A Philosophical Discussion on Murder of Whistle Blowers

This Sunday, Anna Hazare is fasting in Delhi in support of Whistle Blower Protection Act. Indian laws don’t provide for whistle-blower protection and the damage is evident. Over the years, numerous whistle-blowers have lost their life. A few cases are covered up as personal dispute due to the high level corruption in the system.

Corruption benefits the majority, so does it make it acceptable? Legally, public will say – of course not. But even Hazare’s big protests in 2011 have lost public support. The government used delay tactics and maligned the name of key leaders of his team. Most state leaders didn’t want a Lokayukta in their states. There is no political will among the politicians, bureaucrats and business to pass a strong bill against corruption.

Then it isn’t surprising, that even on  witnessing the death of whistle blowers, public doesn’t protest about it. On the other hand, most keep quiet, lest they become the target. In such circumstances, majority of the people have given implicit consent to murder for their own self-interest. Of course readers would be outraged by this suggestion and claim they were no way involved in the murder. They didn’t give implicit consent!

Let us discuss this from a philosophical lens. Micheal Sandel, the Havard professor discusses this point in his video lectures : Justice – The Moral Side of Murder and The Case of Cannibalism. In the episode “Moral Side of Murder” he discusses a hypothetical case:

“Suppose you were driving a trolley on a rail track and its breaks failed. Five workers are ahead on the track, if you continue to drive straight, all five will die. On the other hand, in a diverging track, there is just one worker.  If you change track, that one worker will die but the other five will live. What is the right thing to do?”

Most students responded that they will swerve to the diverging track and chose to kill one to save five. At a psychological level, they have given moral justification of murder. Then Mr. Sandel gives another example :

“Suppose you are standing on a bridge with the track below, and you see this trolley hurtling without breaks. There are five workers on the track. There is a fat man standing next to you. If you push the fat man over the bridge, on the track, the lives of five workers would be saved. Would you do it?”

Majority of the students said – “No, they wouldn’t do it”. The reason is that it would involve explicitly murdering a person. Can we conclude from these examples, that human race is fine with implicit consent to murder however have qualms on explicitly murdering?

Some whistle blowers due to the psychological torture have committed suicide. That is an indirect attempt to murder. The rich and middle class gain from corruption, hence they give an implicit consent to murder of whistle-blowers. Does this statement hold true, or would you debate it?

Mr. Sandel discusses this in the next part of the lecture on cannibalism. He discusses The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens case, and the facts are as follows:

“At the trial of an indictment for murder it appeared, upon a special verdict, that the prisoners D. and S., seamen, and the deceased, a boy between seventeen and eighteen, were cast away in a storm on the high seas, and compelled to put into an open boat; that the boat was drifting on the ocean, and was probably more than 1000 miles from land; that on the eighteenth day, when they had been seven days without food and five without water, D. proposed to S. that lots should be cast who should be put to death to save the rest, and that they afterwards thought it would be better to kill the boy that their lives should be saved; that on the twentieth day D., with the assent of S., killed the boy, and both D. and S. fed on his flesh for four days; that at the time of the act there was no sail in sight nor any reasonable prospect of relief; that under these circumstances there appeared to the prisoners every probability that unless they then or very soon fed upon the boy, or one of themselves, they would die of starvation.”

To protect oneself or the majority, is murdering someone else justified? The students raised interesting aspects :

1) Some said if selection was done by lottery, then maybe it is illegal but more acceptable. Reason given was they would consider it that all participants on the boat knew the risks of losing.

2) A few students stated that if the boy would have volunteered to die for the benefit of others, it would be acceptable. The boy was an orphan and all others had family responsibilities.

In case of whistle-blower murders, the person dies without have consented to die or being made aware of the decision of the most. The majority votes behind his/her back for murder to safeguard themselves. Does that make majority behavior acceptable?

Watch the hour-long video, and share your thoughts.

In whistle blowing, most feel threatened about the repercussions from people in power and say that they have family responsibilities and cannot expose themselves to the risk. Hence, it is better to go against the whistle-blower attempting to do the right thing, than the person who is doing the wrong thing. Do the same psychological reasons as given in the above mentioned case apply when society goes against whistle blowers?

References:

Harvard University – Justice with Michael Sandel

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One comment on “A Philosophical Discussion on Murder of Whistle Blowers

  1. When you are confronted with a truly monstrous fascist regime (Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romania comes to mind) you are forced to think, do and say three different things… all the time.

    Of course, it is simply intolerable to murder people but you may not be able to speak out against it in safety. It is a life and death issue not a philosophical one.

    In the news at the moment is the UN’s condemnation of the treatment of Bradley Manning, but do you think anything will change? http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/manning-treatment-inhuman/

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