My friend Jay has a post up on “killing over stuff”, and he asks the question “At which point is it worth killing someone (over property)?”
He says that he routinely carries only $20-30 in cash on his person, and that this is definitely not worth killing a mugger over. He would still defend himself, but his (correct) reasoning is that he can’t divine the mugger’s intentions, and doesn’t want to hand over his wallet and end up dead anyway like the victim in this story. On the subject of “mere” property, however, he says that thirty bucks of your money aren’t worth a life.
Leaving aside the notion of relying on the goodwill of the mugger and his willingness to abide by the unspoken rules of his “your money or your life” blackmail, here’s why thirty bucks in your wallet are good and damn well worth a life.
That money in your wallet represents time–namely the time it took you to acquire that money. I don’t know Jay’s houry salary, but it’s probably fair to say that he works the better part of an hour for thirty bucks net. That’s an hour of his life the mugger is now commandeering. It’s like someone pulling up next to you, forcing you into a van, and making you lick stamps for his home business at gunpoint for an hour. Add to that the time it will take Jay to replace his credit cards, driver’s license–and anyone with MA DMV experience knows that there’s a morning pissed away–and you’re looking at a day or so of Jay’s time. That mugger stealing $30 from jay has effectively enslaved him for an entire day of his life.
Well, if that’s not worth using force in self-defense, what is? Where do you draw the line? If someone tries to make me their slave at gunpoint for a day, do I have the right to resist with lethal force? How about a week? A month? A year? Where does the moral threshold lie, and how do you determine that?
In my view, that moral threshold is crossed the second someone steps in front of you with a gun to make you do his bidding under threat of force. It doesn’t matter if the mugger wants to commandeer your life for an hour or a decade–your life is your own, and you have the absolute right to defend every bit of it against unlawful theft. If I’m morally justified to shoot someone over a million dollars of my property, I am justified to shoot them over ten dollars. If I am not justified to shoot them over ten bucks, I’m not justified to shoot them over a million. That’s the only consistent and non-arbitrary application of that moral principle. Any other interpretation puts a dollar value on your existence, and your right to live your life as your own master.