Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Statists claim it’s okay for them to initiate force if doing so benefits more people than it harms. In other words, you, the individual, are too small to matter. Groups of individuals matter more. But this claim doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny…

Would you think it was good for The State to murder someone you love so their organs could be harvested to save other lives? After all, one heart, two kidneys, one liver, and assorted other body parts, would benefit vastly more lives than the one life lost.

The idea of harming a few to benefit many doesn’t work. Taken to its logical conclusion it creates a license for murder. And, in fact, the logic has been taken to that conclusion millions of times. The State has killed more people than all individual criminals combined.

Jim Babka

About the Author

Jim Babka

Facebook Twitter

Jim Babka is co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and President of DownsizeDC.org, Inc. He’s an author and former talk show host.
Previously, he was the President of RealCampaignReform.org, Inc., defending free press rights all the way to the Supreme Court. He and Susie are the proud, home-schooling parents of three teenagers. He enjoys theology, UFC, target practice, and Tai Chi.

Perry Willis

About the Author

Perry Willis

Facebook Twitter Google+

Perry Willis is the co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and Downsize DC. He was the National Director of the Libertarian National Committee on two occasions, and ran two Libertarian Party presidential campaigns. He has an extensive background in marketing and fundraising, and has ghost written direct mail appeals for numerous luminaries, including Karl Hess, Ron Paul, Charlton Heston and Harry Browne.

Subscribe form for Lever Pages

 

Show Comments 30

 

  1. I like a lot of your ideas and goals, but I think your analogy above is a pretty poor one! I don’t see anything “logical” about your conclusion. But keep up the good work that you are trying to do.

    1. Let’s proceed from the proposition that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (not precisely what Spock meant, but that’s irrelevant—it was only an attention grabber).
      If it is possible for someone else to determine which “needs” of the many are more important than the needs of an individual and they believe they have the power to deprive the individual of his needs in order to benefit the many (which most people in power around the world behave as if they believed), then there’s nothing to prevent the powerful from depriving the individual of even his life, should the benefit to the many (a very subjective quantity) be sufficiently large. Perhaps laws could be enacted to restrict the taking of life (or whatever rights might be considered sacrosanct), but there’s not a logical reason why the powerful wouldn’t eventually try to remove those barriers if there is nothing morally wrong with depriving an individual of his rights.
      If, somehow, murdering a single child would have prevented the Heroshima bombing, would it have been worth it to prevent all that death (assuming Japan would have surrendered anyway)? I assert that it is morally wrong to attempt to try to compare the “worth” of life versus life. What if robbing 10,000 families of their life savings could have prevented the bombing? Would that have been worth it? The conclusion ultimately rests of whether or not it is morally wrong for the powerful to deprive someone of their rights against their will.

      1. You say “it is morally wrong to attempt to try to compare the “worth” of life versus life. ” Let’s take a more realistic example that could happen to us here at home.
        Let’s say you’re at a store or bank and two armed robbers come in. Let’s say there’s a security guard whom they immediately kill to prove their intentions. The thieves claim unless they get what they want they’re going to kill some of the 20 hostages, and menacingly they indicate they’re not satisfied with what they’ve gotten.
        Now let’s ay you’re packing concealed. Due to your proper training you see the opportunity to stop the thieves by killing them with little risk to your fellow hostages.
        Do you have the right to assume the 20 hostages lives are “worth more” than those of the 2 thieves?
        The pacifist says no, but I say absolutely yes. I’d go further and say that not to kill the thieves and as a result more innocent deaths occur you’re partly responsible for their murders.
        But what if it were 5 thieves and only 2 hostages besides you? I believe the same applies.
        I like practical examples. HOWEVER, what right do we have to assume Japan was going to surrender absent a massive invasion of its Homeland?
        By the way, as a retired Air Force combat recon officer I admit I’m biased.

        1. It’s too bad the edit clock cuts one off in the midst of editing, particularly for those of us with fat bumbling fingers. ;-(
          In addition to correcting a typo in my 3rd paragraph and put “say” rather than (ay) in, I was going to add in the next to last paragraph that historical analysis indicates the Japanese military hardliners were predisposed to fight to the bitter end, likely resulting in hundreds of thousands of US casualties and perhaps over a million Japanese casualties.

          1. Avatar

            Recc1, Indeed in an emergency or sudden event, you on the spot have the right to decide to defend yourself and take upon yourself the defense of others, as well as the responsibility for your actions, whether they help or harm innocent bystanders. But the danger is that this kind of reasoning then leads to justification for politicians to use aggression in the name of “the greater good” and that is a logical error, a philosophical mistake and in short a crime. FDR provoked Japan with the intent of forcing such anger that it would attack the US, which they did and over 400,000 Americans were slaughtered. FDR concealed the fact that he had a plan to force the attack. FDR’s claim he was acting for the “greater good” was in fact a lie. So, one must be very careful in this line of reasoning as it leads down a rabbit hole to hell. Ignorance is bliss but it leads to the abyss.

