If you had a gun to your head, what would you do....?

I mentioned to someone that: “People are capable of evil, seeing as the Historical Nazi killings of the Jews is one example of a nation following their leader’s orders.”
A question was asked to me: “If you had a gun to your head, wouldn’t you value your life more dearly then the person you are ordered to kill? Take into account that some didn’t even know the truth of the matter.”

I have never had the misfortune to be placed in such a predicament. However,I believe the solution then lies in questioning everyone and everything. If we as children are taught from an early age to believe all the laws including the religion we are taught from our parents or the community we live in, do we not doom ourselves to never question and search for the truth? Do you just calmly push the button for the kill switch? Are you just a sheep being herded with the rest of the flock?

Back to the question that was asked of me: “If you had a gun to your head, wouldn’t you value your life more dearly then the person you are ordered to kill?”
No, if said person were to look me in the eye, pleading for his or her life, I would never be able to live with myself as a human being afterwards. I would rather face the black nothingness of my death then push a kill switch.
Why am I so wilful, so strong in my believes? Is it possibly people in my life that have shaped me?
Where has my ideas of correct or incorrect begun?

I know it in me and everything I have seen and read. Even the people in my life has shown me the way.
There isn’t an easy quick solution to this change. How do you reshape humanities inability to quest for the true answers?
Maybe by being you, and showing one person at a time that there is a better way…

I believe the ‘correct’ way of responding in a formal army situation is to surrender your weapon to your commanding officer and say something like “I respectfully refuse to comply”.

It would probably get you shot under the circumstances, but in most cases it beats the alternatives of either shooting yourself, or shooting your commanding officer, neither of which leave room for your later exoneration if the chain of command come to their senses, or if you are imprisoned until the war is over.

We are human and human nature is not so good. There was a study (don’t know the name) done in the US where students were put randomly into a “guard” or “prisoner” role. The study had to be stopped after a few days because the “guards” were very bad to the prisoners (a bit of Lord of the Flies). These were friends, the guards knew there was no gun against their heads, but still they acted in this way. Never mind some stranger with an a gun against your head. I think it will take a very special person or circumstance for you not to follow orders if you life depends on it.

If the person that I am ordered to snuff is a stranger to me, I’m pretty sure I’d sooner kill than get killed. At the end of the day I’m a product of evolution, not morality.



Read about the Milgram Experiment. And these where just students. I think you take young men ,train them to follow orders
After a few months of actual combat I’m sure most would not be shocked at the site of dead bodies. And at this point you tell them to shoot a bunch of prisoners they would do it with out hesitation.

Ghangis Khan army was so adapt at killing entire city’s that they would line all the captives which would number in the thousands. Each soldiers would be tasked at killing 6 or 8 people. The hole process would be done in half an hour. I can’t even imagine the site of such a blood bath.

I also think there is a big difference between asking somebody to do this out of the blue, on the one hand, and moving him slowly over a few months to this point. It will also help if the victim is one of “them” rather than one of “us”.

Yes, I do believe that you are correct in saying with time you would be able to persuade someone to be different.

But seeing as from a young age I was not forced to follow all the rules. And learned to question - I believe that I would not be easily persuaded, even in time. Maybe I just have more empathy? Or maybe it is that when you are older people are less able to brainwash you?
I have never followed society’s believes because I had to, I decide what I choose to believe and act as I see fit. Maybe If I grew up with a different parent and people surrounding me, my actions would have been different. Part of it is probably Boogie Monster’s doing. In making me question everything. He makes me think of the greater consequences of me and other’s actions.

We are not all just products of evolution, maybe some of us can choose to be different? Yes, some people’s nature are different to mine, but maybe thousands of years from now, people would change to be better. I believe that the surroundings you grow up must play a role in what choices you make later in life. The actions of many do not determine the actions of everyone.

It will take a special person. I think they are few and far in between. But they are still there…

I know, I was just being dramatic.

You assume that your upbringing/surroundings are somehow special and that you wouldn’t be subject to the pressures that create situations like this. I think you are wrong.

