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Is honest belief a perfect excuse

Dear Reader,

In recent times the Russians have decided that the Greenpeace 30 are hooligans rather than pirates, now Greenpeace and their supporters are calling for the release of the Greenpeace 30 and are saying how harsh the Russians are. But we should bear in mind that the ship did enter a restricted area near an oil / gas platform without permission. Two Greenpeace protestors did climb onto the platform. I think that they were lucky not to have been shot doing that. I would never dream of trying to force my way into an industrial or nuclear site, I tend to find that presenting myself at the front gate and talking politely to the guards (on a day they are expecting me) works well for me.

Now it is clear to me that Greenpeace sincerely hold the view that they are doing something noble, they think that they are helping to save the world. But I would like us to think is a sincerely held belief (a wrong one) an excuse for anything. For example if I think that the postal worker driving up to my house is about to stick a bomb in my postbox and that I should use violence to prevent this act of terrorism.  Am I being reasonable or would I just have an overactive imagination or be going paranoid ? I think that the latter would be true.

Now lets consider a group of people who have a very different view of the world to the typical person, these are people in psychotic states. But I want to make one thing very clear first. It is a little known fact that the majority of mentally ill people are harmless (including psychoics), if anything most of them are more of a threat to themselves (with their chaotic lifestyles and self harm) than they are a threat to random members of the public.

But sadly there are some who are a danger to others, one of the classic groups which are a danger to the general public are those psychotic people who are experiencing the “positive” symptoms of schizophrenia. Some times their delusions, disordered thoughts and hallucinations can make them sincerely believe that they are under attack from other people.

These people who they think are attacking them appear to be randomly selected, but I suspect that public figures tend to be the subject of more of these delusions than the average person.

A quick yahoo search using the terms “paranoid schizophrenic stabbed” reveals a great number of news paper articles such as this one from Reading, Erith, Bristol and Brimingham. Now I hope that I have not given any of you nightmares but if you read these four randomly chosen cases you will see that in general society tends to keep those who have carried out serious acts of violence while in psychotic states in secure hospitals (or prisons sometimes) until they are no longer thought to be a threat to the public.

While I feel sorry for people who have experienced the terror of persecutory delusions I understand that some of these people need to be isolated from society while others need to be kept away from some things.

For example should we allow a person who is prone to intense persecutory delusions to work as a gunsmith with free and easy access to firearms ? I think not, in the same way as a person who has a serious alcohol problem (drunk on a regular basis before lunch time) should not be allowed to work as an air traffic controller (until they have cleaned up their alcohol problem) the gunsmith with these delusions should not be allowed to work alone in a room with 1000 assault rifles until he/she has been shown to be cured or at least not be a threat to himself or others.

A less harmful behaviour which could come from a delusion that the toy shop staff are torturing a child which has metamorphosed into a barbapapa soft toy. A deluded person might then steal the barbapapas from the toy shop, while it is less harmful than a violent act I still think that the soft toys should be returned to the toy shop and the liberator of the barbapapas should not be viewed as a hero. While the person might have has a sincere belief that a justification existed for taking the soft toy I still think that while the person might be found “not guilty by reason of insanity” their stealing of the barbapapas is not a commendable act.

Now imagine that I sincerely believe that the people in the wool shop are sewing a dragon together with magic wool which will come to life and breathe fire and lay waste Sweden (major environmental damage) then I hope my readers will understand that the fact my misguided act (stealing all the wool) was an attempt to protect the environment does not make it a noble act.

Now while stealing the wool might irk the local knitters, a crime which endangers people is a more serious matter. I was told recently by a seaman that the Russian gas platform may have had divers working in the water at the time of the Greenpeace protest. We will never know if the Russians were being truthful about the divers in the water at the time or not (or if they were posting the standard warnings that divers were at work), but this adds a new dimension to the event.

Lets assume that Greenpeace have a sincere belief that the use of oil and gas is harmful to the environment, they then choose to have a protest where they drive motorboats close to a platform. Now if these motorboats endanger divers working in the water then I hold the view that a crime has been committed by Greenpeace. Both the people doing it and the organisation as a whole would be even more guilty if some ill came to the workers on the platform or in the sea.

Ben the seaman told me that he would never go within three quarters of a mile of a ship which has divers in the water for safety reasons, now we need to understand that while it is important that we look after the environment it is more important that we protect human life. I would argue that the death of a single gas platform worker is more serious that a very large oil spill which fouls many birds.

I would also say that endangering or harming an oil / gas field worker is a perfect way for Greenpeace (and the environmental movement in general) to upset people and harm the interests of the environment. It does not matter how noble their aims and views are, it does not matter how sincerely they think that they are doing the right thing if they are putting workers in danger then it is wrong.

One of the best justifications for improving the environment is to improve the health of people, by improving the environment many diseases can be reduced or eliminated. For example in Japan after world war two a series of horrible pollution related diseases occurred (cadmium poisoning, mercury poisoning and air pollution related ill health), by keeping the environment clean the rate of these diseases can be reduced.

But if while protesting against the factory spewing mercury into the river where the locals catch the fish they feed themselves on we were to drive a car in a reckless manner and run over some of the local children then however successful we are at cleaning up the environment we have failed as instead of giving the children a cleaner environment to enjoy and live in we have snuffed out their lives.

Rather than doing something to make the world a better place we would have done the reverse. I would also argue that killing a man working for a living is also making the world a worse place for him, his family, his country and his coworkers. I also want to point something out, some years ago the Greenpeace ship (Rainbow Warrior) was bombed, it is said that the bombers never intended to kill anyone but they managed to kill a member of the crew.

Even if you believe the bombers claim that they never wanted to kill anyone, I would still stay that the reckless disregard for human life exhibited when they bombed the ship makes them guilty of murder. Now I am sure that all Greenpeace staff and members will agree with my view of the bombers guilt, we should apply the same logic to a group of Greenpeace protestors who endanger workers. We should think for a moment about the scandal which would occur if the Greenpeace protestors killed a diver the same way that Kirsty MacColl died.

Now we should consider what should be done about Greenpeace, what is it reasonable for the Russians to do ? Should they charge only the Captain (and the senior members of the ship’s crew), should they charge the junior members of the crew, should they charge only the people who climbed onto the platform and should they charge Greenpeace as a corporate body ?

Years ago at the University of Sussex a serious accident occurred in the chemistry department, some details can be seen here. After this accident the university as a corporate body was dragged to court and then punished. Should the same happen to Greenpeace ? It could be argued that the people at the HQ had no idea of exactly what the people on the ship were going to do, but on the other hand it can be argued that they should have considered what the people on the ship might do. It can be argued that the boss of the ship (Captain) had a duty to make sure the people under him worked safely and obeyed the law, and that the people who the captain answered to had a duty to supervise the captain. It can be argued that they should have made a point of knowing what their subordinates were doing and also to supervise them.

As I am not an expert on Russian law I can not say what will or should happen, but I want to ask you what should the Russians do ?


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