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(Poll) A moral dilemma

20th August 2010 (10:15)
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Here's a moral scenario for you to think about, which may not be wholly unconnected to the latest Season 8 comic (review coming up later today, hopefully.)

Imagine you're a secret agent, or maybe an undercover police officer. You've volunteered for the highly dangerous mission of infiltrating a terrorist group. They're ruthless, well-organised and known to be plotting an atrocity on a scale that will make 9/11 look like a children's picnic. Unfortunately, they also have very good security, and the police have so far been totally unable to stop them. The only hope may be for you to pretend to be on their side, get recruited into the organisation, and then discover its secrets from the inside - hopefully before it's too late.

You've made contact, but unfortunately there's a catch. They blindfold you, take you to a secret location - and take off your blindfold to reveal an innocent kidnap victim tied to a chair. They tell you that you must prove your loyalty to the cause, to make sure you're not, say, a secret agent or undercover police officer trying to infiltrate them. They hand you a loaded gun and tell you to shoot the innocent victim in the head.

This is real. There's no trickery, and no clever way to bluff or bluster your way out of this. Either you murder an innocent person now, or you refuse, fail your mission, and potentially let thousands of other innocent people die later. However, because I don't want self-interest to taint your motives, let's say that the terrorists assure you they won't kill you in turn if you refuse their test; they'll just blindfold you again, then dump you on the roadside outside Basildon, or Birmingham, or Brighton... someplace beginning with 'B'. You'll just have to live on with the knowledge that you might have been able to prevent it, when the terrorists detonate their nuclear bomb inside a major city or whatever.

What do you do?

What do you do?

Pull the trigger. The mission is what matters.
Refuse to kill an innocent. The end does not justify the means.

Which Buffyverse characters would pull the trigger? (If your answer is 'In some seasons they would, but not in others' then please tick 'yes' but explain further in comments).

Spike (with soul)
Faith (post-redemption)


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Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:23 (UTC)

I wouldn't be able to pull the trigger. That's why I'll never be a secret agent or a police officer or anybody who has to deal with the matters of life and death.

I think that Giles, Wesley, Riley, Angel and Anya would pull the trigger. I'm not sure about Xander, Oz and Spike.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:54 (UTC)

Heh, I suppose that's one point: imagining you're a secret agent for the purpose of this scenario probably has to mean imagining you're also tough, hard-as-nails, and a combination of James Bond and Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood rolled into one. :-)

Posted by: Mierke (mierke)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:29 (UTC)

Giles, Angel, Riley, Anya and Wesley would.

Faith and Tara definitely wouldn't.

I'm not sure about the rest of them!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:51 (UTC)

Some of them certainly are easier to decide than others... I've explained my own answers below.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:32 (UTC)

What happens to the hostage if you refuse to shoot them. Do the terrorists let them go free? Do you believe them?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:40 (UTC)

Good question; I'd not thought of that. Since the question here is whether one life outweighs thousands, then I'd have to say yes, they will let the victim go free, and yes, you believe them. They'll dump both of you outside a town beginning with 'B'.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 16:23 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:33 (UTC)

I have to say these sort of moral dilemmas always come across as a little too clinical for my taste. What's the tipping point? Do I kill ONE innocent to save A MILLION, TEN to save TEN THOUSAND, ONE to save TWO, ONE blonde to save ONE brunette...?

I will say, though, from a moral standpoint, that I'd feel pretty iffy about anyone who did pull the trigger and then expected praise or a reward.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:47 (UTC)

I'd feel pretty iffy about anyone who did pull the trigger and then expected praise or a reward.

Oh absolutely. I'd expect any decent person who did pull the trigger to be traumatised by it, and wracked by guilt. The question is whether you'd do it, not whether you'd enjoy it.

On the other hand, I don't think it's really that artificial a scenario; initiation rituals are a time-honoured human tradition, and especially for groups involved in this kind of actvity, "bringing the newcomer down to our level" and making sure they're fully complicit in your crimes makes a lot of sense both psychologically and practically.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 09:37 (UTC)

Explaining further in comments...

It's easier to answer for some Buffyverse characters than others, but this is what I came up with.

Buffy - her willingness to kill people she loves to save the world is, I think, a reasonable indicator of what she'd do. 'Becoming' Buffy would pull the trigger. 'The Gift' Buffy would refuse. Season 7 Buffy would be back to pulling the trigger. (Of course, Buffy would also be the one to come up with a third alternative, if there was one. But in this scenario I deliberately made that impossible.)

