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Am I a murderer??

January 30, 2011

Am i a murderer?? This was the question that lingered in my mind all weekend as I read several times and tried to understand  Mike Walzers’ article, Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands. In the twenty two page document Walzer raises the disturbing question of whether a moral person can choose to enter political life, knowing in advance that the exigencies of politics will almost certainly, sooner or later, lead that person into making immoral decisions. On page 164 of Political Action, Walzer goes on to say that  “the men who act for us and in our name are often killers or seem to become killers too quickly and too easily.”

As a Political Science major with  life dreams and goals of becoming a politician of some sort one day (i.e president,governor,state representative,congressman..), what do i make of such words? Am i immoral for wanting to enter the political life? Do i have to sacrifice personal virtue in order to make good reforms for our country?  The “dirty hands”  theory refers to politicians who make decisions to break a law or utter a falsehood in order to serve the public interest. Is it wrong to lie for the greater good?

I  for one am a strong supporter of utilitarinism. This is a just theory that states that the greatest number of people should be the main consideration when making a choice of actions; a belief that if “the ends justify the means,” then a decision is moral. If as president you must torture one to save thousands of your citizens, I say DO THE DAMN THING!  I do not believe politicians are as immoral, cruel, and vindictive as Walzer tries to persuade readers that they are. There are many great politicians today with goals of serving  citizens and doing what is right.When faced with toughed decisions you must serve the general public, and thats what politicians do. There is no “problem” with dirty hands, so long as they were for the greater good. There’s nothing wrong with doing what is right.

So,am I a murderer???

9 Comments
  1. chelseahoedl permalink
    January 31, 2011 11:49 AM

    I find the question you pose to be very interesting. Indeed it is troublesome to desire a life that is described by Walzer as unavoidably immoral. I agree with Walzer when he suggests that there is no way around making immoral decisions. It seems to be necessary in both gaining power and keeping it, in building order and enforcing it. So in that way I think that politicians are immoral, cruel, and vindictive, however, I would not venture to suggest that these qualities are bad (as they would be in the average citizen). Even qualities that are considered evil are not such if they are done for the greater good.

  2. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 31, 2011 1:38 PM

    Well, good sir, I daresay that you are not a murderer, as you presumably have not killed anyone. If that statement is not accurate, never mind. But wanting to become a politician does not equal murderer, and I think you are definitely overinflating Walzer’s words if that was the conclusion you came. It is inevitable that a politician will need to dirty his hands a bit to keep power I think, and as long as the greater good is the end goal of said politician, I don’t believe that person is necessarily a murderer. Now, I wholeheartedly disagree with your statement that if you need to torture thousands of your own citizens you should “do the damn thing” because I fundamentally believe citizens of this country have human rights given to them by the founding document, and on top of that, torture isn’t as effective as some defense hawks would like to believe. But for small infractions, yes sometimes it is necessary to muddle hands.
    (Further reading: WaPo article “The Torture Myth” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A2302-2005Jan11.html )

  3. Zack Orsini permalink
    January 31, 2011 9:40 PM

    Quick question: how likely is it that a person would give you accurate information while he/she is being tortured?

  4. John D'Adamo permalink
    February 1, 2011 2:46 PM

    Zack, that’s the cool thing about the WaPo article- it discusses the fact that a lot of people tortured will say anything just to stop the immeasurable pain. The likelihood that the information is accurate isn’t great.

    “Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply “not a good way to get information.” In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no “stress methods” at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones. Asked whether that would be true of religiously motivated fanatics, he says that the “batting average” might be lower: “perhaps six out of ten.” And if you beat up the remaining four? “They’ll just tell you anything to get you to stop.””

