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Thou shalt not kill. But how do we stop?

Updated on July 26, 2014
Basket full of murder
Basket full of murder | Source

Thou shalt not kill. Probably one of the greatest moral directives ever thought of by mankind; but utterly impossible to adhere to.

All humans have to kill for their food even if they themselves just go to the market to buy it and have no hand in killing anything themselves. The thing would not be there to buy it if there was no demand at all for it.

Now, of course many will tell us this biblical directive was talking about humans killing humans, and specifically children of the god of Abraham not killing each other. Fair enough, because what happens later supports the idea that killing other humans was demanded by god, so the only conclusion one draws is that killing is fine if god says so, and killing gods not so chosen is ok. So I’m not discussing the Christen/Jewish or Muslim explanation of their book’s confusing directive.

Not killing has long been thought of as a high moral position and goal. Not just people killing other people, but people killing other things. Buddhism teaches that all life is sacred regardless of what it is. Hinduism has the same idea.

But really the only people who can practice this way of life are the priests because they rely on what people give them to eat. Without people looking after these holy men they would have to starve.

There is a story about a Hindu master who noticed that the drinking water had been contaminated with mosquito larva. To allow others to drink the water meant exposing them to malaria. Dumping the water and refilling it would have meant he would have killed hundreds of lives. So what did he do? He told a passerby to dump the water.

Was that a real solution? The passerby was innocent because he didn’t know he was killing anything, and he thought he remained innocent as he didn’t do it.

But of course he knew what his request would do, so to me that doesn’t absolve him of the killings, lt makes him the same as anyone who hires an assassin.

Once he knew there were mosquito larva in the water he had no choice but to sin no matter what his choice was. He had to choose between human life and insect life. In fact, he was killing bacterial life as well.

Every doctor who has cured someone of a bacterial of viral invasion is a murderer, and proud of it.

So perhaps most of us can justify the killing of insects and bacteria as a self defence move? After all, they are attacking us, not we them. Self defence is always a good reason to have killed: Survival.

But we can see that holding all life sacred is a worthy idea. Everything is made of the same substance; atoms. Everything is connected. Even though it isn’t possible to completely comply with “thou shalt not kill” we can still keep our killing to a minimum, can’t we?

That’s why some people become vegans or vegetarian. Many people feel that we shouldn’t kill animals for food. It’s cruel and unnecessary.

Of course one has to know that vegetables are alive too. Just because they can’t scream as you skin your carrot alive, it is still a life form, and therefore sacred, if you will. Studies have shown that they do react to being attacked. But of course they don’t have a brain so according to many can’t feel pain.

Instead of insisting that feeling or emotional response may not require a brain, as all hardwired responses have physical consequences. Or that motions and feelings are needs felt and that all things respond only to real or perceived need: you wouldn’t blink if not for a need, I’m just going to ask: since when did whether a thing feels pain or not become the reason to kill it or not?

Well if all life is sacred then the veg is no less sacred than the cow. You can tell yourself there is big difference, and there is to most of us humans, but in the grand puzzle: is there?

It’s survival. If I kill by eating and supporting meat production, and I kill by supporting the agriculture industry, mashing potatoes like witch hunters pressing people to gain confession, what can I eat? It’s eat or die, simple as that.

The only animal that doesn’t kill is a scavenger. The true scavenger eats what it finds already dead, and cleans the area by ingesting what would otherwise rot and attract disease. Yet scavengers are looked down on by many. Come to think of it, vegans are looked down on by meat eaters and meat eaters are looked down upon by vegans.

Plants that can live on the energy provided by light, nutrition in the soil and water also don’t have a moral dilemma. But humans do, and so does all the meat we eat. Perhaps we should just eat meat?

Am I suggesting that we should stop eating and all do what a Buddhist monk once did, sacrificed himself to a hungry lioness and her cubs when he saw their need? No. If that’s your thing then... well, I better not encourage you.

