Thursday, December 1, 2011

LD 2012 Jan/Feb Topic Analysis - part 1

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Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a deliberate response to repeated domestic violence.

The new NFL Lincoln-Douglas topic for January/February has been released and its a topic which once again explores morality.  Luckily, our browsers and files are still bookmarked for the current morality topic.

Domestic Violence
Any kind of violence is bad, I suppose, but domestic violence is especially bad since by definition it is violence perpetrated upon a spouse, child, family member or intimate partner.  I suppose, for the purpose of this resolution we can make distinction between abuse and violence where violence is a narrower form of abuse.  Abuse may include sexual abuse or emotional abuse as well as violence. So violence is the kind of abuse which results in physical, bodily harm (though some may legitimately claim other forms of abuse are violent).  The cruel nature of domestic violence arises from the fact is it violence which is directed toward a domestic partner in which there exists an intimate and often dependent relationship.  We could argue whether the definition of domestic violence also includes violence against children, but for the purposes of this resolution, it probably is not going to be a distinction which significantly alters the affirmative or negative strategy.  In the U.S., awareness of the problem of domestic violence has increased and laws have been augmented or enacted which increases the penalties and provides additional protections for victims.  In many communities, when authorities are made aware of possible domestic violence situations, there is a forced separation which needs to be resolved by a court.  In other jurisdictions and nations, domestic violence is covered up by a "blind eye" or in some cases seen as necessary to maintain family order.

According to the reports of many researchers, domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour with defined stages which eventually produces within the victim a psychological state which is identified as "battered woman syndrome" or more recently, because men are also victims, "battered person syndrome".  The victims of repeated domestic violence feel trapped and threatened, even when the perpetrator is not around.  Sometimes, these victims resort to killing the perpetrator in order to rid themselves of the threat.

The Ethical Issue
Most people tend to believe it is ethically permissible to defend oneself if one believes they are in imminent danger of being harmed or killed.  For many, justice would demand a proportional response to the level of threat. For example, killing someone for threatening to slap you would be considered an excessive response to the threat and would be unjustified.  But if you reasonably believed you would be killed unless you defend yourself, the use of deadly force to resist the attack would be considered justified.  Proportional response is a key criterion of justice in many LD debate rounds.  In a domestic violence scenario, for example, a woman being actively attacked may consider she is in imminent danger of being killed and justify a deadly response.  I don't think this is the intent of the resolution, however.

Quite often in domestic violence situations, after a pattern of repeated violence, the victim may initiate a non-confrontational act of deadly force, such as killing the perpetrator while they are asleep or quiet or during an otherwise non-violent time, usually when they are least expecting it. Now it seems at the face of it, to kill a sleeping person would normally NOT be interpreted as an act of self-defense and thus not justifiable.  The ethical issue introduced by "repeated domestic violence" and the features of "battered person syndrome" is the claim the victim continuously feels they are in imminent danger of death, even when the perpetrator is not overtly threatening.

Justifiable and Excusable Homicide and Exculpation
Most societies and even religions acknowledge there are times when the ultimate act of violence; killing, is justifiable.  For example, the action of soldiers during a time of war are justifiable when the violence is directed toward enemy combatants. In fact, it could be argued that when soldiers kill it is an act of self-defense, but when non-combatants are the victims, societies question the legitimacy of the killing.  In U.S. law there are clearly defined instances when homicide may be considered justifiable.  The modern concept of justifiable homicide is usually based on a reasonable expectation that one believes there is a imminent threat to life.

We should also consider there are times when a killing may be considered excusable. Usually, an excusable homicide occurs when an unintentional killing takes place, for example, if a child mishandles a firearm and accidentally kills someone.

Finally, there is exculpation which means the killing was intentional but mitigating or extenuating circumstances result in less liability.  Most commonly, these crimes are carried out under some form of duress and the legal response and what may be considered mitigating or extenuating circumstances depends entirely on societal norms.  For example, the man who murders his adulterous wife may be considered fully liable in one jurisdiction whereas another jurisdiction may reduce the charge in light of how the community views the actions of the victim and the relationship between the victim and killer.  Quite often, domestic violence victims are often prosecuted under legal provisions which provide exculpation under certain circumstances.

Intent of the Resolution
The foregoing brief discussion of the legal and ethical issues serve as a backdrop for the analysis of the LD resolution.  Fortunately, the resolution does not expect one to debate the legal justification of deadly force as a response to domestic violence. Instead we are asked to debate the morality of the response.  In general, the legal approach to any issue mirrors the moral point of view although legal statutes are clearly determined by societal agreement and vary widely around the world, whereas, moral considerations mirror or oppose societal values in some cases.  This is clearly seen in the fact that some people, for example, believe that murder under any circumstance is unjustifiable or immoral.  Others adhere to a standard of morality which tolerates some kinds of behavior which may be deemed illegal or immoral in other societies. A lot of this depends on what kind of argument you can produce for what constitutes morally permissible behavior.

I think, the resolution is asking us to consider those cases in which a victim of repeated physical abuse by an intimate partner reaches such a level, the victim, believes that nonconfrontational, deadly force is the their only possible response.  I don't think we need look at situations where the victim acts in self-defense while being physically attacked nor those circumstance in which the victim's action do not result in the death of the batterer,  So given this scenario, the resolution asks us to debate: is this act morally permissible?

More on this in part two.

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