A former co-worker considered me to be a "prepper". He didn't mean it as a compliment. It wasn't really accurate anyway, at least the way he meant it. My 'prepping' for disaster is much the same as that recommended by such panicky doomsday cults as the Victorian government or the Red Cross: that is, what major calamities are likely to hit my area (chiefly fire and storms); what are my triggers to evacuate; how would I ensure the parental units would be fed and safe until things returned to normal.
Intriguingly enough, the people who tend to appear on Doomsday Preppers seem to go through much the same thought process, but with a much looser filter. Their list of potential calamities is much larger and their response much more extensive. I find it a bit alarming that a person would shape their life so completely around a speculative threat, but I can't deny that sometimes these people pose questions I don't find easy to answer.
One such question was posed implictly recently on the Facebook feed of The Survival Mom when she reviewed the Walther P22. Both the review and the comments focussed on the gun's use for self-defence. This got me thinking. Most people can name a few things for which they're willing to die (family, children, country, God and so on). A much more difficult question is: for what are you willing to kill?
I pondered that question for a bit and was mildly surprised to find the answer was "probably nothing". I can't think of any political or religious cause for which I'd be willing to take a life. I'm with Albert Dietrich on that one: There are causes worth dying for, but not worth killing for. There's no absolute need to either. "We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation after generation. In the face of the Thought Police, there is no other way"*.
My instincts told me that I also wouldn't be willing to take another person's life to preserve my own, but I was hard pressed to explain why. To the extent that I can parse my reaction, I think this is less because of a desire to die, than a lack of desire for the life that would follow. It seems to me that life will be better lived, and humanity (or God) better served, if one gives up the reassurance of having extraordinary means to prolong it. I think Hemingway put it at attractively:
Death, to people who fish in the cold parts of the Atlantic ocean is something that may come at any time, that comes often and is to be avoided as an industrial accident; so that they are not preoccupied with it and it has no fascination for them**I think that we will live more intensely and sincerely with our mortality taken for granted. To kill to preserve one's own life seems (for want of a better phrase) like cheating. I don't think that taint could be removed from the whole of the life that followed.
The one that still has me stumped is whether I would be willing to kill to preserve the life of another person. On the one hand, it seems to me that if I have the power to save another person's life, I ought to do so. If that means voluntarily taking upon myself the mark of Cain, then perhaps it's even laudable because you're tarnishing yourself for the good of another person. On the other ... well, if you wring your hands about it for long enough the question will become academic. You can see why I find this side of the matter fairly unsatisfactory.
What do you think, readers? I try and avoid 'big ideas' posts in this blog, but this one was a real puzzler. For what purpose (if any) should a person be willing to kill?
* George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) ch.8.
** Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (1939), ch.19.