Am I saying we should become scavengers? Certainly not. Wouldn’t be enough to go around anyway.

What I’m saying is there is no way around it for humans. Both sides are wrong. It is wrong to kill animals, but just as wrong to take any life for any reason, never mind torturing veggies and making them bleed in your soup. No use looking down on anyone for their opinion on which is more or less humane. Killing is killing. But survival insists we are responsible for something’s death.

In the north, of course there is really no choosing to be vegan. It’s meat or fish your family dies. Some insist that doing the killing one’s self is a humbling lesson in living and the relationship between humans and their meal. Natives often thank the animal they kill. Again, all good for some, not for everyone.

The universe is set that way. Atoms don’t die, they just merge with other systems. But systems, like ourselves, die. The energy that was us is then recycled to make other things. Nature is a constant renewal process, constantly transforming everything.

If there is a conscious god responsible for this should we not be pondering whether we can forgive it or not for it’s cruelty? But of course if it is just nature; just the way it is and must be, then there is no reason to forgive anything.

We all have to make choices in life concerning what we will and won’t eat. Some will eat anything, guilt free. Others have guilt about it no matter what they choose. Do what you are comfortable with, with my blessing. Try to do what makes you fell healthy and the least guilty. The fix was in from the start: Thou shalt not kill never had a chance.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      We are not Pavlov's beasts. I can just as easily say that we are unconditioned or that many reject the 'conditioning' idea, outright. We are self-conditioned and re-conditioned. Which, in short, tosses the preordained stuff out the window. Unless you can somehow judge that all human thought, ideas, suppositions, genetics, weather, sunlight, etc. are mere conditioning issues. Difficult to prove. Perhaps a quantum computer might help. Then there's the idea we pre-programmed the computer with our non-free will. Oh crap. Vicious circle of love. Then there is the final reduction to the tenet that it was all preset. This seems to allege that there must be a Great Pre-Setter. A God. Then comes the final argument ending in the aching throes of fiction. Lies upon lies?

      And sure we have basic needs, but many other non-basic needs, such as our need or want to discuss these positions, exist.

      The idea that freedom is an idea that exists in a vacuum - if false. Everything is glued together. You cannot examine the nature of nature, the freedom of freedom or the coldness of coldness - without a comparison. Freedom is a position requiring barriers to ensure it exists for people. There is no freedom to cut off human heads, because you would then eliminate that freedom - the right to live. Reduction of reasoning to these absurd levels, is absurd. An abstraction of an abstraction?

      Human Rights are non-negotiable. If one negotiates his freedom away for a little bread, one is a fool. If one is willing to restrict one's movement to a square block, not voice one's opinion against terrorists, because it might offend, one is a negotiated slave. In Canada I understand there are actual laws against hate speech. If I use certain words, not threats, I am a criminal it the Great White North? What happened? Did somebody have a bad day at the office?

      Society does not exist. People - a person exists. I do not say I have rights, but look to my properties as a human and know I must eat to live. I must move to live. I must clothe myself to stay warm. I must have a cave or a home with air conditioning - that I can buy if I so choose. (One must have air conditioning in Florida.) These are my rights - my birth rights. Should anyone attempt to take them away, I will fight. Not lay down, roll over, and grovel. I am willing to trade, freely, to succeed in this life, but will hold responsible, as a human, those willing to subjugate me for the rights of something called a 'Society'. There is no such beast. If it exists, it must be killed. (There's that word again...)

      And I think we should control, to the best of our ability, nature. Why else exist, if not to heal the sick of disease, conquer hunger, and ensure the greatest possible freedom for our kind? If we let nature take a natural course, we might still be in the caves speaking about the lack of free will, the tigers might prowl the grass lands, and poison apples might still dangle from Eden's Trees .

      In one sense, we kill. Things with beating hearts or similar die for us. One day, I would rather use a 3-D printer to make a steak, with all the appropriate levels of nutrients. Until then I will have a beer and forget I am eating the dead. Please pass the butter. (Yes, I'm a heathen from down yonder.)