Don’t forget the Stanford Prison Experiment that also resulted in chaos and had to be aborted prematurely. The participants were normal everyday US teens in college. Probably one of the most liberal demographics on earth. And yet when given the simple instruction to “be a guard” they start committing atrocities all of their own accord within a short time.

And that was just a GAME!

It might be nice to think “not me”, but there’s no way for you to know that without being in that position.

Let me ask you a bonus question, because I have knowledge on how your moral compass works: What if someone held a gun to your head and said “shoot this guy”, and you recognized the person you were about to shoot as a Nazi who had ordered the gassing of millions of Jews. Would you shoot then?

Don't forget the Stanford Prison Experiment
That's the one I was thinking about. Thanks for the link. I can think of a few that I would like to off without a gun to my head, given half a chance.

Yes, different and dead. Most of us, most of the time, do the ethical thing. But not to the point of being sacrificially sympathetic towards strangers. Such a population of altruists will, almost by definition, die out long before reaching significant numbers. On a large scale, we got the way we are because it works to look after one’s own. We are not morally perfect, and neither can we be. There is a rational limit to being nice, and that limit lies somewhere long before indiscriminate self sacrifice.


One can reason that we are “moral” and “altruistic” only as far as it’s mutually beneficial. We help those in need because we like to think that if we were in that position, someone would help us. So if we help build an altruistic society, it can act as some insurance against future hardships.

Some surmise this as: There are no selfless deeds. Everything we do for others has some kind of pay-off for us, even if it’s just emotional.

BUT: We can extend this principle to the presented dilemma as well… Let’s say I defy the order and get shot. I could reason that this has a chance of inspiring fellow captives to revolt and overthrow the dictators. Perhaps such a revolt could save the lives of my family/children. In that case defying the order has a non-zero chance to be in my best interest (as far as furthering my genetics are concerned).

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.</blockquote>

Oeeee … brave man! :o :wink:

Let's say I defy the order and get shot. I could reason that this has a chance of inspiring fellow captives to revolt and overthrow the dictators.
Yes, then I also think you [i]should[/i] get shot. :P


Here’s something else to chew on a bit. I was attacked years ago in my home, I put up a goodish fight but ultimately was raped, however, moments after that my then 2 year old son walked into the room and this bastard had the odasity to kick him, I almost killed the assailant, they had to pull me off him and he was in hospital for three weeks because of the damage I did to him. I WOULD have killed him if help didnt arrive.

Now, analysing that incident, I wasnt all that worried about myself, it was more of putting up a fuss but not too much because I was more concerned about getting away rather than fighting, but damn, dont touch my child because then I’ll kill you - and I still feel that way, its a scary thought, because I know I have the ability to do it. We all can and will kill without a second thought should the circumstances demand it. Morality doesnt come into it. You’ll assess the situation subconciously and you’ll act accordingly to ensure your own survival.

[quote author=Rigil Kent link=topic=2574.msg25985#msg25985 date=1353338008]

And yet people have died trying to save complete strangers.

Sure, but except for a few concrete monuments here and there, how did it work out for them? Will their ulta-altruistic genes/memes stand any chance of becoming more than an admirable side show to the human condition?



Nobody ever said humans were rational. Usually quite the contrary.

When it comes to life and death situations, we have/had to be rational, at least most of the time. If that wasn’t the case, we would not have been here.


Actually that’s the point me and Majin got to in our conversations last night. What if I am in the next room with a gun to my head. She can either pull the trigger, or see me get shot. What then?

I was adamant that she’d pull the trigger in a heartbeat. She said she wouldn’t, she’d be heartbroken but wouldn’t feel responsible for my death, as my captors would be the ones responsible.

The way she explained it, I almost believed her.

But I don’t think general human circumstance has been quite that dire for a long, long time. I think our evolutionary path has been drastically altered by our capacity for social interaction and mutually beneficial coordination. On the whole, humans don’t live in a “eat or be eaten” world anymore. A lot of people go their whole lives, procreate, and die, without ever being faced by such a dilemma. So their irrationality about such matters doesn’t matter, they procreate nonetheless.