Willow - I think she'd be very, very unwilling to do this, probably panic and fluster, and definitely be tormented by guilt. But I think she'd also do the maths and decide one life doesn't outweigh thousands - and cute little Willow can be awfully pragmatic and ruthless when she needs to be.

Xander - he, on the other hand, would probably put principles first.

Giles - Ben. Enough said.

Cordelia - I think she'd refuse out of a mixture of moral indignation and being scandalised that they tried to manipulate *her*.

Oz - put saving Willow above preventing the apocalypse in 'Choices'.

Angel - Drogyn. Enough said.

Riley - The comic deals with this specific issue. :-)

Anya - Probably wouldn't understand why it was even an issue: surely saving a thousand lives is better than saving one?

Tara - I can't really imagine her doing this in the first place; but I think if she ever did steel herself to infiltrate a murderous terrorist group, she'd steel herself all the way.

Spike - I thnk he'd be tempted to refuse for much the same reasons as Cordelia, but I thnk if he saw no alternative, he'd do it. But probably plan to wreak poetic justice on the terrorist who gave him the order after his mission was complete.

Dawn - Has a certain ruthless pragmatism to her which Xander thinks is terrifying. :-)

Faith - Probably couldn't go through with it. See 'No Future For You'.

Wesley - I don't think this is even a question. :-)

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 10:14 (UTC)

Upon reflection...

I think that some characters would act differently on BtVS and AtS.

BtVS is a idealistical show; AtS is not. On BtVS the choice of the lesser evil isn't acceptable, while on AtS it is. So, I think that if, say Xander would have crossed over to AtS, he, theoretically, could pull the trigger without being destroyed as a character. Ditto Spike.

Posted by: gillo (gillo)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 11:49 (UTC)

Hmm. Very definitely "some seasons" for many of them. AtS Angel would be more likely to do it than BtVS Angel. S7 Buffy probably would, S5 Buffy probably not.

Anya would reason her way into doing it. Dawn, as an adult, possibly. Not any Dawn we saw in the TV show though. Giles killed Ben, explicitly an innocent.(Though he damned well knew what Glory was...) I don't think Xander could do it, but S6 or 7 Willow could and would. Oz, I don't think so, though he might turn wolfish and find the choice made for him. Spike pre-soul definitely would, but I don't think he would with his soul - he had a heck of a lot of incentive to kill Robin Wood but let him live. (Robin would do it, though, without too much thought.)

Faith I'm not sure about. Possibly if she truly believed the stakes were high enough, though she might not be able to live with herself after. Tara, no - "first, do none harm" would be her motto I think. Cordy would very much depend on when.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 15:56 (UTC)

Your thoughts are pretty similar to mine, if differing in details. I think Spike and Robin is a special case, though - killing him would have been personal for Spike, and post-soul I don't think he'd do that, excactly because of what it would say about him as a person. But with a stranger, I can see him taking a long view.

Based on Season 8, I think Faith would agree to do it but then be unable to bring herself to pull the trigger.

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 16:38 (UTC)

Posted by: lusciousxander (lusciousxander)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 12:00 (UTC)
Unable to Fit In made by thiscanbegin

I'd refuse to pull the trigger, I'm not even sure I'd even volunteer to do this mission in the first place. lol

Who'd do it?

I was going to pick Buffy because ever since S7 and she's getting darker and darker, but I don't think she reached that place yet. I think she'll try to find a way to get the innocent out, and probably fail.

I can't see Willow and Xander doing it, especially Xander, even when suggested killing Ben in The Gift, the idea disgusted him so much.

Giles, Angel and Wesley are the three I picked, I can see them doing this without hesitation.

I don't think Riley can do it, though. He'd do it if it were a demon, but not a human.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 15:58 (UTC)

I think she'll try to find a way to get the innocent out, and probably fail.

Me too. That's why I set the scenario up so that she can't do that, and only has the two options. :-)

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 21st August 2010 05:49 (UTC)
That's why I set the scenario up so that she can't do that, and only has the two options....

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st August 2010 12:49 (UTC)
Re: That's why I set the scenario up so that she can't do that, and only has the two options....

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 22nd August 2010 20:43 (UTC)
Re: That's why I set the scenario up so that she can't do that, and only has the two options....

Posted by: mikeda (mikeda)
Posted at: 23rd August 2010 11:46 (UTC)
Re: That's why I set the scenario up so that she can't do that, and only has the two options....

Posted by: me_llamo_nic (me_llamo_nic)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 13:14 (UTC)

Nice little Doctor Who nod. Some place beginning with "B".

