Previously, we have discussed the philosophical thought experiment on ethics known as the Trolley Problem. We have also touched on the utilitarianism ethical theories of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. We have shown that the Trolley Problem can be resolved using the basic principles of utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism may seem to be a cold-blooded approach in determining morality but it is actually applicable in big decision-making problems. Institutions, businesses, military organizations and governments always consider utilitarian implications when faced with complex moral dilemmas.
The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
For example, during World War II, the decision to use two atomic bombs against Japan was primarily based on the projected casualties if the war is prolonged through conventional warfare. Around 80,000 people died and some were vaporized at Hiroshima while around 45,000 people died at Nagasaki. Japan had previously suffered far greater losses in lives during typical air raids. The two B-29 incendiary raids over Tokyo killed about 225,000.
Compare these numbers to the actual casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The casualties of the atomic bombs were relatively fewer than the casualties during the Tokyo air raids. However, the devastations of the two cities were almost instantaneous. The explosions lasted for only a few nanoseconds. When the atomic bombs detonated a few meters above the cities, the bombs completely obliterated anyone and anything at ground zero. The shockwaves and radiations damaged areas several kilometers away from ground zero.
The psychological horror of the devastations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki arguably shortened the war. It would have been protracted and more costly for both the Allied Nations and Japan in terms of human lives and resources.
For those who subscribe to utilitarian views, using atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not only a necessary evil but morally acceptable choice. It is a matter of cost-benefit analysis based on the number of casualties and damage.
Duterte’s War on Drugs
The much criticized ‘war on drugs’ of the Duterte regime is another example of moral dilemma that could be judged based on its utilitarian merits. For those who agree with the current government policy on narcotics, the brutality of the anti-narcotics campaign can be justified in terms of saving the lives of potential victims and protecting citizens. This is despite of the irrational and irresponsible public pronouncements of the president, saying that he would be happy to slaughter three million addicts.
By the way, the actual reliable statistics is only 1.8 million users not 3 or 4 million addicts as stated by the president. This is based on the scientific survey conducted by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB). It must also be noted that not all drug users can be classified as drug-dependent or addicts.
Furthermore, drug addiction should not be treated as a crime but rather as a medical or health problem. The drug addicts themselves are victims. Despite of the reasonable and evidence-based recommendations of Dr. Benjamin Reyes, the former chairman of DDB, he was sacked by the Duterte because the former contradicted the latter’s baseless assumptions.
Most critics would argue that the costs of the ongoing war on drugs are appalling in terms of human lives and fundamental rights. Issues like extrajudicial killings, vigilante killings and secret jails are among the worst results of the anti-drug campaign. The president is being blamed by critics for inciting or even masterminding the mass murder and human rights abuses.
According to the ‘corrected’ statistics of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)of 9,432 homicide cases they have recorded from July 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017, only 1,847 or 19.6 percent were drug operations-related. These are the deaths attributed to either gang wars among drug pushers or to murders done by vigilantes. Suspects who died in the hands of police officers during ‘legitimate’ drug raids and buy-bust operations are not included here.
A separate set of data showed that out of 67,609 drug users and pushers involved in police operations, 64,917 or 96 percent have surrendered, while only around 4 percent or 2,692 suspects have died because of allegedly provoking the police to shoot back in self defense.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) reported that as of April more than 142,000 suspects were detained in jails with total capacity of only 20,000. About 64 percent of these detainees are involved in drug-related offenses and still awaiting trials. The situations of detainees are miserable. Being jammed pack in small spaces, many have to take turn sleeping. Many of them are also now suffering from various types of illnesses that can either be directly attributed to the crowded conditions or exacerbated by these conditions.
Therefor, it is reasonable to conclude that Duterte’s war on drug has no significant utilitarian merits. It has actually worsened the situation and created new problems.
[to be concluded]