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The Principle of "Maximize Life, Minimize Harm" (02/25/2022)
The majority of this was written last year. Now seems like as good a time as any to post it...
Content Warning: This article repeatedly touches upon the topic of death.
The Principle In Daily Life
Getting along with other people can be difficult sometimes and some conflicts might seem "intractable". In addition to making an effort to overcome personal biases and to find ways to communicate better, a helpful principle to live by is "Maximize Life, Minimize Harm".
This is sincerely attempting to benefit as many people as possible while causing the least amount of harm as possible with every decision that we make. In the most ideal sense, we would always benefit everyone and harm none. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. People often make entertainment of violence or see it as a legitimate way of handling problems.
Military & Police
Just because one feels justified in killing someone or destroying something does not necessarily mean that they are.
A "conscientious objector" may personally refuse to take another person's life in any situation. It does not matter if it is done in the context of "war", or rationalized by labelling another as an "enemy". Further, relations are predicated upon trust. Does being considered a "politician" or a "military general" automatically make a person more trustworthy? Even if someone is skilled in their field, they may not always be honest in their dealings.
What gives someone a more privileged position than any other, especially to the point that they can command another human being to do something?
If the military intelligence of every country is secret, how can any individual verify if it is reasonable? Is entering into another country to fight a war an act of "aggression" or "self-defense"? An act of "liberation" or a "takeover"? These things are hard to tell no matter what "side" you are on, and there are no "sides" when so many innocent people are caught in the crossfire. It doesn't matter whether you are a "civilian" or a "veteran", many people are treated by others as if their lives are disposable.
We have a tendency to speak of nations as if they were entities in their own right, as if each person from there is somehow responsible for the actions of everyone there. The news is filled with statements like "Russia did this" or "China did that", instead of holding specific people accountable for their behavior. What does it matter if someone is "Russian", "Chinese", or any other nationality or ethnicity if they treat others with respect? Are you responsible for everything that everyone else does in the country that you live? The largest barriers to clear thinking are the assumptions that arise from the use of these kinds of labels coupled to knee-jerk emotional reactions. Ultimately, they tell us very little about who a specific person is, what they choose and why. At the same time, they often lead to behaviors which cause tension and fighting amongst individuals and groups.
I respect that many people who join a military, wherever they are, do so under the assumption that they are protecting their loved ones (i.e.: their family, friends, and others who live there). They may even have some idealized notion about what their home "represents" and will fight to defend it. However, we should always thoroughly attempt to resolve our issues through open dialogue first, and expand that dialogue to include everyone, not just a few "representatives". Personally, I do not want anyone else to speak for me. We do not need "leaders", we need self-responsible individuals.
It is harmful for everyone whenever any one of us becomes an opportunist who tries to "profit" at the expense of others, whether it be from funding war, inciting violence for political purposes, or by some other means. Other's lives are not ours to sacrifice; we are only in control of our own. However, some people do not understand this or simply refuse to acknowledge it, including some people within "positions of power". Some are so megalomanical and sociopathic that other people are only "useful idiots" for furthering their personal agendas. Please don't be suckered into having a part in it. Instead, let us embrace a livelihood that is constructive, one that serves others, peaceably dissolving any social structures that create imbalances of power.
As far as handling threats, some police officers and courts provide an example of a realistic course of action when they are actually working properly. Ideally, police officers are trained to disarm threats first (through dialogue/negotiation and non-lethal methods of incapacitation), and only defend life with the use of deadly force as an absolute last resort, after all other options have been exhausted. The aim is always to protect, not to harm. Court trials also differentiate between someone being the cause of another's death accidentally or intentionally.
In short, even within circumstances where extremes are completely unavoidable, the actions leading up to an event and the motive behind them matter greatly. People are presumed innocent until proven guilty, not bullied into providing false confessions before proper investigations have even occured.
It is cowardly to use the public trust to hide one's wrong-doing. Transparency and accountability are necessities that must extend to every aspect of every social system throughout the entire world. Human rights are independent of ethnicity, nationality, or any other label that one might adopt in attempt to elevate "self" over "other".
Handling Crime & Criminals
Some push for mental health services and rehabilitation programs to try to prevent and mitigate criminal activity. Even in the most extreme cases, one could interpret "life imprisonment" as an alternative to execution; "capital punishment" is not something that is practiced everywhere. What crimes are "unforgivable" and cannot be pardoned? At what point are people considered "incapable" of honest change or completely "irredeemable"? Why? What about the most acute of cases of psychopathy, remorselessly violent people who are literally dangerous for others to be around? What about the innocent people who are "wrongfully convicted"?
