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Violence by proxy

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It is commonly agreed upon in the objectivist world that there is such thing as violence by proxy. In other words, if A persuades B to initiate physical force against C, A is morally responsible and should be punished. The type of persuasion is usually irrelevant. It could be blackmail, religious brainwashing, racist propaganda, monetary incentives, etc. The guilty are always the Mafia boss and the leader of some cult, and rarely (and to a much lesser extent) the ones who actually pull the trigger.

My take on this is that it is wrong. A is not guilty and should not be punished. What is evil is ONLY initiation of physical force, and only B does that. So, let me say it again: A is not guilty! At all! Only B should be punished by law.

So here, again, is my argument for the hired-gun case - A pays B to kill C. A while ago, when I presented my view, the main argument against it was that such a law would pave the way for more hired-gun killings which are stopped today only by the punishing of A. The boost would be generated by the fact that it is difficult to catch the killer since he has no apparent motive.

This reflects a classic judgement error, which typically goes like this.

In an existing context, an action has a set of effects. If the context is changed, the set of effects will be different.

This line of reasoning fails to consider the possibility that in the new context the action might simply not take place, which will eliminate the effects altogether.

Let's apply the correct reasoning to our case. What is the new context? It's determined by the new law which punishes only B - the one who pulls the trigger. What is the action? It's the pulling of the trigger. Will the action still take place in the new context? The answer is a resounding NO! That's because, knowing before hand that A is not doing anything illegal, B will realize that nothing prevents A from turning him in. There is no more sharing of guilt, no sense of conspiracy, of mutual, tacit, implicit agreement on a code of silence. This is a lot easier to see if you imagine the conversation between A and B. B would want it to take place in a isolated area, and make sure that no one else can hear it and no records of it can be made. The key words have to be whispered, or even not said. While A has no problem with that, for him it's just another contract. A does not break any law. It's clear that such a conversation cannot take place. Even if A plays along and speaks softly, B knows that it's all fake.

Moreover, imagine that the conversation does take place, the deal is made, the price is set. The money is to be paid after the killing. Let's also assume that B goes ahead and kills C. What is A going to do? His options are - pay up or turn B in to the police and save his money. The choice is clear. Now, knowing this, B might want to be paid upfront. Would A agree? He'd be stupid to do so. Nothing guarantees that B will do it. It's obvious that B wouldn't want to sign a contract to that effect, therefore A can't even sue B.

In conclusion, the action of killing will not take place. A has to do it himself, and most likely he won't since he was thinking of hiring a killer in the first place. This law would result in a dramatic DECREASE in hired-gun killings. This includes the Mafia type organizations that are based on this type of delegation of responsibility. The Capo di tutti capi would have to get a job at the convenience store to make an honest living, since he's too old and too fat to do any killings on his own.

Bogdan

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If you initiate force via an agreement with an agent (or third party), you are still initiating force.  Hitler is guilty of initiating force.

Oh cool. So I can pay someone to murder my hypothetical wife, and if someone tells the police on me, I don't have to worry about getting arrested, AND if someone does murder her, I STILL don't have to

Bogdan,   This sounds like the application of the 'labor theory of value' applied to crime.  Do you also think that a businessman who hires and pays other men to do labor is NOT to be credited with

I agree.  I'm not sure about the actual effects of punishing B instead of A; that might just make a class of hitmen whose careers consist of evading the law.

But on the principle of it, B has made the decision to kill C, regardless of what A said about it beforehand.

Except, of course, if A lies to B and tricks him.  Barring that, B is responsible.

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So Hitler was innocent of any crimes?

 

Hitler lived in world where the law WOULD punish A. His generals knew that and so did all the thugs below. This is actually part of the explanation of how genocides are able to take place. But IF the law wouldn't have punished A, all his B-s would have laughed in his face when receiving the order to kill the first C. Let alone millions of them. And that would have rendered Hitler indeed innocent.

 

In the existing context of Germany of the time, Hitler is indeed guilty, because the law made it virtually impossible for the B-s to disobey his orders. And he knew that, and relied on it. Any B would face the choice 'It's either C or me'.

