You Shall Not Murder; Scalpel on Canvas

Back: The Fifth Commandment

Don’t kill people. An easy rule to follow. For most people, this might be considered a free pass on the good person checklist. Sure, sometimes I might want to put a chair through a person, but I know not to. If I did end up clubbing a guy to death, I would probably feel pretty bad about it, and on top of that everyone I know would be very disapproving of my actions. So in the case that some vapid mouth breather is slopping their dead-eyed smirk over my vision moments after they have inflicted their incestuous intellect on me with a lecture regarding some angle in which they are morally superior to their pet strawman, it is an easy calculation to understand that I will gain much less than I will lose to introduce that bint to the ground. However, much like the other commandments, the Sixth Commandment is more valuable when understood as a mechanism for understanding and growth rather than a rule to control society. 

The issue with the Sixth Commandment begins to present itself when approached critically. It may not be appropriate to just kill anybody, but what if one had the opportunity to kill Adolf Hitler before he could begin the Holocaust. Despite some contrarian opinions, and finding people with the stomach to fire the gun, it would be hard to find anyone who would genuinely allow genocide to occur at the cost of a single life. What should be made of justified warfare, in which young boys are sent to death for leaders who would never see the heat of battle? How are we to consider a death penalty for those who have committed crimes beyond tolerance? What should we make of those who haven’t killed people but instead kill animals for sport? Depending on the what side you’re on, this is somewhere between murder itself and a spectacular reason to mount a machinegun to a helicopter. On top of all of this, the character of God is quite happy to go about plaguing, drowning, and stoning his way around the ‘sinners’ in biblical roulette. If we are to make sense of the Sixth Commandment, we must draw a clear line between the concept of a justified killing, and unjustified killing, i.e murder. By understanding this we may also be able to create personal growth by acting in such a way that we can address the symptoms of the thought processes that might eventually lead to murder.

One might take the position that ‘all killing is wrong’, and the concept of justified killing is an exception that has been created by the powerful to maintain their power. In effect, violence is only ever used to maintain the capacity for violence. Ergo, the only moral path is the full rejection of the capacity for violence. This is manifesting in the extremes of the environmentalist movement that sees man as the aggressor onto nature. This extreme supports the rejection of human life through an anti-natalist position in an attempt to limit the total suffering caused by humans to the state of nature. This is of course a hypocritical belief as the proponents of this mentality do not kill themselves. This betrays the self-righteous nature of the belief where, much like the pathologically pious, the value is in holding the belief rather than that belief being a useful model for the world. In effect the extreme position that ‘all killing is wrong’ is a delusion that allows people to ignore the effects of their actions, and neglect the careful balance one must have moving through life. Obvious cases would be in the number of mice that would be killed to run a combine harvester through a field, or the roadkill in the shipping of goods, or the number of fish and birds executed by the turbines and plumbing systems required to prepare the food. Even in the case that all food is hand-picked and prepared onsite, the farmer will break their body and their skin will become cancerous due to the demands placed on them in the service of your needed consumption. The fact of the matter is that there is no way to live a life that will not result in suffering and ultimately killing. The challenge must therefore be for individuals to justify the suffering they cause when it is necessarily at the expense of others. 

In the continued effort to reduce the amount of unjustified killing, democratic governments have changed their laws and been less willing to take actions that might result in the killing of innocent people. This extends to the major change in the reduction of executions and the removal in many parts of the world of the death sentence. It has been presented that the court system, despite being the best system for managing punishments for crimes, is occasionally wrong. Because it is an arm of a democratic government, if the punishment of death is given to an innocent then that whole society is to blame for that unjustified killing. Despite this, the historic cases of the execution of innocents rarely ended in the death of the perpetrators, therefore the punitive model of the Sixth Commandment, ‘thou shalt not kill because then you will be punished’ does not hold as absolute. 

