, democratically elected government in Iran and installed their own Shah because it wouldn't play sock-puppet to the USA? The same people who now complain that Iranians aren't very keen on America, and squeal on about the fact that Iran wants the same kind of weapons that Israel is armed to the teeth with so they can maintain a balance of power.
Jun 3, 2009
I think the analogy can be improved in two ways:

First of all, pretend a crazed Mike Tyson type threatened to kill you at some point in the future, not your run-of-the-mill man in the street. A much more credible threat.

Second, crazy Mike is brandishing a gun and saying he bought this gun specifically to shoot you in the future if the mood strikes. Are you morally justified in destroying the gun?

Jun 2, 2009
I think you should kill him if you want revenge like lets say he killed your Girlfriend, you'd be angry, Right? I on the other hand am just a 13 year-old so its kinda hard to kill an adult.
Jun 2, 2009
Lot's of killing on your mind. Did you just have a face-to-face with your editor?
Jun 2, 2009
Gee Scott, by your logic Charles Manson was a perfectly moral dude with "a big legal problem."

What you are trying to do is legitimize Israeli fear-mongering as "moral grounds" to do whatever it wants. While it is typical of all nations to pragmatically choose their best strategy -- justifying everything after-the-fact -- the one thing they can seldom do is claim the moral high ground too.

By putting your arguments into "it's either me or him" terms everyone can see just how sick and depraved this kind of rationalizing really is.

Accidents aren't immoral? Like hell they're not! Did the Nazi's accidentally slaughter 16 million Jews? Oops! My bad!
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 2, 2009
I'm surprised no one has questioned the assumption that the best and only possible action on your part would be to *kill* him.

What about finding out *why* he may want to kill you, and addressing that? Negotiating with him? Going to the relevant authorities? A neutral third party? Or a friend of his or a friend of yours? Learning martial arts and getting a restraining order? Seems to me like there are countless other recourses before taking the murder route.

Also, if you do accept the premise and consider pre-emptive murder moral, especially when there was only a 5% chance of it ever happening, murder in revenge is hardly less moral. So after killing him you'd then be left with the question of how now to prevent the revenge killings, which your deceased enemy's relatives/friends/allies would feel even more justified in doing now. And your own friends/allies would be less inclined to help a murderer.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 2, 2009
Interesting analysis of the Iranian nuclear situation: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/bruce_bueno_de_mesquita_predicts_iran_s_future.html

Basically, he posits that Iran's gotta show that it can develop a nuclear arsenal, but there's too much internal and external pressure that will keep them from going all the way.
Jun 2, 2009
hi: I've tried to UNSUBSCRIBE from your daily strip like a dozen times, to no avail, SO this is my latest attempt to UNSUBSCRIBE from your daily strip. Is there ANY other way that I can effectively UNSUBSCRIBE from your daily strip? I mean aside from hitting the UNSUBSCRIBE button and asking that I please be UNSUBSCRIBED from your daily strip, which hasn't worked the dozen times I've done it. If there is ANY OTHER WAY TO UNSUBSCRIBE from your daily strip, which would actually get my name OFF your SUBSCRIPTION list, please let me know. Thanks.
Jun 2, 2009
If there is a 5% chance of someone killing you, is it OK for you to kill them? I would have thought the answer was, no, obviously not. That would be on a par with killing one murderer and nineteen innocent people in 'self defense'.
In my job, as a professional crack dealer, I often have to deal with this kind of ethical dilemma. For example, there's a cop on my block who won't take bribes. I can't help feeling we might get into a gunfight one day. I reckon there's around a 5% chance I might die that way. And then there's my wife. There's about a 5% chance of her killing me, I would say, as I beat her on a regular basis and she might one day snap and stab me in my sleep. I thought I had to just put up with that kind of risk, but thanks to your moral guidance, I know I shouldn't. They die tonight.

