You can’t teach people that it’s wrong to kill people by killing people. I’ve said and written this so often that I’ve almost forgotten what it really means. A good friend of mine recently brought me back to reality. He asked simply, “Well, then, if you don’t teach people that it’s wrong to kill by killing people, then how do you do it?”
When he asked that question, I was briefly stumped. I had to think about how to answer for a while. Then the answer came to me: You don’t. You really don’t have to teach people that it’s wrong to kill because they know it already. It’s instinctive. It’s a basic part of human nature. People know that taking someone’s life is wrong.
In America, it’s a fundamental principle of our Judeo-Christian heritage: Thou shalt not kill. But it’s equally important in most other cultures, belief systems, and philosophies all over the world as well. The problem, of course, is that what a person believes, or what they learn from their culture, society, and upbringing, is not always reflected in how they act.
This is not to say that human beings are naturally pacifists. They are not. Some people, not everyone, will kill to defend themselves or others. But for most people, that’s generally as far as they’ll go. In fact, the mark of an advanced civilization is that people don’t arbitrarily kill one another. They voluntarily follow informal rules of society or enact the formal rule of law to handle disputes.
If you want to get someone to kill other people on a large scale, you have to work on it. People have to be taught to kill. They have to be taught to hate and fear. They have to be indoctrinated with the belief that their lives, the lives of their loved ones, or their very existence is in mortal danger. It requires a careful, deliberate, and methodical lesson plan, like that used in military basic training, to overcome a person’s natural instinct to leave others alone unless they’re personally threatened.
Throughout history, ruling elites have manufactured fear and hate to manipulate people into acting contrary to their natural, peaceful instincts. They start by dehumanizing and demonizing the intended enemy and anyone who opposes them in their own country. They wrap their arguments in the flag, proclaiming that it’s right, it’s noble, it’s patriotic to kill in the name of the Fatherland, the Motherland, or the Homeland. This evil subterfuge is an essential tool for the ruling elites. Without it, they would not be able to wage war.
We don’t need to teach people it’s wrong to kill, because they already know that. What we have to do is to teach them that it’s not right or noble or patriotic to kill someone who has done you no harm or who does not directly threaten you. It’s not your duty to kill merely because your so-called leaders tell you to.
On the contrary, we must teach them that it’s just as wrong to kill someone next door to you merely because they said something nasty about your grandmother as it is to kill someone in another country whom the president labels as an enemy. We must all say, “I am not at war.” If enough of us say it, they can’t have wars anymore.