From all of these things, we can see that the punitive model of the Sixth Commandment cannot be the true one. ‘Don’t kill because killing is bad and you will be punished’ doesn’t work as a model because continued life necessitates the killing of others, this killing doesn’t result in retributive punishment, and the model doesn’t work for complex cases where a trade-off between multiple lives needs to be considered to result in the most valuable outcome. The common cultural understanding of the Sixth Commandment cannot be correct for this reason. To understand this Commandment properly, the model of the self needs to be re-understood in a more mature way such that following the Sixth Commandment results in personal growth.

If one is to consider a simpler animal, a solitary predator like a grizzly bear, the expression of each individual is nearly identical to others in its species when accounting for gender differences. Encountering one entity of the species is likely enough to model the expression of that animal. They have similar hunting patterns and territory management. The complexity of its behaviour pattern might be 3 where 3 is the number of entities required to understand the expression of the species as a higher intelligence entity. An adult male, adult female, and a juvenile might be all you would need to study to get a functionally full model on how to deal with grizzly bears. 

If we consider animals which rely on a more complex social structure to survive, like lions, would require a larger set of entities to understand the expression of the species. One might need a model that includes a male head of pride, adult males without pride, adult females, junior males in pride, junior males outside pride and cubs. This model would have a complexity of 7 with this model. However, the expression of any of the individuals within a species is not static, the lead males will eventually be ousted, and strong juniors will take their place. Therefore, the behavioural capacity of any individual inside the social structure must necessarily be greater than its given personal behavioural expression at any point. However, its total expression must be limited within the bounds of the complexity of the species as a whole. In effect, a male lion might act out all the roles from cub to an ousted leader, but will not act out a role outside of the domain of lions, like a shepherd lion, despite the management of a herd being a more successful strategy for managing large amounts of meat for the long term. 

In the case of the junior lion plotting to overthrow the pride leader, the junior cannot just act like the pride leader as that delusion would be punished by the current leader. Therefore, both the character of the leader and junior create themselves with reference to one another. There can be no “leader” role without the “junior”, there can be no junior role without the leader. Both lions are able to play both roles, however, they are filling the roles that they must due to social momentum. To properly model the pride of lions one must consider the entire pride as the single unit, with the full complexity of the social dynamics and the transitions as individuals move into the different roles. 

Returning to humankind, the most social animal, we will see the value in the Sixth Commandment by modelling our own species as one where it can only be understood through the wider social experience of the human-animal. A ‘human unit’ with a complexity that feels infinite to us, but could be bounded by a higher intelligence being into a collection of roles. 

In effect, you must be a component of a wider “human unit” in which your personality is a subset of the possible expressions that your brain is capable of where that subset has been determined by the interactions you have had with other people. In simpler terms; you are like the rocks in the river, where each gains its shape from rubbing against the other rocks as they slowly move down the river, that same rock also defining the shape of the others as it moves. In the discussion of nature vs nurture, nature might be your total original potential (the rock as it breaks from the earth, with all its qualities), and nurture might be whatever is left from the effects of life so far, (the grating of rocks against one another as they move down the river). 

This model must be true, as babies babble in sounds used in every language, however through adults reacting positively and negatively to the babbling, the babies learn what order of sounds results in good and bad outcomes, and what gets them the desired effect, (receiving a soft toy while stuck in a chair). It’s unlikely that you chose your language, the sports that you are interested in, religion, or even your career path. These are all likely the effects of the oscillations of you against the people around you, trying to do things that continue to elicit positive responses while avoiding negative responses. However, this also doesn’t completely model human expression, as we are able to withstand negative input with the hope that it will result in a deferred, greater positive return. For example, many people change their religion as they see the new set of ideas as a better model to interpret reality. The temporary discomfort of accepting that they were acting on a bad model allows them to act in a more successful way of going forwards. This ability to grow is what separates living things from dead things, both in a physical sense, that living entities amass carbon and other atoms better than dead entities, and in an efficiency sense, that living entities trend towards more efficient and greater uses of energy from the environment. In this sense living beings are not like the rocks of the river, but more like a self-growing clay. Clay will be buffeted by the environment and be reduced, but new clay can be added intelligently, the additions will also be buffeted and wear, but some of a given addition might remain. In a direct human sense, this might be analogous to learning a huge collection of information but only ever using a small subset. 

