What would you kill for?

At the end of his conversation with Tim Ferriss, Sebastian Junger offered up a question everyone that should ask themselves.

“Who would you die for? What ideas would you die for? The answer to those questions, for most of human history, would have come very readily to any person’s mouth. Any Comanche would tell you instantly who they would die for and what they would die for. In modern society, it gets more and more complicated, and when you lose the ready answer to those ancient human questions, you lose a part of yourself. You lose a part of your identity. I would ask people, ‘Who would you die for? What would you die for? And what do you owe your community?’ In our case, our community is our country. What do you owe your country, other than your taxes? Is there anything else you owe all of us? There’s no right answer or wrong answer, but it’s something that I think everyone should ask themselves.”

I happen to agree. In Western society, we’re becoming divorced from danger and estranged from physical discomfort. And one of the consequences of this is that it’s becoming harder to transcend ourselves, to put something—be it a religion, a value, a community—above our own existence and wellbeing.

But in the same way that there’s a reverse to the question, “What do you stand for?”–“What will you stand against?”—I believe there’s a darker, more dangerous reverse to the “What would you die for?” question:

What would you kill for?

Would you kill one to save ten thousand? Would you kill someone who’s trying to murder someone you love? Would you kill to preserve the existence of someone you don’t love or know nothing about? Would you take the life of the person who tries to take yours? Would you never kill, under any circumstances, for any cause, for any reason?

These questions are intensely personal. They penetrate right to the core of our beliefs about life, existence, what it means to us, and what we think it means to others. So I’m not going to share my answers, not now. Maybe in the future.

But I will say this: the difficulty of these questions, the moral and ethical quagmire they force us to find a way through, are better confronted now, in times of relative ease. The sooner we ask these hard questions and force ourselves to give a tentative answer, the better prepared we’ll be for when fate forces us to go on record with a definite reply.