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On the Utility of Shooting Informants (Rogue One Spoilers) January 22, 2017

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Epistemology, Science Fiction, Technology, Transhumanism.
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Che was a devout Marxist-Leninist who believed that capitalism was doomed and that inevitably socialism, then communism, would take its place. He also possessed an unshakable faith that the entire process could be hurried along at the point of a gun. According to Alberto Granado, who as a young medical student had accompanied Che on his motorcycle journey through South America, when Che looked through a sniper scope at a soldier and pulled the trigger, he fully believed that he was helping reduce repression by ‘saving 30,000 future children from lives of hunger.’ When Granado looked through a sniper scope, by contrast, he saw only a man with a wife and children. The difference between them, Granado said, was that Che felt certain he was ushering in a new world order.

In Rogue One, rebel stalwart Cassian shoots a disabled informant in eir first appearance on screen. Cassian does this presumably to facilitate eir own escape and to prevent the informant from talking under interrogation. The film presents this action as unpleasant but morally justified as long as the fight against the Empire succeeds. A prominent anarchist has present Cassian’s act as obviously correct because utilitarianism.

I’m skeptical.

Guerrilla warfare historically involves lots of shooting and/or torturing a variety of types of informants. Guevara, for example, shot supposed enemy informants, most or all of whom were in the class position Guevara nominally fought for. While Cassian shot a friendly informant, the logic of elimination to deny the enemy information is similar. This sordid record ain’t anything to celebrate.

While there may conceivably be situations in which murder to control knowledge flows constitutes the optimal option, I doubt this happens often in our world. (It may not happen at all.) I suspect the trope/model of inflicting physical damage to feeling beings for the greater good causes more harm than it prevents.

Based on my experience and understanding of the world, humans don’t need any prodding from utilitarians to commit horrors in the name of God/nation/liberation/revolution/etc. I want to challenge this pattern of thought, not encourage it.

Sure, social regeneration though violence makes sense within its own terms. If defeating the allegedly evil enemy via pain and terror is the sole path to freedom and prosperity, it’s hard to argue against the approach. The trick is predicting the effect of hurting people with any confidence and of ruling out alternative options.

Humans in the cultures I’m familiar with default to violence as means for making the world a better place. We’re programmed by World War II, the atomic bombings of Japan, popular media, the police, the military, and so on to accept that narrative. Anarchist utilitarians who feed this discourse cheerlead for the status quo.

When you contemplate the revolutionary utility of murdering folks, I recommend reviewing the messy real-world history of insurgency rather than simplified fictional stories. Perhaps this will be your best option at some point in the coming years or decades. If so, weigh the odds and uncertainties carefully beforehand. Afterward, file a mental note to improve yourself and the resistance as a whole so you can do better in the future.

As transhumanists, we have to hold fast to the goal of engineering our way out of these ethical dilemmas. There’s always or almost always a superior course of action. What we can imagine, we’ll make. As Salvor Hardin said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

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