You have 25 seconds to decide whether to shoot the person you love in the head or heart or to die. What do you do?
I watched the episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Abel & Willing) with my heart in my throat thinking about what I would do. It even had me questioning my previous stance of killing someone in self-defense. I started my self-exploration while watching the episode at the “easier” end of the spectrum. I figured, well, if it were a complete stranger sitting across from me, or someone “evil” it would be easier to pull the trigger. A loved one? A family member? The thought still makes my stomach hurt. I can only imagine the pain the people were in who “choose to shoot” (CTS) and the fear and helplessness of the person who looked at their husband or wife pleading for their life.
The villain in the episode conducted the socio-psychological experiment because his family went through a similar ordeal at the hands of the Nazis. The point was to prove that all human behavior is self-serving and freedom of choice is contrary to human nature. In his experiments, he removed all outside factors and came to the conclusion that if the choice is simplified—their life or someone else’s, humans will always choose survival.
In the television show, his subjects were couples. The only person who didn’t CTS was one half of an older couple and it was apparent that age was a factor. I can only guess they rationalized their decision this way: I’m old and going to die soon. I will not kill someone I love. I will not kill another person.
I thought about parent-child or sibling combinations. I would think that if the parent was the one who had to choose to shoot, they wouldn’t. They would give their child the chance at life. Can you imagine a pair of twins faced with that decision?
And for the person who CTS, how do they explain it to the family they have to face afterwards? The character who conducted these experiments was told by his father that “under certain circumstances there can be no shame”. No shame? The guilt that probably plagued them… If you were told by your sister that she had to kill her husband or she would’ve been killed (after the initial shock, sadness, disgust, fear) could you look at her and honestly understand why she did what she did? These experimental crimes have more than just the one victim. I wouldn’t be surprised if the surviving subject healed themselves with suicide.
My mind stayed on the guilt aspect for a while longer; his experiments were conducted without an audience. How would the presence of more pleading eyes affect your decision? Would it be easier to just not shot and take the bullet yourself? This is not the Roman Coliseum—I kill you or you kill me. This is I kill you or die. This is I kill you and you’re not a threat to me.
There are many people that are for the death penalty. How many could be the executioner?
The last exchange between Detective Nichols and Stevens was very profound to me and in usual Law and Order fashion it’s an ending that makes you think:
Well, you know, it’s a valid question how anybody
will act under those circumstances.
You’re buying into Abel Hazard’s theory?
Certainly not. People rush into fires, jump in front
of trains, they leap into shark-infested waters…
Who doesn’twant to think that they could sacrifice
their own life to save somebody else’s? It goes to
the core of our humanity, but…
But no one knows what they’d do until something
Yeah…suddenly we find out who we really are,
but maybe, it isn’t who we want to be.