Hypotheticals, Hitler, and Human Atrocity

“Baby Hitler” was trending on Twitter on Friday. After investigating, I found that New York Times Magazine had posed this question:

Dylan Matthews wrote this response: “The philosophical problem of killing Baby Hitler, explained over at vox.com. He takes up the classical responses to posing such a hypothetical problem, and he makes good points about time travel and consequentialism. I want to go further and explore the only thing I’ve ever gotten out of such thought experiments–the further affirmation that philosophy, and ethics in particular, doesn’t (and shouldn’t) happen in a vacuum.

Wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

Wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

Granted, it can be kind of fun to think about hypothetical situations, especially about time travel. And maybe thought experiments reveal something about our intuitions. Ethical thought experiments can show the basic idea behind consequentialism, and perhaps they can make you reflect on how you would act differently if faced with an ethical dilemma. The problem, of course, is that you are never going to be in a situation where there are five people tied to a trolley track and your mother tied to another. Just like you are never going to be able to go back in time and kill baby Hitler.

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In Defense of Severus Snape

There are some fictional characters that end up being very divisive among fans: Holden Caulfield. Patrick Bateman. Humbert Humbert.

Severus Snape is one of these characters.

Critics remark that he was abusive to students, which is true, the way he treated Neville especially was abominable. They also claim that his “love” for Lily was an obsession, and he was angry and bitter for being “friendzoned.” But I recently came across this post which points out that the fact of the matter is Snape never told Lily how he felt. He never harassed her or forced himself on her.

He became a bad friend. He betrayed her. He regretted it. He tried to save her life. He failed. He tried to protect her child. He wanted to protect Harry for Lily’s sake. He wanted to at least partially make up for the way he treated Lily. That was his motivation, not ‘he was friendzoned.’”

Snape-Always

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like Snape as a person. He is an asshole, and he should never be in charge of teaching children. He very clearly hates himself, thinks of himself as a failure (for Lily’s death, for not having achieved the coveted DADA position, maybe even for never telling Lily how he felt), and he projects that onto students.

But the thing about Snape as a character is that his psychology makes sense (much the same way that Harry annoyed the hell out of me in Order of the Phoenix as a whiny adolescent). Snape is a thoroughly three-dimensional character, which isn’t an easy thing to do in any work of fiction and especially hard in a fantasy world written for a young adult audience.

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It Costs Folks Like You and Me

[1]When I first started seeing previews for American Sniper, I wanted to see it. Without knowing much about Chris Kyle, what I saw was a soldier dealing with the psychological effects and complex of emotions that resulted from being in combat. For me, that’s an important issue to expose and an important story to tell, because we, as a country, fail soldiers upon re-entry.

I’ve never been in a war. I’m not a soldier. I only know what people who have served in war have told me and what I have read. I had a student once who had done two tours in Iraq. We were talking about morality in class one day, and he said very plainly and matter-of-factly, “I’ve killed people. I shot them and saw them die, and I have to live with that.”

Of course, soldiers have vastly different experiences depending on who they are, where they serve, and what their job is. There’s this interview with Edward Tick about the work he has done counseling veterans since the Vietnam War in which he says:

“We don’t even think we have a warrior class, and we don’t teach our service people to think of themselves as warriors, even though societies throughout history have almost all had warrior classes and reciprocal relationships between warriors and civilians. Soldiers have a responsibility to defend their country, and it is our responsibility as citizens to heal those who have put their lives on the line for us, even if they fought a war for the wrong reasons or for lies. And we’re not doing that.”

Unless you believe that human beings can kill without feeling any consequence, can see their friends and comrades die, and can live on edge with the threat of death around the corner without that fundamentally changing something inside of them, then feel free to ignore me.

I want to see the story told not of war itself, but the effects of war on the people fighting it.

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