Why you should care
Because victims of disorganized crime will never see it coming.
The argument lasted two weeks. A simple premise unraveled over days of continual chatter all cohering around an apparently not-so-simple question: Why is murder wrong?
Sparing you the various meandering crossroads, here’s the final take: A society that sanctions murder is an inherently unstable one and is probably incapable of guaranteeing its continued existence. In other words, we weaseled out of a firm conclusion in the same way Philosophy 101 students do when contemplating whether or not G-d can make a rock that He can’t lift. The answer? G-d is perfectly logical, and making an unliftable rock is illogical, so He’d never even try. Yes, this dodges the question in an elegant way, but it also doesn’t block my way back.
So might we do a better job with murder, one of the most disruptive crimes we have, than we currently are? Here’s a quick answer: yes, and how.
This despite the fact that globally, according to the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research’s Clio Infra project, homicides are down. Down even in perennial newsmaking Stateside hot spots like New York and Chicago. How down? In 2017, with almost 9 million residents, there were only 290 murders in NYC. Much lower than the 1990 figure of 2,262, according to NYPD records. And in Chicago? Down to 650 murders in 2017, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law, from 771 the year before.
Cold comfort, though, for the poor unfortunates whose untimely ends bring us to this Immodest Proposal. Which is why we’re going to suggest the social gamification of murder.
A call for participants would attract violence-prone individuals, focus their proclivities away from nonparticipants and normalize their activities.
But first, an explanation: In 1965, Italian director Elio Petri released a movie called The 10th Victim, starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. Hunger Games, step aside. Based on a short story by New York writer Robert Sheckley, the film’s premise is that to control murder, a game was created, one involving an all-volunteer cast of participants who draw lots and are assigned roles of assassin and victim.
The assassin is given a dossier on the victim. The victim has to guess who his or her assassin is. Players can be killed anywhere except in designated no-kill zones (e.g., hospitals, schools, churches). And killing nonparticipants is punishable by long prison terms. The game also has multiple levels, and the players are financially rewarded for rising through the levels (read: living). Decades before “reality” television, Sheckley and Petri saw this event being televised like the World Cup.
Petri and Sheckley had hit on something with their film, which spawned two sequels and was described by the Monthly Film Bulletin as “never quite as much fun as it should be”: Namely, that it’s disorganized criminality that exerts a drag on society.
Going further, it seems that a call for participants would attract violence-prone individuals, focus their proclivities away from nonparticipants and normalize their activities. In essence? Bring them in from the cold. All that would be required from the point of view of collective will would be a certain amount of honesty. Mass murderers, muggers, spree and serial killers, robbers and other self-identified malefactors are removed from general population and mainstreamed in a “pro-social” way to make a difference. Anyone perpetrating these crimes outside the game? Straight to jail. Et voilà, problems solved.
Though noted “killologist” Lt. Col. Dave Grossman makes the claim in On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society that the natural order sees an innate human aversion to killing a member of our own species, and complicated strategies are brought to bear to get soldiers to do so, that claim is far from being widely accepted. And not nearly at all from some who concern themselves with the bloody end of the stick.
Nirmalya Bhowmick, founder and chairman of the Akribis Group, a think tank that specializes in national security, intelligence and counterterrorism, believes our shadow sides are not conditioned into existence but innate. “Give me your ‘average’ person and I could show how little it really takes to turn them,” Bhowmick says. Beyond that, the late Stanford professor and philosopher René Girard posited that, periodically, humans have had sacrificial crises that have found calming conclusions in some form of violent release.
“Social order is thus restored when the so-called offending party is dispatched,” Girard said in an interview in The Birth of Tragedy, a magazine I published in the 1980s. “Order and a certain psychological relief.” Girard, expounding on this kind of atoning violence in his book Violence and the Sacred, seems to support, at least philosophically, my plan to take civic ownership of violence.
In short, all I’m saying is give violence a chance.
“I know you think you’re solving a problem,” says Eddie Williams, a former undercover gang-detail cop in San Francisco. “But this is crazy. We can’t even get election politics to work right, and if this doesn’t completely stop ‘unofficial’ murdering, why bother?”
Because if we can legalize alcohol, abortion, cannabis and the death penalty, can’t we do better with killing? Plus, think of the revenue it could generate.
Thinking about it? Good.