The Fetishization of Lethal Force

Julian Sanchez wrote a post that got me thinking about a lot of things (I will confess to piling on a rather clueless Megan McArdle) that have to do with society and being justified in killing another human being.

We have an outright fetish for rectifying any slight with slaughter. We seem to have built a culture that has celebrated the revenge movie over the movie above all else. If you so much as look at me funny, you die, in other words. How awful we must seem to other cultures who would rather just cut off hands or poke out eyes or stone people and banish them for practicing witchcraft. In America, your greatest sin is usually either being fat or impoverished; God help you if you are fat and living in poverty. Now, factor in race and you have the makings of a situation where killing people takes on an entirely new set of societal problems.

I said on the comment thread that if the young African-American male who was executed in public by the Hispanic male who felt threatened by him and followed him like some latter-day Barney Fife had actually done the killing, he'd be in jail and no one would know his name. I think this is because of the fact that if you are black, you are not entitled to killing someone out of revenge in the same way someone of another race seems to be entitled to it. We have seen the racial consequences of the killing, and there are many (particularly on the Fox News website) who think that the young black man got what he had coming. Those same people would probably react in horror if he had defended himself and killed the man who was chasing him down.

The current culture feeds on being morally justified in killing someone else, provided you are the right kind of vigilante. The problem is, our laws are supporting this fetish when they should be applying justice and fairness wherever possible no matter what your race. If the law says that I can kill you because I feel threatened, then the law is wrong. I'm not justified in killing you unless I am certain you're going to try to kill me. That means, you would have to do something for me to justify this. Our various state legislatures have dispensed with that bit of common sense, and now we have to try to modify the law to account for the fact that human beings really shouldn't go on kill sprees over insults, perceived threats, and protecting property.

Sanchez rightly points out that you can defend yourself adequately without killing someone else.