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If I paid someone to rob a bank and they shot and killed someone in the process, should I share in the blame for the murder?  I think most societies would agree that I share in the responsibility, and at least some would treat me as though I had personally pulled the trigger.  Frankly, I tend to agree with the societies which would blame me just as much as the person who pulled the trigger, since I instigated the crime.  What are your feelings?  Have you even given any thought to the subject?  If you haven't I would encourage you to think about this a bit before continuing.

Okay, you have thought about it, now let's extend the concept a little, am I still equally responsible if I split the cost of hiring the bank robber with a friend?  How about if someone creates a web site and I pool my money with one million other people to have the bank robbed?  In each case, my view is that I would be just as responsible as if  I had pulled the trigger.  The commission of a murder does not relieve me of personal responsibility no matter how many others join me to take part in the crime.  It is important to note here that under this scenario, there was no intent to kill someone, only a relatively high possibility that my actions might result in the death which occurred.  If at this point you don't believe I share in the responsibility, there is no point in reading further.  Resume your normal daily life!  If on the other hand you agree that I would share in the responsibility for the murder, there are a few things I would like for you to consider:

  • Have you ever bought a magazine which featured pictures of "Princess Di" on it while she was still alive?  If so, do you still buy them?  Many of these magazines collected money from thousands of people (including you) and paid for people to get photos by any means they could without regard for how they were acquired.  Perhaps you could argue that her death was not a predictable consequence before it happened, but now (having happened once), the potential for other people featured in their pages dying as a result of getting photos "by any means" should now be considered a reasonable possibility, and if you continue to buy, you should certainly expect to share in the responsibility for the next death.
  • Do you pay taxes to any government?  If so, does that government maintain a military force which is actively engaged in military actions that result in civilian deaths?  Note the use of the word "civilian" here!  This is not about the relative merits of any military action against armed opposition, it is about the deaths of innocent bystanders that you in part paid for.
  • Do you own or are you planning to buy any jewelry which may have been produced in a war zone in Africa (or elsewhere for that matter)?  The money you pay may be directly funding the war and many civilian casualties.
  • How about rare animal products (ivory and the like) which often result in the deaths of people paid to protect these animals?

You get the idea, and this list is hardly comprehensive.  In each of these cases, the money paid would just as predictably result in deaths as does the case of paying for a bank robbery.  These people did not die as a result of their personal choice to go into a dangerous profession, or some freak accident.  They died because of choices by other people such as you and I that were made without sufficient regard for the consequences to others.  If we agree with the above statements about my hypothetical responsibility for the murder in the bank robbery, then we must also accept personal responsibility for our part in the other very real deaths above (and so many others that were not listed).  This being the case, if we have any conscience at all, we should think long and hard about how we spend our money and what the consequences are likely to be.

So, how many people have you murdered today?