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Guilty of giving the order to have many innocent people killed. Which is illegal under the current law, law which accepts the violence by proxy argument and punishes 'A-s'.

I didn't ask about what current law holds. I already know what current law holds. I asked if you think Hitler was guilty of anything or not.
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I didn't ask about what current law holds. I already know what current law holds. I asked if you think Hitler was guilty of anything or not.

Ok, please disregard the reference to the law and consider only my first sentence. Yes, Hitler was "Guilty of giving the order to have many innocent people killed".

 

I fear your next question will be something like "Didn't you say that giving an order is not immoral and therefore Hitler cannot be guilty of it"? Oh, yes, I feel it coming....

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That's what your argument says. You are saying that only the person who actually goes out and commits a murder is guilty. Hitler falls into the position of "A", it's a fact, and so have many other people. You'd also by saying a mafia boss is not guilty of any murder. Nothing prevents A from turning in B as it is. But think about it - A wants someone dead. If B knows A wants someone dead, and if B is organized enough, he or she will be sure A isn't lying. A and B benefit. B makes money off of killing people anyway, why would B suddenly give up a profession? You could think of it in a free market way, except it involves rights violations. Game theory would apply still. The only way to totally stop any such market is to explicitly ban all planning of murder, and any involvement.

Also, you presume a certain kind of hitman. Don't presume all economic actors are rational. Lying and trickery are part of the game. To some extent, you presume rational traders when at the outset we know both are willing to do blatantly unethical things.

Edited by Eiuol
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1-Hitler falls into the position of "A",

 

2-A wants someone dead. If B knows A wants someone dead, and if B is organized enough, he or she will be sure A isn't lying. A and B benefit.

 

3-B makes money off of killing people anyway, why would B suddenly give up a profession? ... Don't presume all economic actors are rational.

 

 

1-Hitler DOESN'T fall into the A category. He WOULD only IF the law had been as I suggested. But it wasn't. Hitler's actions took place in a certain context. To judge them based on a proposed law that would have completely changed that context, means dropping it. 

 

2-Correct. But I never presumed that there was any doubt that A wants C dead. He really does! They both benefit only if A pays. Which, in most cases, he wouldn't. Chances are, and the game theory still applies, that if B kills C only A benefits, and B goes to jail.
 
3-The profession will soon disappear. It takes only so many hitmen to go to jail to realize that it's just not worth the trouble.They don't need to be that rational, or even smart. It would be obvious to anyone.
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1: Okay, so you're just proposing a law that would hopefully reduce a certain kind of crime. But I'm asking when a person did kill another by proxy and the murder was figured out. Would you let A get by unpunished if the proposed law were passed?

2: The only way to get B to do the murder is for A to provide a worthwhile offer. So I don't know what you mean by A not paying in most cases.

3: The cost would go up probably. In that sense you may be right. But it's possible being a hitman becomes more profitable because B needs more evidence that A will pay. 

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1: Okay, so you're just proposing a law that would hopefully reduce a certain kind of crime. But I'm asking when a person did kill another by proxy and the murder was figured out. Would you let A get by unpunished if the proposed law were passed?

2: The only way to get B to do the murder is for A to provide a worthwhile offer. So I don't know what you mean by A not paying in most cases.

3: The cost would go up probably. In that sense you may be right. But it's possible being a hitman becomes more profitable because B needs more evidence that A will pay. 

 

I'll reply first to points 2 and 3: Nothing that A offers is worthwhile. That's the whole point from a practical view. As I said in my original post - if the payment is to be done after the killing, A is much better off to just turn B in as soon as C is dead. And it is the more so, the better the offer. B is well aware of that, so his only viable option is to demand to be paid in advance. But A would never agree to that, since nothing guarantees that B will do his job. Therefore no agreement can be reached. C is safe!

 

And now point 1: I would DEFINITELY let A go unpunished. Not only that, but the case MUST be widely publicized. It must be very well known that the case of the murder of C was solved, B is the murderer, his reason was financial reward (which, incidentaly, he never received) and the case was solved mainly through the contribution of the person who promised the reward and who wishes to remain anonymous.

