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The Time-Traveling Avenger of Crimes Against Humanity, or Problems with Pre-Crime Punishment, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Continuum

Nuumnut December 3, 2014 User blog:Nuumnut

"What if you could save tens of thousands of people, even if it meant killing one person?" Kiera asks Carlos, in S2E9. "I've played this game before," replies Carlos, "I would kill Hitler."

On the surface, when merely saying the words or writing them, this seems simple enough. However, there are no less than three major categories of problems such an attempt would raise. Each category is divided into at least two particulars. This post will discuss these problems.

The divisions are as follows: 

A. Chronological

1. Grandfather Paradox

2. Unintended Consequences

B. Social

1. Cultural Acclimation

2. Opportunity

C. Personal

1. Ethical Considerations

2. Personal Resolve

A1. How would you resolve the Grandfather Paradox?

i. If Kiera had killed Theseus, how would she have known she needed to kill Theseus?

ii. What if, upon killing Theseus, she discovers that he is not the monster she thought he was, that in fact it was someone else who was the monster, and Theseus was merely a scapegoat, and a new scapegoat is erected in his place?

iii. What if she IS capable of killing Theseus, causing the future to change, but unable to prevent her future self from coming back in time to kill Theseus, and thus discovers that by killing Theseus, she has prevented her future self from having Free Will?

A2. What unintended consequences might occur?

i. What if, by killing Theseus, Kiera creates an alternate reality, one that is worse than the one she was trying to prevent?

ii. What if, even if she does not kill Thesues, she brings with her a future version of Influenza, one that is resistant to every antibiotic developed between 2012 and 2077, and in turn unleases the equivalent of a Black Plague?

B1. How would you prepare for cultural differences?

i. Fortunately, Kiera only traveled back 65 years. People in Vancouver in 2012 spoke English, just as they do in 2077. But what if she was from an even-more distant future, and she did not speak English? Arriving in 2012, she discovers that she does not speak the language. Even if she learns the language beforehand, she may still be ignorant of popular culture, slang, and current events, which in and of itself is not problematic, but may undermine her cover.

For example, if someone were to travel back to Nazi Germany in an effort to kill Hitler, they might very well learn German knowing they will need it. But there is a difference between textbook language and colloquial language. In Nazi Germany, the secret police were undoubtedly on high alert for spies. If someone showed up mysteriously, who spoke perfect German but who did not comprehend popular culture references, turns of phrase, or current events, their presence might well raise some red flags. Such red flags might be the difference between a time traveler even having the opportunity to get close to Hitler, winding up in a dusty prison cell, or merely relegated to wandering aimlessly, unable to achieve the goal but not actually being imprisoned.

B2. What is the specific plan? How would you, as a time traveler, get close to Hitler?

i. Would you go back to 1920 and join the Nazi Party at its inception, and work diligently to gain trust so that you might someday get close to Hitler? History shows that there were, in fact, numerous attempts on Hiter's life, but that they all failed. Perhaps one of those attempts was/will be/is yours?

ii. Would you appear in his bunker at a specific moment with the hope of killing him just prior to his suicide? How would you know what time to appear? What makes you certain he would actually be there? Maybe you will appear half-trapped between floors, or in the wrong bunker, or maybe he won't be there at all but will have actually escaped to Argentina.

C1. What ethical considerations are there?

i. If killing is wrong, how can you justify killing to prevent killing? Would it not be preferable to merely kidnap and imprison Hitler? 

ii. If it is possible to justify killing Hitler for crimes he has not yet committed, would it not also be permissible to justify other forms of pre-Crime punishment? Would you not advocate for proactive police measures such as Stop-&-Frisk? Is loss of Due Process an acceptable price to pay to prevent Crimes Against Humanity, and by extension, Crime Itself?

iii. Why stop with Hitler? Why not also Ghengis Khan and his descendants (who by all accounts killed far more people than Hitler), Stalin (who also killed and caused the deaths of more people than Hitler), and Pol Pot (who didn't kill as many people as Hitler but was nevertheless not a very nice person)? If the number of deaths caused by a person isn't the determinate factor in judgment, then why not also target serial killers such as Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy? Why stop there, either? Kill everyone who ever kills anyone.

And if in fact you decide that all murderers deserve death, are you going to kill yourself when you are done killing others? And in fact you decide that pre-Crime Punishment is an acceptable course of action, should you not in all fairness kill yourself before you kill someone for the pre-Crime of killing someone?

C2. Do you have the personal courage and fortitude to actually kill someone?

i. This one is a deeply personal question. It's one thing to write about, to say, you would kill Hitler. But have you ever actually imagined striking someone? I can't speak for anyone but myself, but the thought of it causes my gut to stir and my body to flinch. I have too much empathy to imagine causing direct physical harm to another human being. Perhaps you can. Perhaps you have the moral fortitude. Perhaps it would be easier if you could do it remotely, perhaps using a drone or a missile strike or a sniper rifle. But what if those options weren't on the table. What if you literally had to eviscerate Hitler with your bare hands. Could you stomach it?

ii. What if your only opportunity to kill Hitler is when he is an infant. You have exactly five minutes. You have to walk into the room where his mother has just delivered baby Adolf. He is suckling on his mother's breast for the first time. You have to snatch baby Hitler out of his mother's arms and butcher him on the spot, with his mother helpless to do anything but watch. Do you have the resolve?

And if so, then how do you sleep at night?

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