Are you familiar with the killing machine? It does what it sounds like. And unfortunately the machine is indiscriminate — the humans who operate and maintain it choose the machine’s targets, but they don’t always do a good job. So the machine terminates murderers, but even more often its victims are innocent.

Such is the way of a killing machine. It’s just a machine. Objects — or assemblages of objects — can’t be responsible or culpable for their “actions”.

Photo by mel.
Photo by mel.

I could be talking about a few different machines. I could be talking about US drones in the Middle East, or about the United States Armed Forces as a larger whole. I could be talking about lethal injection setups, or about our entire criminal “justice” system.

In a literal sense machines are different from bureaucracies. But regarding human organizations as machines can be a useful mental model. When we zoom out to that perspective, becomes obvious how little the good intentions of the participants matter.

A cog in a machine can be very well-made and run smoothly, interacting admirably with the parts next to it. But if the overarching design of the machine is to enable corrupt operators to execute their enemies, well…

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