 

Again as I said before, it would take only a few cases like this for the hitman profession to disappear.

 

I know it sounds ludicrous. It sounded like that to me the first time I thought about it. I got so used to it by now that I can't understand how others don't see this way. To me it's the opposite: "Hey, B! Kill C and I'll give you $10,000!" And you would put someone in jail just for that?

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Ok, please disregard the reference to the law and consider only my first sentence. Yes, Hitler was "Guilty of giving the order to have many innocent people killed".

 

I fear your next question will be something like "Didn't you say that giving an order is not immoral and therefore Hitler cannot be guilty of it"? Oh, yes, I feel it coming....

No, my next question is exactly the same one you dodged with your previous equivocation: "When did Hitler initiate physical force against someone?". (as per your interpretation of what "initiating physical force" is supposed to mean)

 

1-Hitler DOESN'T fall into the A category. He WOULD only IF the law had been as I suggested. But it wasn't. Hitler's actions took place in a certain context. To judge them based on a proposed law that would have completely changed that context, means dropping it.

When you said "What is evil is ONLY initiation of physical force"/ and then you interepreted that to mean strictly the act of pulling a trigger, that sounds like a statement about an ethical principle, not a specific legal context.

Do you not belive that the only thing that is evil in inter-human relationships is the initiation of physical force?

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No, my next question is exactly the same one you dodged with your previous equivocation: "When did Hitler initiate physical force against someone?". (as per your interpretation of what "initiating physical force" is supposed to mean)

 When you said "What is evil is ONLY initiation of physical force"/ and then you interepreted that to mean strictly the act of pulling a trigger, that sounds like a statement about an ethical principle, not a specific legal context.

Do you not belive that the only thing that is evil in inter-human relationships is the initiation of physical force?

 

Hitler's orders to kill people were immoral, even though this is not initiation of physical force. This is because the context then was different. The statement "What is evil is ONLY initiation of physical force" is true. However, as any other truths, it is contextual. The context in which it is true is one whereby objectivist principles are already established, which was not the case in Germany during WWII.

 

In a non-objectivist society there might be cases where initiation of force is not immoral, and cases where things other than initiation of force might be immoral. The morality of the actions in those cases is, in my opinion, debatable. For instance I say that the action of a policeman arresting a drug dealer who never hurt anyone is not immoral, even though it is initiation of force. What's immoral in this case is the law forbidding drug dealing and empowering the police to arrest the dealers. I find this a very interesting subject, but it would be part of a different topic.

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No, my next question is exactly the same one you dodged with your previous equivocation: "When did Hitler initiate physical force against someone?". (as per your interpretation of what "initiating physical force" is supposed to mean)

I re-read my answers to your questions, and you might still find them evasive. Please allow me to summarize:

When did Hitler initiate physical force against someone? - Never.

Is Hitler guilty of anything? - Yes, of issuing orders to kill innocent people.

Is issuing orders an initiation of physical force? - No, it isn't.

Didn't you say that the ONLY thing that is evil is initiation of force? - Yes, I did.

Isn't that a contradiction? - No, because the statement is true only in a context that does not apply to Hitler.

I don't think I can do better than this.

Edited by Bogdan
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Hitler's orders to kill people were immoral, even though this is not initiation of physical force. This is because the context then was different. The statement "What is evil is ONLY initiation of physical force" is true. However, as any other truths, it is contextual. The context in which it is true is one whereby objectivist principles are already established, which was not the case in Germany during WWII.

It would be more accurate to say the only illegal thing in a government based on proper principles is the initiation of force. There are many evil actions that don't involve force as it is. The whole issue, though, is you're making an argument for purely pragmatic purposes of reducing hired-crime. Unjust actions that result in the initiation of force are being let go entirely, even if the person is literally making it possible for murder.

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I re-read my answers to your questions, and you might still find them evasive. Please allow me to summarize:

When did Hitler initiate physical force against someone? - Never.

