I’ve been asked repeatedly my thoughts on the girl who cajoled her boyfriend into killing himself, and I’ve been hesitant to really say much on the subject, but I’ve given the matter enough thought now. So strap in–we’re going to cover many different angles very quickly.
Whether the girl is guilty of murder or not, prison is not the answer, because two wrongs don’t make a right. Whatever the girl may or may not be guilty of, prison is not the answer. So it goes without saying that, whatever my thoughts on what the girl did, I am not saying that she should be kidnapped and imprisoned against her will by the state.
With That Said…
I’m frankly stunned by the number of libertarians I’m seeing who express the sentiment that the girl bears absolutely no responsibility for the guy’s death, and, without being overly generalizing, I suspect that most of these people have never witnessed nor experienced psychological abuse. It should go without saying, though, that psychological abuse… is abuse. Not only is psychological abuse abuse, but it’s a critical tool in the psychopath’s toolbox, if not the most important tool at their disposal. It is, after all, psychological abuse that prevents men and women in violent relationships from leaving. It is what causes one to continually go back to the abuser, no matter how flagrant the abuses are. I’ve written about this before, having gone through it with a psychopath, and won’t spend a lot of time on it here.
I’ll say, however, that only someone who is ignorant of the damage that a psychopath can do to a person’s mind could allow someone to absolve psychopaths of the consequences of their psychological abuse. It is psychological abuse that causes teens to kill themselves. It is psychological abuse that causes transgender and gay teens to kill themselves. Psychological abuse, while not as obviously a violation of the NAP as punching someone yourself, clearly is a form of violence. I would argue that it’s a more horrific form of violence than physical abuse, because it is the psychological abuse that causes victims of violence to return to their abuser, and that causes kids in abusive homes to believe they are wicked and filled with demons, even if they have done nothing wrong, which may manifest in the person’s mind for decades to come, longer after the scars of any physical violence have healed.
It was long-term psychological abuse that caused me to be in the third grade and begging a devout Christian friend to stand before me and say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” to exorcise the demons from me–demons that I firmly believed possessed me because of the desires and needs that I had to repress. It was that same psychological abuse that caused me to be in my late 20s before I was able to come to terms with something that had been true at least since I was three years old and hiding my underwear so that I had an excuse to wear my sister’s. More than two decades of self-loathing, doubt, confusion, strife, and suicide attempts followed before I was able to come to terms with everything, and the psychological, religiously-motivated abuse is the reason why–a fact to which the scars on my wrists will testify.
I was in the fifth grade, I think, the first time I attempted to hang myself. Young and inexperienced, I used a braided leather belt. It snapped. For the next several years, I cut myself regularly. They were not suicide attempts by any means, but neither were they cries for attention; I did everything that I could to hide them. I wouldn’t be able to explain why I did it, but I did. My body is marked with scars from razor blades. My wrists, my upper arms, my chest, my legs… And, of course, there were the sincere attempts, the hospitalization in a behavioral ward, and all that fun stuff.
Testaments to the tremendous damage that extended psychological abuse can cause.
If you don’t think that the girl who texted her boyfriend and stayed on the phone with him as he cried out and choked to death bears any responsibility for that, then you don’t have any ground to stand on to lament what my father and grandmother did to me, because they are two manifestations of the same thing: psychological abuse.
The Psychopath’s Toolkit
The psychopath is an expert at manipulation. David Karesh, the Church of Scientology, and countless other cults around the world are experts at manipulation, but there are also those whose ambitions are smaller, and bloodlust more controlled. They seek out damaged people and then destroy them. They know exactly how to worm their way into your mind, and how to bend you to their will.
If you think you’re immune to it, you’re not.
The only thing a person can do to arm themselves against it is to gain knowledge in the psychopath’s tactics, to learn the manipulation techniques, to stay alert of them. However, in learning those techniques, a person will find out exactly how much damage a psychopath can do to a person’s mind, and I find it hard to believe, to be completely honest, that anyone aware of the manner in which a psychopath can manipulate a person’s mind and destroy their agency would go on to deny that the psychopath has responsibility for what this destroyed person does.
Where shall we draw the line?
Is it morally wrong to type out “kys” in World of Warcraft’s Trade Chat? Should a person be considered guilty of murder if, having typed that out to someone, that person then kills themselves?
Why do we have to draw a line?
“One size fits all” justice is fundamentally flawed, because the circumstances of actions matter, infinitely more than the actions themselves.
If I push someone down, and they break their arm, then I am guilty of assault.
However, if I push someone down and out of the way of an oncoming train, and they break their arm, then I am a hero.
What’s the difference? There isn’t one. In both scenarios, I pushed the person, they fell, and they broke their arm. The only thing that’s different are the circumstances. Since the circumstances are different, the hypothetical result if I had done nothing have changed. If I had done nothing in the first example, the person would have continued on through their day without a broken arm–a superior consequence than what came about when I pushed them. If I did nothing in the second example, though, the person would have died–an inferior consequence than what came about when I pushed them. We are comparing hypotheticals here, and we’re making our assessment of morality based around that. That is always how we assign our moral values.
The alternative, had this girl not taken her actions, are that the guy would still be alive. Because of her actions, he is dead.
I see no way of escaping the conclusion that she is responsible for that. We’re not talking about someone who opted not to run into a burning house to try to rescue someone else. We’re not talking about hateful children who laughed as they watched someone drowned, and who couldn’t have saved the drowning victim anyway*. We’re talking about a girl who explicitly told her psychologically vulnerable and long-term victim of psychological abuse boyfriend to get back in the vehicle and finish dying. I am stunned that so many people are arguing that she did nothing wrong simply because she didn’t physically hold the door shut.