Buffy - I think "no" most of the time. She says, "the mission is what matters", but that's while she's not willing to sacrifice Spike. It's a weighted issue, but I think most of the Buffys from various seasons would say no, try to find another way anyway, and either succeed or pay the price.

Willow - Unless those terrorists had already killed her lover and turned her evil, I doubt it.

Xander - No chance in hell.

Giles - Ben.

Cordelia - No way.

Oz - I think there's a good chance of him going through with it. Yes, he prioritized Willow that one time, but it was Willow. If the cause were just, he'd do it. I think even post-Tibet Oz would do it in the right circumstances.

Angel - Duh. He killed how many humans on his first day at W&H? And that's apparently his whole motivation in the comics, killing some people to prevent even more deaths. It's actually not that far OOC for post W&H Angel (or AtS S2 Angel), though I still wouldn't expect Buffy to trust that Angel. Sort of derailed there, ah well.

Riley - If those were his orders.

Anya - No. She would reply, "The rules are stupid."

Tara - Not ever.

Spike - Possibly. Under the right circumstances, I think he'd do it.

Dawn - Doubtful.

Faith - Same as Spike. Under the right circumstances. She'd agonize for a bit before, and quite a lot after, and maybe even go evil again.

Wesley - Yes.

As for me?

Rose: Doctor, they've got guns.

Doctor: And I haven't, which makes me the better person. They can shoot me dead, but the moral high-ground is mine.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 16:05 (UTC)

I was wondering who'd be the first to mention the 'Doctor Who' reference. :-)

I disagree on Riley, mind you (and not just because I've read the comic). Pre-meeting-Buffy Riley might have, but not the one who helped Oz escape from the Initiative. I think he'd try the bluff and bluster approach, maybe find some argument that not killing the victim is actually a better proof of his loyalty than killing them. But when that failed, he'd refuse to do it.

Posted by: dark_wolf_10 (dark_wolf_10)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 14:42 (UTC)

I said Giles, Angel, Wesley, Riley and Anya would probably do it. Spike, I'm not really sure. I've only watched BtVS so I'm unsure as to whether he has displayed reluctance when it comes to killing post-soul. Buffy and Willow would pull the trigger in the end after agonizing a bit.

I'm confused by Xander,Tara and Dawn though. If they had already made the decision to infiltrate this organization with the knowledge that they would probably be engaging in questionable activities, I think they would steel themselves to do it. I don't really have a handle on the rest of the characters though.

This whole "kill one or potentially let many die" reminds me of Choices. However, there everyone except Wesley chose the one. But Choices was more "potentially let one die or potentially let town die" and their decision was affected by the one being someone close to them.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 16:09 (UTC)

If they had already made the decision to infiltrate this organization with the knowledge that they would probably be engaging in questionable activities, I think they would steel themselves to do it

I agree it does come down to that a lot of the time... the question then being whether they'd be willing to accept the mission in the first place. There's only a few characters I think would definitely do it, most o the rest are 'maybe's.

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 15:18 (UTC)
kill people

I don't think my choice has as much to do with "the ends don't justify the means" as just the simple fact that I don't think I could ever bring myself to kill anybody. For any reason, even if it was totally justified. Which is why I will never be a secret agent. :)

As for the BtVS characters, I agree with most of your reasoning. With Oz, I'd say choosing to save the woman he loves is very different from choosing to save a total stranger. I think he'd probably do it.

Buffy and Willow are actually the hardest to figure out for me. While Buffy has shown herself willing to sacrifice someone she loves, she's never been able to sacrifice an innocent person. Angel is very complicated because he was Angelus for months and HE opened Acathla. I could see Buffy letting an innocent person die, but probably not actively taking their life with her own hand.

I definitely can't see Willow doing it post-S6 (because of guilt). She is pragmatic, but also very soft-hearted when she was younger, so I think her sympathy would get in the way. She was most pragmatic and least compassionate in S6, I think, so that's the only time she might do it, but I still am not sure she would.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 16:15 (UTC)

You make good points here. I do agree, for a lot of them it's borderline and iffy.

I can see Willow deciding that she ought to kill the one innocent in order to save the thousands of others, but then - like you say for yourself - not being able to actually go through with it.

Posted by: Sculllaaaaaaaaay! (blackfrancine)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 15:33 (UTC)

In general, I'd say that one life doesn't outweigh thousands--but it seems like there's no guarantee that the plot will be foiled if you kill that person. And no guarantee that they won't kill that person if you don't (in fact, it seems pretty unlikely that they'd just let the innocent go). So it doesn't seem like a fair trade to murder someone in the hopes that it will save thousands of lives.