Being this growing entity, we wish to grow faster and into new territory before other people do. To do this we both reference ourselves off of both the current state and the full set of possible future states of all actors. We are alone among the animals to keep records accepting that there is more knowledge than our mind can hold. We would only do that if we could accept those previous individuals, and our past selves held valuable information that we have forgotten. Therefore, while bears might have a complexity of 3, and lions have a complexity of 7, the full complexity of the human unit size must include individuals from the past, individuals who we interact within the present, and the possible future iterations of those individuals. Given anthropologists suggest that we can know 500 people, we might believe that the complexity of humans must be some massive number as each of those 500 people must also be considered with reference to time. 

Summarised, we can say that you have the potential to be the same as almost anyone, however, you can’t be them because they are already fulfilling that role. Your contribution to the group will be in the way that society is lacking because people will react positively when you appear to help them where they are lacking, and negatively when you are competing with them in their niche. This is significant with the specialisation of skills as each individual is given the greatest ability to maximise a domain of production, massively improving the total production.

Our reliance on others extends past material production, we entrust other people with our memories, we require other people to hold general skills that are essential for our survival, and we need other people’s support to carry the load when the emotional weight of life becomes too much. We must say that a more accurate model to understand a human life, is not as a head with some arms and legs doing things, but as a node in a tremendous social structure, where that structure is defined in reference to itself. The model could be envisioned as a net holding together, with each person as a knot at the end of a series of connections. On an examination of the net, one would see that both knot and connection are both made of rope. The best knots aren’t the tightest or even the ones that know they are knots, but the ones that can hold the greatest number of strong connections stopping the net from failing.  

This model would explain the paradoxical mourning done by the devoutly religious. If one genuinely believed that death resulted in a glorious afterlife, then surely their passing should be a time of great celebration. Even in the deeply secular model, one should understand that passing has ended their ability to suffer, so there would be no need to mourn. However, all people cry and ache for the dead. With this model, we understand that in mourning the dead the pain felt is not from sadness for the dead but is instead from technically losing of a part of one’s self. No different as if a limb had been removed, or a brain injury had ravaged your memory. With this model, there is an afterlife. The idea of you is more real than the material you, in so far as we do not tie our lives to the physical composition of our material frame. Every seven years the entire cellular composition of you has cycled through, just about every carbon atom will be different, just in your shape (sans gametes). If you collected these cells as they fell off and arranged them into you, you would not say you are truly looking at your corpse, and so the living you can transcend the total death of your whole body (once every seven years). If you are then an idea defined by those you have connections with, then you also do the same in reverse. Therefore, the dead actually technically live on in those that they were connected to in life, through the conscious and subconscious ways that they are referenced by the living.

With this model, where you are not a ‘rational independent actor’ but a node in a complex web where the self is a construct of your connections, we can now understand a difference between justified and unjustified killing. A justified killing is a killing where the greater ‘web’ model of self and all the nodes in that web can support the killing, whereas an unjustified killing would be a killing that you could not present openly to your relationships, in effect being unable to present the killing to parts of yourself. This leaves the fundamental test of ‘should I kill this person?’ to be ‘can I be open about killing this person?’. I doubt many people would existentially blame a soldier for killing an enemy combatant, but a husband openly talking about killing their wife in their sleep would cause people to become irate. 

This still does not necessarily reduce the Sixth Commandment to a principle for self-growth as it requires the judgement of the wider community. Therefore, we must go deeper to understand this commandment in full. Human beings are almost all functionally alike, the most major class differences being between the class ‘men’ and the class ‘women’. The feminist movement, and its ideas, has proven that the most functional societal ruleset is to treat men and women the same. Therefore, mankind’s greatest divergence is so minor that it is beneath genuine consideration when accounting for the self-managing ruleset. Therefore, all humans are almost identical. However, when we think of the expression of mankind, we are presented with a complex structure where each individual has such different skills, culture and preferences that it is impossible to actually consider each human being as the same. In effect, we are defining other individuals in those ways that they are different to us, and then ignoring all the ways that they are the same. This makes sense as it lowers the amount of processing required when attempting to predict how a person will act. 

