Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A question of murder

Imagine a scenario if you will:  You witness a good friend or relative of yours kill someone.  You know this was not something that would be classified under self defence or defence of another person so they are guilty of a serious crime.  What do you do?  In movies and stories the answer is usually to defend your friend to the last.  "Friends help you move.  Best friends help you move bodies."  People in tales are regularly portrayed as heroes when they stick by their friends no matter what, even when their friends are doing horrible things.

I was talking to The Philosopher yesterday and his take on the matter was very different.  Specifically he would call the police immediately, even if the person in question was his best friend, brother, parent or child.  The difference was that if he was very close to the person he would contact them and advise them that they should hire a good lawyer.  I found this a very interesting philosophy particularly because it is so far away from the what we usually see in tales.

At first glance I can understand sticking by your friends.  The bonds we establish over years are not so easy to sever and perhaps we owe it to those who are close to us to always assume there is some extenuating circumstance or reason for their actions.  I enjoy the belief that the people I am close to would do nearly anything for me if I needed it and that I would do the same but it is questionable whether or not that belief is factual.  I do have commitments and promises binding my behaviour and I will not break those unless the most dire need presents itself.  I have a wife and daughter and I have made commitments to take care of them; getting involved in moving bodies or covering up a murder would substantially jeopardize my ability to keep those promises.  My weights and considerations would be different if I were single as any risks I assume are primarily my own.

Wendy pointed out another interesting point on this topic too.  When you are friends with someone you are friends with who you think they are.  We all reserve the right to renounce friendship with someone should they become someone else and it is reasonable to think that most of us include "Will not kill other people except in self defence" as part of what our friends are.  If a friend kills someone without a valid excuse under the law they have done something many of us would consider grounds for severing the relationship so we should act as we would if we saw any random person commit murder.

In the end I think we imagine ourselves willing to help our friends even when they have done awful things because in those imaginings they have not changed.  They are still the people we love even though a terrible event has occurred.  In real life however people who kill people deliberately have crossed a terrible line and probably are not who we thought they were.  When those events occur we know that our original estimation of the person was flawed and we must act accordingly.


  1. Aaaand I spent all night dreaming of helping friends to hide the bodies. My subconscious is weird.

  2. I might go visit my friends in jail after they kill someone, but leaving the cops out of it is totally out of the question. If you kill someone, you should turn yourself in (you should talk to a lawyer before you do). It's not even necessarily in your own best interests to avoid being punished for it. While I disagree with the Dalai Lama when he says that a murderer does more harm to themselves than to the person they murder, killing people really does do a lot of harm to yourself.

    Now, if you spent your whole life helping people who committed murders escape justice for a life of quiet contemplation in which they learn about themselves, why they did what they did, and come out better people (and I commend anyone doing this successfully, but obviously no one is) then it might make sense for you to avoid the justice system. But if you would like the police to arrest murderers you don't know in your neighborhood, then if you ever find yourself a murderer (of if you find your friend a murderer) then do the right thing.

    I like my friends a lot more than I like other people, but I don't have more respect for my friends' right be alive than I do for that of other people.