          2. Avatar

            Jack, what was FDR’s provocation of Japan? Was it not telling Japan after the Rape of Nanking the US would embargo US oil and other commodities to Japan unless they stopped their aggression?
            Didn’t the Japanese warn the US it’d consider such an action an act of war? And was it not the threat of being cut off of essential supplies that Japan attacked the US AND Great Britain in the Pacific at the same time?
            So what would’ve been the moral thing to do, continue supplying Japan with raw materials so it could continue its atrocities in Asia?
            By the way, have you ever heard of the saying that hard cases make for bad law? You’re trying to extend my VERY HARD situation into a general law. It doesn’t work. There’re many conspiracies out there about FDR, JFK, LBJ, and GWB. Most are inaccurate and a few quite wrong.
            So what do we do. accept pacifism and tyranny?

        2. You have the right of selfdefense. However, you don’t have the right to decide for others.

          1. Avatar

            Jack, not only do you have the right to defend others, you have the moral obligation to do so. If you don’t and you have the means and ability to do so then you’re complicit in their injuries or deaths.

        3. Read Robert Stinnett’s book, Day of Deceit, where Lt. Commander Arthur McCollum listed the 8 provocatory actions in 1940 that would assure Japan attack the US. FDR impose all 8 actions and a year later Japan attacked. You are free to do as you please, but to use force to make me pay for your beliefs is of course offensive aggression.
          The point I made is that such beliefs as taking forceful decisions in “Hard” situations is and has been extended to justifying political violence and that is, IMHO, immoral.

          1. Avatar

            Jack, so do you believe that the 8 actions listed below were unjustified and the US should’ve let Japan continue it’s aggression in Indochina and SE Asia? The parts in parentheses my views as to why they were to be done)
            The McCollum memo contained an eight-part plan to counter rising Japanese power over East Asia. They included:
            A. Make an arrangement with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific, particularly Singapore (to protect US bases and concerns)
            B. Make an arrangement with the Netherlands for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies (also the same as in A)
            C. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chiang-Kai-Shek (to help the Chinese resist Japanese aggression)
            D. Send a division of long range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore (to serve purpose A as Japan was a naval power)
            E. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient (same as in D)
            F. Keep the main strength of the U.S. fleet now in the Pacific[,] in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands (to protect US territories & prevent having to fight near US mainland waters)
            G. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil (to help with our oil & materials embargo for Japanese aggression)
            H. Completely embargo all U.S. trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire (again to try to convince Japan to halt its aggression in China and SE Asia)
            Tell me, do you think American should’ve retreated from all its territories in the Pacific, including from the Philippines to Hawaii, Alaska, Wake Midway, and Guam and gone to a Fortress America defense? Do you think it would’ve worked? Do you think that Hitler didn’t intend to attack America had we let Britain fall?
            Also, how have I used force against you? Is it in implying you over exaggerated what I said about making HARD decisions?

        4. Here’s an argument I haven’t seen in this thread, courtesy of Ayn Rand. These thieves, by disrespecting – and taking – the lives and property of others, have given up their own right to life and property, and deserve to be extinguished. So, a hostage with a concealed weapon, by using it on the thieves, is acting morally.

          1. Avatar

            Oddly enough, this is an fairly ‘Biblical’ argument. The only difference between her argument and scripture is that Scripture claims people are made in the Image of God and are not to be killed without just cause.

  2. As you noted in your email today, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is the statement made by Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But he doesn’t use it in the sense you’ve taken it (big government can take from the few to benefit the many), but rather as a statement of personal self-sacrifice, freely chosen.
    Interestingly, in the sequel to that film (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), James T. Kirk sacrifices everything he has to save his friend from death. At the end of the film, the resurrected (and confused) Spock asks him, “Why would you do this?” Kirk replies, “Because the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many.”

    1. Jim Babka Post
      Author
  3. Actually Spock did the logical thing. If he didn’t do anything the ship would have exploded and he would have died. If he did lose his live saving the ship from exploding, he still would have died. But in the second scenario his values other than his own life (friends continued existence, StarFleet win, etc.) were preserved.

  4. Heh, heh, heh….the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few so long as one is not of the few. As you are well, aware, Thomas Sowell remarked, It is not what is best but who shall decide what is best. The ol’ commie/socialist spiel so well exposes their denial of free will, God given. It is disgusting that so many people fall for the corrupt, immorality of commie/socialism as is offered recently by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, as evidenced by their support for government imposition of the 10 planks of the Communist Manifesto. The politicians provoke wars of slaughter and mankind is thus deprived of the contributions of all those so killed and all their potential children that will never be born. Your Mental Lever reminded me of Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley, a gifted Physicist, killed by a sniper’s bullet at Galipoli in WW I in 1915. Political leaders are the most dangerous criminals on the planet; they are more lethal than the Bubonic or Black Plague; they corrupt logic/reasoning and lead the people to the bottom of economic destruction; they are the scourge of mankind. Ignorance is bliss but it leads to the abyss. No one but you should decide what is best for you and then you thrive or suffer by your own decisions, else you are a stinkin’ slave to someone else. This Mental Lever exposes the duplicity of those who spew such diabolical beliefs. Good job and thank you.

