The Ethical Warrior: Where philosophy and reality collide


Editor’s Note:

Editor’s Note: Keep an eye out for Jack Hoban’s new book, “The Ethical Warrior: Values, Morals and Ethics — For Life, Work, and Service,” coming soon. More information is available here.

Are the lives of those who commit hideous crimes, have no remorse and/or cannot be reintroduced to society, really worthy of your protection?

As usual, our last article generated some very insightful comments. We thank you for the feedback — it provides us the opportunity to further clarify the Ethical Warrior concept and promotes healthy discussion.

This segment addresses two points: One is an important philosophical issue, the other deals with a serious, maybe life-and-death, practical reality.

Protector of Self and Others — All Others
Wait! Did you say all others?

Regarding our contention that everyone’s life deserves to be valued, a reader commented, “One of the problems that we have in our society is that we respect those who are not deserving of respect.”

We couldn’t agree more!

We reject the moral relativism so prevalent in our generation’s thinkers. The assertion that all values are equal just different, and that we must give unqualified respect to that we don’t understand or agree with, is philosophically invalid. We definitely think it is appropriate to apply judgments like “moral,” “immoral,” “right” and “wrong” to human behavior. But what is the objective reference point from which to make that judgment?

Some behaviors are easy to judge. Acts clearly based on greed, cruelty and cowardice are simple to condemn. However, it is more difficult to judge acts based on the misfiring of seemingly positive values. For example, most of us would agree that honor is a positive value. But, consider the following:

What if a teenage girl in a particular society is killed by her own family for kissing a boy in public? They call it honor. We call it murder.

Which is it? And, what about “honor among thieves?”

As we have discussed in the past, a value like honor is relative. It can inspire moral or immoral behavior. The key is to use the Life Value as the reference point for judging whether any other value — even a great value like honor — is moral. Life is the one value that cannot be trumped by any other relative value. In a nutshell, we must treat life as an objective, qualifying value which is respected at all times.

How do we know when a value is moral? The answer is simple. Values, and the behaviors they inspire, are moral when they promote the protection of life and immoral when they don’t. We could easily agree that the relative values of criminals may be thoroughly immoral, but we would still protect their lives if possible. If we treated life as just another relative value, what would be the philosophical difference between the good guys and the bad guys? There wouldn’t be one.

Respect for the Life Value: Ethical…or Just Plain Dangerous?
Another reader’s comment addressed one of the most repeated concerns about applying the Ethical Warrior concept to law enforcement. He expressed this trepidation in writing: “To start by believing that every bad guy deserves that level of respect just may be enough to slow down reactions at crucial times of kill or be killed situations.”

This is an important issue. The last thing we want is to advocate a concept that will make LEOs, or anyone else, less safe. In fact, if activating respect for the Life Value of self and others — all others — could actually make protectors less safe; it would be immoral. Remember, the Life Value is a dual value that bids us to protect ourselves, as well as others.

The U.S. Marine Corps had similar concerns when integrating Warrior Ethics into their martial arts program. Marines are synonymous with toughness and aggressiveness. Some Marines questioned whether focusing on protecting life would make them softer when dealing with an unethical and implacable enemy. The global war on terror provided the ultimate laboratory for discovering the answer. The Marines found that by clarifying their role as warrior protectors, they actually fought more fiercely to protect each other and the indigenous people they were defending.

Why?

Because protectors are always more dangerous opponents.

Consider the following scenarios:

1.) You are walking through a forest and you see a killer grizzly bear. Would you be afraid? Almost definitely so.
2.) You are walking through a forest and see a grizzly bear with two cubs, would you be less afraid — or more?

Most people would say “more afraid.”

Why? Because, even in nature, it seems protectors are more dangerous than anyone who threatens them and those they are sworn to protect. In fact, some of the earliest and most elite units in military history started as bodyguards to emperors and kings.

In Summary...
Is all life worth respecting? Yes, life is an objective and equal value.

Behaviors are not all equal — they are relative and need not be honored if they are disrespectful of the lives of others.

Will respecting the value of an opponent’s life lead to confusion and delay in a violent confrontation?

We don’t think so — for two reasons.

First, the Life Value is a dual value: self and others. Protecting your own life is absolutely valid. The value of the aggressor’s life does not negate or decrease the value of your life. There is no reason to hesitate if you reasonably believe your life is in danger — and you won’t. Second, activating and clarifying the Life Value in advance will give you the confidence to act decisively, secure in the knowledge that you are acting as an Ethical Warrior.

About the author

Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International and a subject matter expert for the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Bruce J. Gourlie is a Federal Law Enforcement Officer and a former U.S. Army infantry officer.

Correspondence can be sent to both authors by emailing Hoban & Gourlie.

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