    • Slarty O'Brian profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Hooft 

      4 years ago from Ottawa

      Well you seem to be talking about some sort of "free" will, which doesn't exist. Will exists, of course. Will is the manifestation of your conditioning, both environmental and hard wired/genetic.

      When I say nature I mean your conditioning/predispositions. All humans have the same basic needs. Each individual is unique because of their unique set of conditioning, and while the door to some choices are open to you, they are not open to others exactly because of their unique set of conditioning.

      As you learn your conditioning changes and often that means that things you would have chosen to do in the past are no longer part of your real options. They still exist as options but you will not choose them anymore. One door opens and another closes.

      I love to illustrate this by sighting Paul the apostle. Before he had his great vision, probably brought on by guilt, he was helping the Romans capture Christians to be fed to the lions or what ever. After his conversion he could not do that anymore. His option was still there but his conditioning had changed closing the door to the possibility that he would choose it.

      I will also argue about what freedom is. It really does not exist from one perspective. But from another, you are free to do anything at all that you can do. The problem is getting away with it. There are always consequences to any act so you have to choose your actions according to the consequences you favour.

      To know what to do you have to know what the consequences of your act will be. That's what I mean by knowing cause and effect.

      What we generally mean by freedom is rights. What rights do we have? And those rights can only be negotiated.

      You can again say you have what ever right you want to have, but unless it is a right agreed to by your society, it's not going to do you much good.

      If you are looking over your shoulder for your enemies, it takes away from the time you have doing the things you want to do or even need to do. At that point you are not free to do what you want, you are being forced to do what you must if you just want to survive.

      I would not say we are in charge of nature though I will say we are nature and nothing we do is unnatural nor can it be.

      And we are not birds but birds kill for their food as well as all other animals do, plant eaters and meat eaters alike. Nothing (but perhaps most plants) lives that does not have to kill something else that's living so it can live. So in that sense we are all killers, unless you want to narrowly define that term to apply only to humans killing or choosing not to kill each other.

      I don't think we fundamentally disagree on most of this, by what you have written.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Freedom is not an end in itself. Looking over one's shoulder, worrying about bad guys, does not make one less free. Freedom is a concept, not a state of being. One has the freedom to live, without taking another's life, unless in self-defense. One has the freedom to be at liberty and not be enslaved by others. One has the freedom to own things, so long as one does not steal the things from others. That is freedom. It is, basically, nothing more. Of course, one must expand upon these, but you get the picture. In other words, there is no freedom to force others to pay for your retirement or healthcare. This is slavery. O'Canada - land of the serfs. Don't worry, the US is following suit.

      Freedom is certainly costly, but so is Slavery. One must work at freedom to maintain it. One must define how best to achieve the greatest possible freedom, within human relationships, because that is the only thing I am referring to - at the least possible cost. Cost meaning: the money used to support the organizations, such as Armed Services, Police, Courts, Jails, Governmental forms, in order to insure freedom. But the cost has to be paid somehow. The secret, to me, is to make the cost voluntary with some type of lottery system.

      The cause and effect you mention is not defined. One must define terms in this sense. By this do you mean if one steals another's property, one should be punished in some manner? Hence, the entire group benefits by removing thieves to jails?

      And about Vegans. I am not one. I do not look down on them, but they do not appear to be obtaining enough of the right nutrients. Ideally, the best meat is human meat, which has all the proper nutrients; however, rational beings as some of us are, this might be frowned upon. One might find oneself in a room, strapped to a bed, tubes inserted, pending departure from this place. (It happens in my neck of the woods.) My point is, we are humans. Evolved beings on this earth. As of yet, we have not discovered a method to stay healthy by just eating plants. (Arguable right?) In a sense, it is anti-life to NOT obtain the nutrients the body needs, in order to live a healthy life. But one can choose not to kill an ant, because it lives and someday we can all be eating blue-goo with all the right stuff. Until then, I will put steaks on the grill and shake my head at the corn eaters, who base their beliefs on a non-objective sense of morality.