  5. this is the philosophy for most large systems. which are designed for the many, not for the few.
    That is why insurance will cover the majority of diseases but may not cover the exotic one.
    That is why school and sports and all sorts of activities have rules that don’t take into account individuality.
    and Spock’s analogy is correct when a person applies it to himself and his action that saves others while costing him so dearly.
    Reminds me of those that have been given Congressional medal of honor. The need of the many outweighed the need of the one. Fortunately many receptients were alive to receeive the honor.

  6. As James Lascko wrote, “your analogy above is a pretty poor one!” The problem is your premise. You’re unintentionally insinuating that the state, i.e., the Federation in this hypothetical case, forced Spock’s death. But it was Spock who chose to sacrifice his effectively forfeited life, the one, for the crew, the many.
    By your reckoning, would it have been more moral for Spock to have let the entire crew perish along with him? Both Mike and Barry correctly dispute that.
    But let’s put it another way that to most of us in America is more real. Was it wrong for Jesus to sacrifice his life, the one, for the salvation of many who’d heed God’s call, the many? Yes or no?

    1. Jim Babka Post
      Author

      We clearly stated, and I quote, “It’s a great line expressing a noble sentiment. It can even be true for the person who sacrifices himself. But what if Spock had killed Dr. McCoy instead, without McCoy’s approval?” Only by ignoring that key paragraph can you place us in opposition to Spock’s choice.

      1. So you agree that as far as the movie scene went, Spock made a proper choice. After all, I think all of us here would oppose murder. Also, for Spock to have killed McCoy wouldn’t have saved the ship.
        By the same reasoning, Jesus made the right choice, although we can’t exonerate the Romans who sent him to His death.

    2. Our brother Jim and I would agree, since it was Jesus’ choice to lay down his life, it certainly was not wrong. The issue is: Should someone else have forced him to that choice? (yes, I realize this is a counter-factual hypothetical, as He laid down his life by his own choice) The obvious answer, No.

  7. Exactly right Jim, well of course. One can make his own decisions but if anyone decides for another, then the latter’s autonomy, his freeedom, his free will have been usurped and he is nothing more than a stinkin’ slave and that then refutes the “good of the many” as they have bought into the enslavement by the overseers on the plantation state.

  8. I want to believe that the needs of the many NEVER outweigh the needs of the few. I think the following scenario is a serious challenge to this principle, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.
    What happens if many people in a geographic region are infected with a deadly, incurable, contagious disease, such as Ebola? In order to prevent the spread of the disease, a quarantine must be imposed. People who may not be infected will be prevented from leaving the area, in order to prevent a refugee from infecting the rest of the country. The quarantine could effectively condemn thousands of non-infected people to death, by preventing them from leaving the infected area. However, the quarantine could potentially save millions of lives, by preventing a broader outbreak of disease. In this case, I claim that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    1. Hi Craig. Interesting scenario. As a practical matter I would think that most people who might have been infected would want to be close to relevant medical care. This would preclude running around. It would also incentivize seeing a doctor where you would get a quick yes or no with regard to infection. I suspect that there is little need for a coercive quarantine.

    2. Free will carries with it moral or ethical decisions, but absent freedom to choose, one is just a stinkin’ slave to whomever is his master or overseer. One must recognize, as I’m sure you do, that in a free to choose society there will always be evil dooers but I’d rather freedom to choose than slavery.

  9. I recall hearing a moral dilemma question about two train tracks and you’re standing at the lever that will move the train from one track to the other in this context on the left hand track there are 5 people that you do not know on the right-hand track there’s one person you do not know spocks statement the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
    moral justification would say that you would pick to save the five over the one
    In the second scenario on left hand side of the tracks you have 5 people that you do not know on the right hand of the tracks you have one person that you know well either to spouse close family member very close friend does this change in the scenario and the idea of the individual making the decision would you pull the lever to save your loved one or kill them to save the 5 you do not know?

    1. Jim Babka Post
      Author

      This is called the Trolley Problem. It will likely be directly addressed in an upcoming Mental Lever. I’ll leave you in suspense, until then. Please stay tuned.

    2. Dax, how many times has Hollywood presented this very scenario where some bad guys kidnap or threaten a good guy’s loved ones so as to force him to commit an act that will certainly harm many good people?
      I think the worst was the TV show case of some terrorists demanding a part from a scientist to complete a nuclear device to blow up LA or they’d kill his family. What’s the morally correct thing to do? Isn’t it to refuse despite seeing one’s loved ones killed? But what is human nature? What did he do? Yep, he sacrificed LA. But at the last minute of course the good government agents rushed in and saved the day.
      So aren’t you arguing between the MORAL thing to do and the EMOTIONAL thing to do?

Leave a Comment:

Fields marked with * are required