Is Hitler guilty of anything? - Yes, of issuing orders to kill innocent people.

Is issuing orders an initiation of physical force? - No, it isn't.

Didn't you say that the ONLY thing that is evil is initiation of force? - Yes, I did.

Isn't that a contradiction? - No, because the statement is true only in a context that does not apply to Hitler.

I don't think I can do better than this.

 

Either the statement that "the ONLY thing that is evil is the initation of force" is not true or Hitler is not evil and is not guilty of anything.

 

It is a contradiction, which means at least one of those statements is not true.

 

(P.S.  - the first statement is not true)

Edited by thenelli01
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Hitler's orders to kill people were immoral, even though this is not initiation of physical force. This is because the context then was different. The statement "What is evil is ONLY initiation of physical force" is true. However, as any other truths, it is contextual. The context in which it is true is one whereby objectivist principles are already established, which was not the case in Germany during WWII.

Why on Earth would ordering the murder of six million Jews be moral in an Objectivist society? Do you honestly believe Ayn Rand wrote her philosophy as a justification for something like that?

What have you read, that Ayn Rand wrote?

The context in which it is true is one whereby objectivist principles are already established

Let me stop you right there: If Objectivist principles are established, then someone ordering the murder of another person will be arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Objectivist principles are very clear on this. There's no mistaking this fact.

 

So, if there is any context in which what you are arguing for is absolutely NOT TRUE, it's when Objectivist principles (the principles of Ayn Rand's philosophy) are established.

 

Furthermore, in Objectivism, the principle of non-initiation of force is a moral principle. Like all moral principles, it applies in the widest context: that of all human interactions. Just as it's never OK to be an altruist, it's also never OK to initiate force against other people. According to Objectivism, that is, the very rational, very well grounded in reality philosophy of Ayn Rand.

 

If you wish to come up with your own Politics, by all means, go ahead. But don't just take Ayn Rand's words, transplant them into random contexts she never intended them for, and expect us to just accept them as basic undeniable truths. Back everything you say up.

 

For instance, if you don't consider the non-initiation of force a moral principle (you just said you don't), then where did you get it from? Why is it true, in any context? So far, you're just making an arbitrary statement.

Edited by Nicky
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The whole issue, though, is you're making an argument for purely pragmatic purposes of reducing hired-crime. 

 

No, it's not purely pragmatic. Initiation of force is evil because it is the only way to not allow a person to use his rational faculty. It's the ONLY way. Nothing else can. Including paying, convincing, asking, etc. somebody else to do it. When A hires B to kill C, no matter how convincing A is, for how long he pleads or how much he is willing to pay, C can continue to lead a happy life. C becomes involved in this only when B acts, because only B is using force. All the arguments that I bring in my post are intended to show that the implementation of a policy which only punishes B would work. But that's only the practical side. Such a policy should be implemented not because it works, but on principle.

 

As far as I know, Ayn Rand has never said anything about this violence by proxy. I think this was later added by others who just couldn't figure out a solution to the hitman problem. Correct me if I'm wrong.

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Your argument treats human relationships too simply:

 

You first assume that A will turn in B. (why would he do that? to get out of paying B? if A is wealthy enough to pay hitmen, and has decided he wants multiple people dead, what does he have to gain by turning in B? there will be no legal repercussions to A if he doesn't turn in B. the only incentive A has to turn in B is if A is faced with charges of his own, and will get a lighter sentence if he gives up B's name. in your scenario, that would not be the case.) so A has no incentive to turn in B, since B is important to A.

 

Further, I think it's highly unlikely that B has no idea who A is, or if A has scammed or turned in other hitmen in the past. There must be some degree of trust/past history involved. Since B's have the most to lose, they need to be able to trust A before they do anything for A. that trust can be built in many ways..

 

Your argument also assumes that the police will find definitive evidence linking B to C's murder, if and when B kills C. Since B kills people for a living and loves his freedom, he will probably be damn careful when killing C's. If the only thing that links B to C's murder is A's testimony, that is not enough for a conviction.

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