While discussing this with someone on Facebook, someone said that only the individual is responsible for their actions. I pointed out that, by this reasoning, Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust, and Stalin was not responsible for the murder of twenty-five million Christian farmers. To my shock, she said that was correct–the individuals who carried out those orders were responsible.
I don’t deny that the individuals who committed the actions are responsible. I’ve pointed this out in the past. However, the person who gave the command is absolutely as responsible. That’s what it literally means to have authority, to have power over someone, to have the responsibility of making decisions for someone. The psychopath takes this power slowly and with systemic psychological abuse, but they take the power all the same. Even so, the brainwashing tactics of the military are shockingly similar to those used by psychopaths: destroy their individuality and make them dependent on the command structure. That’s at least as much the point of boot camp as is physical training. The stated purpose is to break people down as individuals and build them back up as a part of a machine. This is done through psychological abuse.
No one is saying “Group responsibility.”
I am saying that all individuals who play a role in making sure that an action is undertaken bear responsibility for that action being undertaken. Quite the opposite, I’m the one arguing for individual responsibility. I’m not absolved of responsibility if I order a friend to kill someone and that friend does it. “Woah! I didn’t kill that person!” I could argue, and these NAP-advocates, evidently (the ones with whom I’ve spoken directly) would agree. I didn’t kill that person.
Even though I’m literally the one who caused it to happen…
Yes, the soldier who drops the bomb bears responsibility for that. So does the commander who ordered the bomb to be dropped, though.
“They could just disobey orders” is an inadequate answer. And it’s true that, if everyone refused to obey orders, war would cease to exist. But who is advocating group responsibility now? For the individual, refusing to obey orders results in arrest, kidnapping, and imprisonment. Through coercive means, that individual has most, if not all, responsibility for the action waived, in the same way that we American citizens bear no responsibility for what the state does with our tax money because, through coercive means, we are forced to obey and pay taxes. You can’t have it both ways, where Americans aren’t to blame for how tax dollars are used because we could just choose to not pay taxes, but other individuals are to blame for the results of actions they take under duress.
To say that only the person who personally executes a given action is responsible for that action is short-sighted and extremely narrow. It is tunnel vision on the minutae of the action. There is a lot of cause and effect that goes into every single action that a person takes, and not all of that is the person’s fault–much of it is beyond that person’s control. To suggest that only the person who personally executes the action is responsible is to say that a man who wakes one day to find a gun to his head and someone telling him, “If you don’t find and kill one person right now, I will kill you,” is the only person responsible for the action he commits, and that the person who put the gun to his head and gave him that ultimatum bears no responsibility.
“He still made the choice, though… He could have chosen to just die. He didn’t. He chose to murder someone, so that’s on him!”
It’s such a narrow way of viewing… reality. Cause and effect. Actions and consequences. Responsibility.
Suicide Isn’t a Violation of the NAP
No, it isn’t, and a person of sound mind has every right to take their own life. I’ve argued before, and will again, that suicide is not indicative of mental illness. However, this guy in question was clearly mentally ill. He was clearly unstable and incapable of making the decision to kill himself. If he was capable of making that decision alone, he wouldn’t have gotten out of the vehicle, for fuck’s sake. That he did get out of the vehicle is ipso facto proof that he did not have the agency required to soundly make the decision to kill himself.
I think a lot of the people arguing that the girl didn’t do anything “that wrong” don’t know what the girl did. They seem to think she just sent a few text messages. If only that was the extent of what she did… But it isn’t. He got out of the vehicle and called her, and she told him to get back in and finish killing himself. Then she stayed on the phone with him while he cried out in agony and died, because she wanted to ensure that he did see it through. That’s a FAR cry from typing out “kys” in a chatroom.
Through the verbal persuasion that is the gift of the psychopath, she held him in that vehicle until he died.
You can’t possibly think that a guy who got out of a vehicle, having decided that he didn’t want to go through with killing himself, called his girlfriend, and then climbed back in and stayed on the phone with her while he died was “of sound mind” to be making decisions about whether he wanted to live or die. The girl was clearly a poison to him.
If someone called you and confessed that they had been about to kill themselves, but gotten out of the vehicle, would you, under any circumstances, tell them to get back in, and then stay with them on the phone while they died? Absolutely not. Every single one of us would say, “Where are you? I’m coming to get you. Stay on the phone with me while I drive to you. Don’t get back in the vehicle.”
Because we’re not psychopaths.
No, we shouldn’t let the state set precedents in its One Size Fits All legal system that would allow it to prosecute anyone who ever said “kill yourself” in a text message, phone call, or chat room. Yet there’s an enormous gap between these things and what this girl did. And just as we should not allow the state to set precedents like that, neither should we set the precedent that psychopaths are not responsible for the consequences of their psychological abuse because it technically doesn’t include physical assault.
But abuse is abuse.
The NAP does not specify that violence has to be physical.
* Those who are not trained divers or trained lifeguards should never attempt to rescue a drowning person. Cold though it is to say, attempting it will ensure only that two people die. Drowning people thrash wildly, panicking, and are extremely likely to knock you unconscious. If you do not have a lifejacket and a rope or boat, you should never attempt to rescue a drowning person yourself, unless you’ve explicitly been trained to be a fantastic swimmer. Not only that, but if you do manage to get behind the person without being knocked unconscious, do you know how heavy another human being is when you’re pulling them through water? The average person doesn’t have the stamina to swim a hundred yards alone, much less when dragging someone else through the water.