FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Justifying the Kill

Is it too much of a stretch to link the alleged police execution of Michael Brown in Missouri with the terrorist execution of journalist James Foley somewhere in Iraq? Setting aside obvious differences, do these tragedies have anything in common?

We humans are a potent combination of impulse and rationalization. We are inhabited by a primitive, kill-or-be-killed part of our brain that connects back millions of years to our evolutionary ancestors. And we also share what evolved later, the cortical, empathetic part of our brain. These two parts are not separate; they are in (mostly unconscious) dialogue with one another. When the primitive, irrational part of our brain overcomes us under the stress of fear and we regress into violence, the cortex can step in, ideally to restrain us, but often merely to rationalize—to justify the kill.

This interaction of dinosaur-brain and our capacity to rationalize only rachets up the endless cycle of killing. The Islamic State perpetuates this cycle by justifying the gruesome beheading Mr. Foley in retaliation for American bombing. The Ferguson police department perpetuates the cycle by rationalizing racist stereotyping and arming their ranks to the teeth. The president perpetuates the cycle by rationally justifying the assassination of terrorists by drone. And in an ultimate act of dinosaur-brained rationalization, we humans have drifted into an international security system based in deterrence by nuclear weapons that could kill us all—we justify our security with potential mass death.

We Americans, we Israelis, we of Hamas, we Salafists of the Islamic State, we Alawites, we Shias, we Sunnis, are culturally habituated to exclude and dehumanize the thousand diverse “thems” surrounding us on all sides. We assume this justifies our right to kill.   The more we understand that this is a universal human condition, not something “they” do that forces us to respond in kind, the greater chance we have of building moral, legal and cultural structures based more upon inclusivity than exclusivity, structures that de-escalate the cycle of violence.

Most British police, for example, do not carry firearms at all. In England and Wales over a 12-month period ending March 2013, there were only three incidents during which police had to discharge their guns.  You would think the U.S. would be interested in what might help us move in a similar direction.

Rwanda is one of the most hopeful examples of a culture in self-aware transition from death-affirming to life-affirming structures. Within the space of a few months in 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered at least 800,000 minority Tutsis. Only 20 years later, Rwanda–where 85 percent of the population are farmers yet 44 percent of children are malnourished–is learning how to grow a balance of nourishing crops in small-scale agricultural projects like Gardens for Health, an international organization that “steps in where food aid stops. “ Through this program Rwandans are teaching other Rwandans the principles of sustainable agriculture in a model that is easily replicable, potentially meeting gargantuan needs in many other regions of the African continent.

In tragic contrast, areas of the Middle East have become potential if not actual hotbeds of genocide. There are so many parties eager to kill one another that former enemies like the U.S. and Iran or even the U.S. and Syria absurdly find themselves in common cause, attempting to subdue people armed with the very weapons the U.S. distributed in its misguided attempts to secure oil by force.

A world at peace is possible where arms sales and war are illegal under consistently applied international law. A world is possible where verifiable treaties prohibit nuclear weapons and resources sunk into such weapons are released for projects like the Rwandan Gardens for Health. A world is possible where we no longer rationalize killing but instead, humbly acknowledging our inner dinosaur, justify what leads to life.

Winslow Myers, author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” writes on global issues for PeaceVoice and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.

 

More articles by:

Winslow Myers is author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail