Hazem Zohny

Terrorist Beheadings and Other Forms of Disease Transmission

By Hazem Zohny

Most of us are disturbed by people who take hostages and then cut their heads off while filming it. Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – the remaining members of the British Isis cell nicknamed “the Beatles” – are accused of such gore. Now that they have been arrested by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the UK home secretary Sajid Javid has suggested that, contrary to standard practice, the UK will not oppose the death penalty for them.

Kotey and Elsheikh are the kind of malefic figures that push our most primal retributive buttons. Unlike a hungry shoplifter or drug addict, to whom many of us might respond with compassion, terrorizing decapitators seems to demand being snuffed out of existence – not only to deter others from copying them but also, as Boris Johnson put it, to retributively kill them as “payback for the filmed executions of innocent people.”

Given the vengeful emotions at play here, it might be interesting to apply to Kotey and El Sheikh what’s been called the “public health-quarantine model”. This model (to which I’ll henceforth refer to as PHQ) is based on the premise that all our retributive impulses are unfounded, and that in fact, Kotey and Elsheikh – and indeed all people, no matter what they do – do not act freely and are not morally responsible for their actions.

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The Utilitarian’s Guide to the FIFA World Cup

By Hazem Zohny

For those suspicious of sentiments like national pride, or who simply fail to feel emotionally engaged by a sporting team representing a bit of territory on the planet, the World Cup season can feel alienating. It is a global phenomenon that can be difficult to avoid, and you may rightly feel tired of being that person lecturing their friends and colleagues about how football is the true opium of the masses.

If so, you might as well breathe in the fumes with everyone and enjoy the ride. But given your deep-seated apathy about the World Cup, who should you support, and why? Fortunately, that moral theory Bernard Williams dismissed in 1973 – hoping “the day cannot be too far off in which we hear no more of it” – is here to help.

Utilitarianism is about the impartial maximization of happiness. With over 3 billion humans allowing a ball passed around on a screen to puppeteer their emotions over the next month, there is much happiness and misery to be experienced around the globe. A World Cup-apathetic utilitarian ought to support those teams that will likely maximize net happiness by winning.

How do we determine who those teams are?

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Utilitarian Supervillains, Moral Enhancement, and Enforced Vegetarianism

By Hazem Zohny

 

Bad utilitarians make for great supervillains.

Take Thanos, the purple CGI nemesis the Avengers have to face this year in what feels like the gazillionth Marvel movie. In his sincere desire to reduce suffering, Thanos is trying to kill half of all life in the universe.

Like all utilitarian-type supervillains, he has presumably gotten his welfare-maximizing calculus very wrong. But it made me wonder what such a supervillain might look like if their calculus wasn’t so comically dim-witted. To that end, I’m going to discuss a character we can call Vegetarian Thanos.

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Mind Control, Free Will, and Jessica Jones

By Hazem Zohny

In the first season of the Netflix show Jessica Jones, our traumatized, alcoholic protagonist is up against a particularly nasty villain: Kilgrave. He is a mind-controller and complete psychopath. A virus he emits compels people around him to do whatever he commands.

Early in the season, he makes a young woman, Hope, kill her parents in front of Jessica just to spite her. Jessica, who knows all too well what it’s liked to be “Kilgraved,” consoles Hope by repeatedly telling her, “It’s not your fault.”

And it surely isn’t her fault. Once Kilgrave commanded Hope to kill, she could in no way have done otherwise. More than that, she was not in any meaningful sense the source or author of her murderous act, which was completely incongruous with her past behaviours and with her love for her parents.

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