      Nature is not a limiter. There is no Nature. We exist within a natural world, sure, but it does not dictate if one mows the lawn or burns down a forest or launches a rocket to the moon. Nature is the Universe, so to speak. Are there properties of beings evolved in a Natural World? Sure. But these properties, such as how we must eat to survive, are not static. They are, at least in us humans, self-determined, not preordained. We, as individuals, choose to kill or not to kill - in order to eat meat, for example. Nature just evolved us a brain. One can use it or not. Nature also evolved this new weird thing in humans: self-programming. We are in charge of Nature, not the other way around. But we are still working on it.

      Morality is not all subjective. Subjective means there are no absolutes, no concretes, hence it is like religion. Hence a morality defined subjectively is wrong. Immoral. A contradiction. That's why we have jails. (I feel an argument coming.)

      And we are not killers. Just as we are not birds, when we jump two feet in the air. We choose to kill if need be. There is nothing immoral about it - if done so in self-defense. If one gets tangled up in the ideas that all life is precious and should be preserved, even at the cost of a victim's life, one is anti-life. One must choose or face the consequences.

      Kirk lumped all of us together as savages, which is a fiction. Just as there were savage times, there were peaceful times - darned few I know.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Hooft 

      4 years ago from Ottawa

      Good comments and absolutely valid My point was that killing is unavoidable for exactly the reasons you sighted. Killing is required by survival in so many ways.

      Vegans look down at meat eaters as being barbaric, but they have to kill to eat and survive as well. They are just killing what they feel are lower life forms. If you think I went off the rails then I assure you it was just to make that point.

      But the other point I wanted to make was one you touched on: " I act morally, because my survival, my freedom to exist peaceably among other humans requires me the make rational decisions."

      There is a lot in what you said above. There is the idea of freedom through peaceful co-existence. You are not free if you are constantly looking over tour shoulder for the next attack. Freedom comes at a cost. That cost is living according to cause and effect. And that rational thinking you mentioned is exactly the way to live better, freer, by understanding that cause and effect.

      This is the same as the religious saying you have to do god's will. Buddhists, Christians to a lesser degree, have recognized this causal relationship and have tried to come up with ways to live by it.

      So while I do not think there is a conscious director, as you point out, nature itself, our nature and the nature of the world we live in does seem to direct us toward limiting why and how and what and when we kill. And we build our moral codes on that objective basis.

      Morality is not entirely subjective.

      I like what the writers of Star Trek wrote: “We’re human beings, with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers, but we won’t kill today.” ~James T. Kirk

      Sleep well.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Moral and directive do not go together. Directive implies a 'director' and 'directions'. It smacks of 'duty'. I have no duty to be moral. I act morally, because my survival, my freedom to exist peaceably among other humans requires me the make rational decisions. If I kill other humans, I must act within my moral code. I do not know about you, but if a bad guy came after me with knife, I would kill him - not maim him. Not try to use the least amount of force possible to ensure his survival. The bad guy has already made the wrong decision. That is my Moral Imperative. To live. I must preserve me and those I love. And I would not cry over the loss of the bad guy. But I would only use retaliatory force (which might mean preemptive strikes) when killing.

      About the idea that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" as being great. No. It has caused more problems. Objectors died at the hands of many bad people, because of that probable incorrect translation. If memory serves, one of the early biblical versions used the word "timshel". It meant "Thou mayest". In other words the killing part was left up to you. It should have read "Thou Shalt Not Murder". And killing is not murdering, in this sense.

      As for the other issues about killing animals or bacteria - well, I don't see an issue. I think you went off the Reservation a bit there. I don't feel a need to hug a tree, but to grow them, cut them down and build houses for my species. I will fish and hunt and sleep well.


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