Not that I'd be able to do it even if there were a guarantee--but the lack of one puts me firmly in the No category.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 16:20 (UTC)

As I said above in reply to aycheb, it's probably best for the scenario if you do believe that they'll let the victim go again if you refuse to kill them; dump both of you by the side of the road somewhere. That way, it's a clear choice to let them live or die rather than "Oh well, they'll probably die whatever I do".

(Though in that case, wouldn't the pragmatic thing be to say "so I may as well let their inevitable death do some good, by letting me infiltrate the terrorists"?)

But yes, it was deliberate that there was no guarantee you'd be able to succeed even if you did infiltrate the terrorist group. Just that if you refused the test, you'd definitely fail.

Posted by: alexeia_drae (alexeia_drae)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 16:58 (UTC)
can kill with brain

I said no, partly because I know if I was actually put in the situation I would freeze up until the terrorists kicked me out (I completely freeze up when I'm indecisive, stop talking, stop moving, stop everything) and partly because I believe that there's another way that doesn't involve killing, you just might have to work harder for it.

Taking into consideration that I've only seen three episodes of AtVS and have not read the comics, I could mostly speculate about the characters based on what I've seen on BtVS. I'd say Giles would definitely do it, because as people have already pointed out, Ben. I could see season 3 Angel doing it, and I don't think Anya would have any moral qualms about it either. Spike with a soul and Riley I really couldn't say either way, though I think Spike was too guilt wrapped for most of season 7 to have considered knowingly killing an innocent. And I don't know enough about Wesley and Faith post-redemption to say.

That said, I could never see Tara, Cordelia or Oz pulling the trigger. I'm also pretty sure Xander wouldn't.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 17:02 (UTC)

I agree there is a difference between "characters who would, intellectually, think that pulling the trigger would be the right thing to do" and "characters who could actually go through with it and fire." Both on the show and in real life. ;-)

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 17:32 (UTC)

I left the first blank. I wouldn't pull the trigger. I would ask to be put in the victim's place, or would go ahead and martyr myself by fruitlessy trying to save the victim. (Or, to be honest, that's what I'd like to think I would do. I'm a coward so who knows.)

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 21st August 2010 08:08 (UTC)

This is how I felt, too. Literally everything you just said. That I'd probably try to save the person, end up getting myself killed for the trouble, but that in reality I don't know what I'd do because I'd probably be too terrified.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st August 2010 13:03 (UTC)

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 20th August 2010 20:20 (UTC)

Coming from a position of relative ignorance on the connection between this question and the comics, of course.

Personally, I wouldn't be able to do it because I'm a peace-loving, non-violent sort. So I probably wouldn't be recruited in the first place.

For the characters:

Buffy - I initially chose yes, because by S7, she had said that she would be willing to let Dawn die to save the world. However, I then thought again because Buffy would walk into the room, see the situation, then come up with some other plan. That's what she does.

Willow - In S6? Totally.

Xander - Nope.

Giles - He killed Ben.

Cordy - She was willing to kill Billy.

Oz - Nope

Angel - Is lame. His hair goes straight up. And he's bloody stupid. So yes.

Riley - Probably not. He left the Initiative when he found them experimenting on Oz, who he considered human.

Anya - Totally

Tara - Nope

Spike - I said no, mainly for the same reason as Buffy. Spike wouldn't play by the rules.

Dawn - I chose no, though I could be convinced otherwise.

Faith - Sure.

Wesley - Duh.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st August 2010 13:06 (UTC)

I like that your answer and mine for Wesley were pretty similar, but yours was more succinct. ;-)

Also agreed that Buffy would come up with another plan, because that's what she does... but it would be interesting to see how she'd react if she really coudn't do that; if she actually was in a no-win situation.

Also, happy birthday. :-)

I'm a peace-loving, non-violent sort.
...with a whole bunch of spanking icons. ???

Edited at 2010-08-21 13:20 (UTC)

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 21st August 2010 16:52 (UTC)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 21st August 2010 02:58 (UTC)

I would not pull the trigger. Potential murders in the future do not outweigh a real murder now.

I can't ascribe to the Jasmine/Twilight concept of Mathematical Morality... that killing a few to save many equals morality. I know many people can, but I can't.

If innocent lives are going to be taken, then let evil people be responsible and take the consequences. Why should I sacrifice my own soul along with them? (Figuratively speaking... I have no idea what a "soul" is exactly.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st August 2010 13:07 (UTC)

It's the leather or rubber thing on the bottom of your shoes... no wait, that's a sole.

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