By modelling people in this way, as a set of differences with reference to the self, we must accept that we cannot see people for who they are in their full complexity. We interpret people as a model of difference to our baseline, the longer we know a person, the more complex this model can be, but it is still based on our own model of ourselves. It must be then that you do not engage with other individuals, but that you engage with the model of people as a variant model of yourself, and you adapt that model accordingly as you learn more information about the person you have attached the model to. 

With reference to the Sixth Commandment, a man may be driven to kill when the model presented by someone eclipses them so much that killing the person seems like the only way to escape the shame emitted by their very being. In effect, we subject ourselves to the apparitions of other people that we ourselves build, whether supportive or judgemental. Killing the person might seem like a way to end the apparition, but it does not destroy that apparition. Killing only stops our ability to adapt the model by removing its basis in reality, the person that was killed. Additionally, it removes one’s capacity for growth, as if that individual is so far above me that they enrage me with their existence, then an open discussion of that feeling gives me the greatest opportunity to learn from them and improve. Killing the person not only entrenches the judgemental apparition but removes any ability for us to overcome it. 

If we accept the idea that “I” is a construct of the mind, and everyone else is also a construct of the same mind then we perhaps can understand the golden rule shared by many major religions, “do onto others as one would do onto oneself”. This isn’t an allegory or shorthand to act better in the world, but a technical description of how one should model social dynamics accurately. When you act you are reacting to a model inside your mind which might as well be a reaction to yourself. The quickest shorthand would be to react as if you had done the action, empathising with the motivations that would cause you to act in the same way. Is it better to act in a way that promotes discovery and joy or aggression and belittlement? We act negatively if a person presents in a way that does not align with our model of them. This negativity will breed negativity. We must instead forgive people for not aligning with our model of them, and instead, adapt the model to include their flaws. By then reacting to the new model we may drift apart, but that is only because the old model was flawed, not because the person that it was mapped to is flawed. 

In effect by reacting negatively to people, even without killing them, we strengthen the very judgemental apparitions that we paint over people, building resentment. This Increases one’s actual experience of being judged. This building resentment only serves as a self-inflicted punishment, perhaps deservingly, for not engaging with the image we have built. 

In this model, there is a tremendous tool to understand oneself, and to find forgiveness. If one is built from all those that they are surrounded with, and you are a weighted average of the people that you know, then it is fair to say that what you think of the average person is exactly what you think of yourself. Those people who believe that the average person is stupid, truly believe that they are not smart enough to achieve. Those people who feel that nobody does anything interesting, are self-limiting their own capacity for meaning. And those who believe that everyone is out to get them to betray their own malice. It stands that being able to forgive the average person for their flaws is the mechanism by which we can forgive ourselves for ours.

To ground all of this, the Sixth Commandment is fundamentally about seeing yourself in other people and forgiving them for not being who you want them to be, and simultaneously forgiving yourself for not being who you want to be. We are all stuck in the symbols we use to navigate a world of infinite complexity. One must not choose to believe the symbol is more real than the reality it is mapped on. By doing so one can forgive themselves for the limitations of their understanding and develop by growing past the flawed parts of their model. Resentment and anger are built on choosing the model over reality, therefore when presented with these negative emotions one should first be willing to adapt their model of reality before acting. Only by exhausting the limits of empathy should one resort to violence in a stable system. Ultimately killing almost always results in damage to the killer along all domains. This is the reason that “you shall not murder” is the Sixth Commandment.

In life, everyone wants to be the hero and so we prefer making monsters of other people. If I’m living in a world where everyone is doing things wrong and I can stop them, then I get to live as that eternal hero. A hero who spends their life slaying dragons, taking their gold. We might like to think that we get to choose what character we play in the grand drama of life, but an existentialist believes that we are the culmination of our actions and realised decisions. The irony is that, to the audience, the character that is eternally lonely, acquiring gold through destruction, and has no village to distribute that gold in, is the dragon. So, we should be careful if we see dragons that need to be slain, for in the real world there are a lot more mirrors than dragons. 

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