Thursday, May 15, 2008

Stephen King, Jus ad Bellum, and a Very Random String of Thought

Stephen King tends to write interesting novels, and I enjoy reading them. They're not the literary caliber of, say, Mark Twain, George Orwell, Nathaniel Hawthorne and such, but they're good fun. It's a similar difference between Johnny Cash and Ludwig von Beethoven.

By far, The Stand is King's best work. Seriously, it was my favorite novel up until I read Orwell's Animal Farm, then Orwell's 1984, then F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and finally--for the last decade--Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

However, what got me thinking about this was the final conflict in The Dead Zone, one of King's earlier novels.

SPOILER ALERT--If you've never read The Dead Zone but would like to do so, then reading this post any farther might reveal a bit too much.


In The Dead Zone, the protagonist survives a ghastly accident. After a lengthy coma and lengthier recovery, he gets his act back together but finds that he now has a special ESP. When he touches certain things or people, he can often see into those things' futures.

While he puts this new power to some good use--capturing a serial killer (he might have also been a serial rapist--I can't remember precisely because I was 12 when I read the book, and I'll be 32 this August)--in general, this "gift" is a curse to him.

At one point, he manages to shake hands with a populist candidate for the presidency, and he sees the man's future. In that future, he sees the man unjustly start World War III--nuclear weapons and all.

The protagonist struggles with this revelation, for his "visions" have never once been wrong. What comes up is the old question: "If you could go back in time and kill Hitler before WWII and the Holocaust, would you?"

It's a silly question--at least as long as time travel is not possible. However, even if time travel were to become possible, it's not so simple. Changing the past inevitably changes the future in massive and unexpected ways--just watch Back to the Future or study Chaos Theory's "Butterfly Effect."

But King presents this issue in a different way. Killing the populist candidate for president will not alter the past, it will only alter the future.

Given this man's record of 100% accuracy, would he be justified in killing the populist?

I say yes. Kill him, if there's no other way.

Intentionally killing another person is not an issue to be taken lightly. However, if there is a good enough degree of certainty that a man poses a threat to the lives of others, then using deadly force against him is, as St. Augustine described, jus ad bellum (literally: just cause of war, but essentially to mean the righteous use of violence against another).

If a man were to break into my house and pose a threat to my family, he would meet as many bullets as I could discharge before he was no longer a threat. If I didn't have access to my pistol, then I'd use whatever means I had to reduce his threat. If he died in the process, I would not be culpable of murder. Sure, I committed homicide (literally, the killing of a man), but it was justifiable homicide.

St. Augustine formed the theological justification of war because Christianity is, at its heart, a pacifist religion (don't ask me why so many Christians are willing to use violent force to get their way--such scenarios aren't about Christianity, but are instead about human wickedness, a fact that Christianity accepts de facto, lest Christ's sacrifice was unnecessary).

What St. Augustine needed to do was explain that Christians should abide by the principles of faith, hope, and love, but that it was perfectly reasonable to use violence in defense of oneself or another innocent.

I agree, and that is why I oppose the death penalty.

If it's only just to kill a man who poses a real threat to the lives of others, then capital punishment is not just.

Capital punishment is only possible once the offender has been apprehended, imprisoned, put on trial, imprisoned some more, and then finally killed. At the time of his or her execution, the subject in question no longer poses a threat to anyone. Therefore, capital punishment is not justice. It is murder.

And now my random (but also rational) string of thought has reached an end. Also, I have to pee really bad. So I bid you adieu.

1 comment:

  1. Gerry4:45 PM

    Dude, you totally went from liking Stephen King to justifying killing bad people to the death penalty is bad.

    That's like the Kevin Bacon game on steroids.


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