  5. kaycohen23 permalink
    February 1, 2011 5:12 PM

    Your post is very thought provoking. In my opinion, when I read the statement, “The men who act for us and in our name are often killers or seem to become killers too quickly and too easily,” I did not think that Walzer’s use of the term “killer” referred to an actual murderer. I believe that Walzer is trying to make the point that politicians are willing to do “whatever it takes” to promote the common good for their citizens. That being said, this can sometimes mean that those in power need to make tough decisions to advance their agenda. As Walzer points out in his article, “dirty hands syndrome” is a major part of the political process. Not all of the decisions that those in positions of power make are always completely ethical but sometimes necessary. As for your inquiries, I do not believe that you are immoral for wanting to enter political life. Although politicians are forced to make controversial decisions, their decisiveness is necessary in order for our society to progress. Furthermore you ask a good question, “Is it wrong to lie for the greater good?”. This question connects strongly to Machiavelli’s famous quote “The ends justify the means”. When contemplating whether or not you are a “murderer” for aspiring to be a cunning politician it is important to reflect on Machiavelli’s words. Are you willing to go to great lengths for the common good of your citizens? Even if it means getting your hands “dirty”? If you believe that it is in fact worth getting your hands “dirty”, then no, it is not wrong to lie for the greater good. In summation, I do not believe you are a murderer for wanting to be a politician!

  6. Austin Spaulding permalink
    February 2, 2011 3:13 PM

    I agree with your point that dirty hands are fine as long as you are helping the greatest amount of people you can. I think that in politics there is a sense of survival of the fittest. Sometimes you need to make immoral choices to benefit the lives of the people you represent. Also I am sure there are many acts politicians wish they would not have committed, but in the heat of the moment sometimes a quick decision may need to be made. Since a politicians job is based on popularity, there are times when they may need to give the people what they want…even if it is immoral.

  7. Bobby Marshall permalink
    February 3, 2011 1:58 PM

    Not to completely play devil’s advocate to John’s “Washington Post” article, but from all of the books and topics I’ve covered on torture, it almost always works. I agree with the fact that people will give any information just to stop the pain, but if one pursues every person cracks eventually. This is why from the readings I’ve done proper torture takes so long, as one has to decipher through all of the nonsense and get to the facts. This i believe is the most contemporary and thought provoking part of “Walzer’s” article pertaining to dirty hands. The idea of whether torture, putting another human being through excruciating pain for a greater purpose, is morally correct. I think this is one of the leading arguments in today’s society where war no longer seems to be strictly in a foreign land, but is abroad and domestic as terrorism seems to be secretive and spontaneous. In my personal opinion, even though torture is done for the greater good i think it is immoral and against the universal good of human beings that i believe exists. I believe that torture makes ones hand’s dirty and is an act that is unjust. However, though i believe that torture is all-together wrong, i feel like it is something that still needs to be done in today’s society. I know this is somewhat of a confusing stance to take but the point I’m trying to make is that i believe that Walzer makes the point one should try and life a just and “dirty-handless” life, but at the same time there are certain jobs that need to be done even if it causes one’s hands to get dirty, i.e. politicians and more contemporary torture. I think the point is that there are certain people that are willing to accept the idea that what they might be doing is wrong and unjust, but is for the greater good and in the end needs to be done.

    • Zack Orsini permalink
      February 3, 2011 8:58 PM

      If something “needs to be done” for the greater good of society, then why is it immoral? Either it is right and it is morally imperative that it is done, or it is wrong and it should not be done. I personally believe that torture is wrong under all circumstances; but, hypothetically, if you are right, and torture “needs to be done” for the well-being of the human species, then I do not see how it could be called immoral.

      Perhaps I am sadly mistaken, but it seems utterly illogical to me to call something both “right” and “wrong” at the same time. The law of non-contradiction would appear to eliminate this mind-boggling possibility. If I am missing something here, please point it out to me.

      • Bobby Marshall permalink
        February 5, 2011 5:18 PM

        I believe its complete technicality. I understand exactly what your saying, I jsut think in some certain situations both adjectives could be used to describe an action and it depends how you look at the action. Take the scenario of water-boarding a terrorist. No one deserves to have to endure water-boarding. I think if you asked anyone, it would be pretty much unanimous that this act is immoral and wrong. Yet, if the outcome of water-boarding this person means that you discover a bomb within a pre-school, saving hundreds of lives, i feel most people would overlook what was done to find this information and rather focus on the outcome. I agree with you that it is somewhat incorrect to use both terms to describe the same thing, I just think that to do certain things that are morally correct and for the greater good, certain immoral actions may need to be used, which brings one back to the whole argument of getting ones hand’s dirty.

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