Critical Thinking as Purposeful Questions

WHAT IS SO CAPTIVATING ABOUT VIGILANTISM?

IS VIGILANTISM SIMPLY A MINIATURE JUST WAR?

The 2013 movie, THE EAST asks us to consider the ethical propriety of a most unusual group of vigilantes. This secret group of left-wing idealists reacts to corporate and bank depravity by forcing the leaders of those organizations to experience the effects of their behavior on their customers and communities. So, when a pharmacological giant distributes a drug with horrendous side effects, the vigilantes compel the leaders of the firms to ingest the drug. When a firm poisons the water supply as a result of its production process, the heads of the corporation are forced to swim in the toxic water. And as we watch, at some level we realize that those firms will in all probability not otherwise be held responsible for their behavior.            

Consider the enormously popular 8-year run of the Showtime series, DEXTER. The show was probably popular for many reasons, but surely some of the success of the television program can be attributed to identification between Dexter and the audience. Dexter sees what we see. Barbarity and collective harm only occasionally gets its just due. Among the peak viewer cohort of 3 million, how many felt a surge of justice when the mob boss, serial killer, or child molester was dispatched by Dexter’s “art”?

Older readers may remember the weekly television excitement of watching "The Equalizer" and the bounty hunter on "Wanted Dead or Alive" handle apparent evil with speed and a calm sense of rectitude. And are we not just a little bit excited by the achievements of some Mexican vigilantes who successfully resisted the ravages of drug cartels?

But we all know these sentiments are _________________. Quick, what should go in that blank space?

Listen to someone eager to remind you what belongs in the blank space.

Uncivilized! Crude! Ancient! Wrong!

I understand each of those labels. I think there are good reasons for using those words. But that appraisal seems just too easy for me.

What makes a revolution or a just war acceptable?  Can that same legitimizing process under any conditions extend to vigilantes?  Take another look at the video about the Mexican vigilantes. What would you have them do?  Call 911?  Inform the local policia or perhaps petition the Green Ecological Party concerning the cartel’s misuse of agricultural land. 

A just war is legitimized by an outrage to accepted morals. Did not England experience a “glorious” revolution?  Are Americans and French patriots not proud of their own ventures into disobedience to existing legal authority? I have little interest in false equivalence.  However, vigilantism as a last resort when existing legal structures offer little foreseeable assistance in the face of human barbarism seems courageous and understandable.

BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE SPIRIT OF VIGILANTISM FLOURISHES IN A SETTING OF GENOCIDE?

WHAT DEGREE OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT SHOULD BE REQUIRED BEFORE ONE SUPPORTS A VIGILANTE? Surely some significant magnitude of social support is required for legitimacy of the behavior. Subjective vigilantism seems indefensible.

Posted
AuthorM Neil Browne