These are difficult questions to answer. The balance between Justice and Mercy is delicate and cannot be implemented by following a rigid set of "laws". As we have pointed out with war, not all things which are considered "legal" are necessarily just. Likewise, not all people choose to behave justly, no matter what the "laws" are. This statement applies to more than only those who choose to break "laws" in the most obvious of ways as well. Again, who is doing what and why is not always clear.
For example, why are some prisons privately-owned businesses? How does such a business turn a "profit"? Is criminal behavior also promoted by those who own such businesses? How are "civil asset forfeiture", "ticket quotas", and other schemes different from extortion? The activities of organized crime (e.g.: human trafficking, arms dealing, drug smuggling, etc.) are destructive, but can they be resolved by activities which mimic them to some degree or by disregarding why they show up in the first place? There is no clear delineation between "cops" and "criminals" sometimes. The inverse can also be true. A "criminal" could just be someone trying to survive or protect their community.
Every facet of society, from business to government, seems to be filled with selfish behavior. So many people strive to take advantage of one another, rather than working together to meet each other's needs in an equitable manner. By acknowledging what makes us alike as human beings, we have the potential to create a lasting and meaningful peace together.
The Value of Life
It would seem that for most people, their lives are valuable to them, unless they are under such extreme duress that death seems like a better option or they have developed a complete indifference to life itself. There is an instinct for survival, for bodily preservation. It is usually only in ignorance and desperation (for money, attention, power, etc.) that people do awful things.
Excluding accidential death, we differentiate between death being a choice on part of the individual (e.g.: suicide, voluntary euthanasia) or involuntarily forced upon them by another (e.g.: murder, genocide). We provide support to prevent the former, and we convict the latter.
At the same time, we continue to find more efficient ways to keep people "youthful" by regenerating their bodies through exercise, nutrition, and mental-emotional strategies for coping with stress, to heal injuries and illnesses, to resurrect people from death through resuscitation, to freeze them "cryogenically" with the hope of future reanimation, and research into "anti-aging" with the eventual aim of immortality.
We should strive to take care of everyone to the highest degree, not only ourselves. People who's bodies have been damaged or are limited in some manner are not worth "less" than others who are not. No characteristic that you could possibly have or develop can make you unworthy of basic human dignity.
How is it possible to ascribe a "value" of one human life over another in any instance whatsoever? "Value" can be highly subjective and relative in nature. For example, the death of someone's family member or friend could mean very much to them personally, but seem to mean nothing at all to someone who doesn't know either of those people.
Life itself has value, which is why we seek to preserve it. But that same survival instinct may sometimes get people to destroy life when it becomes the reason to put their own needs above the needs of others in harmful ways.
If the fact that someone is considered a "stranger" to us means that their life is somehow "less valuable" (and thereby "more worthy" of suffering or death than another life), then we can rationalize all manner of destructive actions towards each other just because we have not taken the time to really get to know one another. This "out of sight, out of mind" sort of attitude seems very prevalent within society to varying degrees, and it can cause real dangers when decisions based upon it start affecting the environment and other people.
Corruption & Conspiracies
We have noted that social systems should operate in a manner beneficial to all, but some individuals try to manipulate them to their own ends.
For example, there are people who use their authority as police officers to terrorize others instead of protecting them. They may have become jaded over time or joined in order to indulge a power trip. Whatever the intentions behind it, the outcome is the same: people suffer.
Therefore, it is important to come up with ways to filter out the corruption within police departments, while also discouraging criminal activity among the general populace. The only way to have true safety within our communities is for everyone to do things to create it, not just a few. And further, this principle applies to every type of organization at every level, not just police departments and the cities that they are supposed to serve.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term "conspiracy" as "a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement". Without openness and honesty, it would seem that secret agreements of all kinds are more common than not. People are constantly conspiring to do things that they think will benefit them and use whatever resources at their disposal to achieve that aim. If all we can think about is fulfilling our own wants without deep consideration of the consequences, then destructive things can happen.
A single person choosing to act destructively is limited in their capacity to destroy, but behind every tyrant are thousands of people who follow along without thought and millions more dying as a result. Whether or not we are on the brink of another "World War", I know that I choose to do everything I can to further peace instead. Everything that inhibits peace (e.g.: labels and traditions that induce prejudice, businesses and governments that foster inequality, attitudes which put ideologies over kindness, etc.) shall fall away.
• Imee Ooi - Medicine Buddha Dharani
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