Although, on the other hand, don't you think that by your own kind of logic an Iranian would be pretty justified in murdering you and (if the means were available) destroying Israel, for threatening Iranian lives?
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 2, 2009
Hey Scott,
Sometime back, you wrote about "remindsmeof" trap in your blog - http://www.dilbert.com/blog/entry/chimp_cartoon
Now the question is - have you blundered into a remindsmeof or did you offend intentionally?
Jun 2, 2009
As long as there is1 fanatic that wishes to see Israel whiped off the map the Isarelis will feel "morally" obliged to kill him/her. They see such whackos when and where they want and if you don't stand behind them you are "anti-semetic". The Palestinians were not responsible for killing 6 million Jews in WW2 so why are they being punished for it? Also I heard that the comments that the Iranian president made about whiping out Israel were probably a mistranslation or at least his comments could have been translated other than the way they were.
Jun 1, 2009
Lets be clear about a few things. Despite the propaganda coming from the US, Iran has never said it will wipe Israel out. Iran has not attacked any country for 200 years. US intelligence agencies have said they are not developing nuclear bombs and same with the UN. If every country that believes or even just says its in danger of another country attacks its enemies, then this world is doomed. What would have happened during the Cuban missile crisis, for example. And just because some guy in your high school looked at you the wrong way, did you wipe out his entire family? I didnt!
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2009
Going by this rule, all the American Bankers and CEOs who wrecked havoc with people's savings should be shot in their ASS!!!!
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2009
I am not a muslim - but I am really outraged by this!!!

using the same rule George bush killed so many innocents in IRAQ!!!

Are you out of your mind!!!!!!!!!!
You need a break!!!!

Just chill and stop posting blogs for a week!!!
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2009
Thats a horrible thought of yours scot!!!
Are you a george Bush Clone !!!!

Going by your logic - what should the palestenians do to israel - which is not just likely to attack them but does attack them???

And by the way - going by your 5% arguement - There are more than 5 % chances of america attacking most of the countries in the world - should all these countries come together and turn Amreica into smoke!!!

How could you write such a crazy blog!!!!
Jun 1, 2009
One of your postulates or assumptions that I will take to task is that because accidents happen, no moral responsibility applies to those who precipitate them.

If you go barrelling down the road drunk as a skunk and kill someone in your car, I'm quite sure you didn't *mean* to do it, but the law surely takes the view (as do most people) that you should not have been driving as it introduced an unacceptable risk to the wellbeing of others.

Similarly, if you can't can't assess the probability of a random person or nation meaning you harm, you have no way to know if it was 1% or 100%. Assuming it was 5% (for argument's sake) still means that 19 times out of 20, that person or nation meant you no harm. The law and most of society would still say that if you killed that person or nation pre-emptively because of the conjectural 5% chance, you were carrying out this harmful plan with too great of a chance your target was innocent (19 in 20 or an unknowable quantity which one would then have to pin at 50/50).

There is no way that you can justify pre-empting actions without *ironclad* proof that the actions you fear were going to occur. I can't think of any place in this life where you'll get that. Pre-emption is a load of crap on the moral front.

This is also why our society used to believe you could only react to actions, not pre-empt on assumptions. We've stepped away from this standard in many small respects and none of them to the good. People and nations have to be allowed to act and their actions must prove themselves problematic or immoral before any moral justification for eliminating them can be advanced. Supposition, premature conclusion, and getting the ball rolling before the other guy has ever done a thing to you is and always will be immoral.

The law is about punishing those who have committed crimes. Morality requires defensible behaviour. Any behaviour based on preliminary assumption rather than on established factual behaviours is inherently immoral.

Now, if your only philosophical underpinning is 'be the last one standing' and 'survive at all costs', then you can defend (in those Darwininan terms) the doctrine of pre-emption. But if any more valuable philosophy than that matters to your people and your nation, pre-emption can't be justified. Preparedness - sure. Deterrnce - sure. Even some threats or sanctions - you're getting onto fuzzy ground, but these are survivable. Pre-emptive elminiation on the assumption of potential future crimes - no chance!

However, this topic is an excellent Monkey Orchestra.
Jun 1, 2009
There's a difference between a guy telling you (directly or indirectly) that he might kill you, and a guy who says nothing at all (but doesn't like you and has access to technology to build weapons), that you go completely paranoid over and want to eliminate simply because you think he might be a threat to you. So you want to build the capability to take him out before he can harm you.

Now, the moment you start make moves in that direction, HE is going to start thinking along the same lines as you just did above, and mobilize his resources towards taking you out.

Then, you see him doing that and .....

(get the drift? where's the morality here?)
-6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2009
Kill em all, let god sort it out.
Jun 1, 2009
Im glad that you're using popularity to be a good influence on these people
Jun 1, 2009
Finally!!! Scott has lost his mind.
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