To-day’s quotation is a blast from the past, straight out of the Cold War, but of some relevance for to-day. Callahan, I think Mary, but am not sure, wrote about when it is acceptable to listen to the doomsday scenario as a justification for a government policy. She sets up a criteria for when those draconian measures are acceptable and when they are not acceptable. Some would use her to argue the War on Terrorism is not justified, but I think this is from a reading of Callahan that is looking for justification for belief instead of really reading Callahan. Why does the War on Terrorism make life so uncomfortable for both the winners and the losers that her threshold is tripped? The following quotation is from the book Tyranny of Survival from 1973. I will try to find more complete citation information at a later date:
As I hope the forgoing discussion will have made clear, the relationship between survival and an optimal use of technology and population growth is complicated by a number of shifting variables. The need for survival is modified by the need to realize other values as well, notably freedom, justice and a sense of dignity and worth. The meaning of survival, once one moves beyond the level of bare subsistence, will be subject to a variety of different national, group and individual interpretations, primarily because survival will usually be interpreted in terms of desired standards of living and the preservation of values seen as integral to a satisfactory self-identity. The problem which remains is to see if it is possible to set forth some general standards concerning the use of survival as a value.
The first requirement is that a way be found to respond to the need for survival without, at the same time, allowing that need to become a tyranny. The tyranny can result either because of a panic in the face of a genuine threat to survival, because survival is invoked for self-interested or totalitarian political purposes, or because of an unnecessarily or unrealistically high standard of acceptable survival. Perhaps it is possible to do no more in the face of the last two possibilities than to be aware of their potential force, and by political and cultural debate to neutralize of overcome their baneful effects. The panic which can result from a real threat to survival will be more difficult to cope with, a panic which can lead to draconian measures in the name of self-preservation. At that point the question must be faced whether there can be such a thing as too high a price to pay for survival. I believe there can be, particularly when the proposed price would involve the wholesale killing of the weak and innocent, the sacrifice to an extreme degree of the values and traditions which give people their sense of meaning and identity, and the bequeathing to future generations of a condition of life which would be degrading and dehumanizing. The price would be too high when the evil of the means chosen would be such as to create an intolerable life both for the winners and for the losers. While it might be possible to conceive of individuals willing to have their lives sacrificed for the sake of group survival, it becomes more difficult to imagine whole groups being willing to make such a sacrifice. And there is a very serious moral question whether that kind of sacrifice should ever be asked for or accepted, even on a voluntary basis.