The moral dilemma of a real-life Dexter Morgan
Work for the Miami Police Department? Tick.
Kill bad guys in his spare time? Tick.
Claim you’re doing a good deed for society? Tick.
I’m not referring to the character Dexter from the successful television series of the same name. I’m talking about a real man by the name of Manuel Pardo.
Let me get the differences out of the way:
- Pardo killed 9 people. Dexter killed approximately 135 people according to the undisputed reliability of an Internet discussion forum.
- Pardo mostly killed drug dealers who he later argued were bad for society. Dexter killed drug dealers, murderers, rapists, paedophiles, psychopaths, serial killers, police officers, his brother, his sister, and his friends…
- Pardo kept newspaper clippings and snapped Polaroids of his victims. Dexter nicked his victims’ cheeks with a blade, and retained a drop of blood on a small glass slide as a memento.
- Pardo was caught, sentenced and executed. SPOILER ALERT! Dexter killed his sister, faked his death in a cyclone, let his son leave with another serial killer to South America, and lived out his life as a lonely lumberjack in the middle of nowhere.
So they aren’t carbon copies of each other but the burning question remains just as pertinent. How would you feel about a real-life Dexter in your neighbourhood? Someone who operates outside of the law, doing what the police, juries, and judge fail to. Performing good deeds that ultimately benefit society, while ridding the earth of murderers, rapists and other various murderous violent human beings?
There was something karmic, and almost heroic about Dexter. I was on his side for the most part. He was a lovable, socially awkward, misunderstood, blood-spatter analyst, who carried around his rather influential dark passenger. He was suffocated by an unexplained urge to kill since he was a teen. His foster-father Harry taught him to channel it into something that would benefit society so he started killing murderers that slipped through the judicial cracks on technicalities. It was his code; the set of rules he lived by.
The problem with rules is that they tend to get broken. And the stricter the rule, the easier it is to break.
Let us pretend that I’ve decided to lead my life down a Dexter-style path. I have the best intentions and create a relatively easy-to-follow code.
Number 1: Only murderers of multiple people who were set free due to a legal technicality. That’s fairly black and white right? Targeting people who kill multiple times isolates only the most violent, and least likely to be rehabilitated offenders. I only want those who, with the help of my police contacts and access to information, I can be sure are guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
But wait, a serial rapist who attacked 14 girls and killed one of them was found not guilty because the police hastily searched his house and the evidence found was deemed inadmissible in court. Surely he’s as bad as a multiple murderer? I better dispose of him too. It just means I’ll widen the scope of my code just a wee bit. He only killed one person as opposed to multiple, but he’s clearly dangerous and he was set free on a technicality.
A man stabs six girls over the course of three nights in the city and leaves them all barely conscious in hospital. This guy surely has to go too right? He didn’t kill any of them, but he’s a psycho! His case didn’t even reach court because all six victims were too scared to testify. I’d certainly be doing society a huge favour.
While mulling over the latest case of Mr Stabs-a-lot, I decide to go for a drink. I notice a sleazy guy at the other end of the bar who has a group of females loitering around him. Pimp? Maybe. He knocks them around a bit and becomes quite aggressive. I follow him outside and he backhands one of the girls which so much force she flies into the brick wall and falls to the pavement like a sack of potatoes. How long before he goes further? For the sake of the girls, and the community, I better sort him out as well.
See where I’m going with this? It doesn’t take long before ‘multiple murderer, who avoids prison on a technicality’ turns into ‘sleazy guy who knocks around a few girls in a bar’. Not that I condone the latter, but it hardly justifies being cocooned in clin-wrap and strapped to a table in a kill room, waiting for the knife hovering precariously above his chest to plummet downward. It might require a few stern fists to the face, but that’s it.
Creating guidelines for something so morally ambiguous becomes hazardous, especially without someone else to apply accountability. Dexter broke his code often, and what happened? He occasionally felt a little bad about it. And be honest, we’ve all done this… with food, not killing people!
I promised I wouldn’t eat any chocolate this week. Then I have a small piece and feel guilty because I broke my own rule. But after I’ve had one piece, there’s no harm having three because the rule has already been broken. I can’t really break it again. The three pieces turns into a whole block, and I actually felt worse when I had the single piece, then what I did for devouring the whole thing, foil and all.
This might surprise a lot of people, but television doesn’t always mirror real-life.
Manuel Pardo killed his 9 victims in a span of about 4 months. Most were drug dealers but not all. Pre-murders, he was fired from the Florida Highway Patrol for falsifying traffic tickets. In 1981, he was charged with brutality however the case was dismissed. Four years later he was fired again for lying under oath in court. Pardo had violent urges as a teenager but it wasn’t until 1986 that he decided his new year’s resolution was to ‘do a service to mankind’.
Reports suggest Pardo once saved a baby’s life, served honourably in the US Navy and that he was a good dad. But was he a good guy? His four-month killing spree was argued by prosecutors to be a money grab. Miami had been whitewashed with cocaine and Pardo was simply getting his cut. Quantities of coke were taken from the murder scenes and he was known to occasionally deal as well. Pardo was an ardent admirer of Adolf Hitler and believed that blacks and Jews deserved to be exterminated. It didn’t help that five blacks and two Jews made up the jury in his trial.
It hasn’t been made clear exactly what Pardo’s mission actually was, although he was clear that he wanted more people dead.
I wish it could have been 99. I am a soldier and I accomplished my mission … I hope you give me the glory of a soldier’s death.
Did it include killing innocents? Because if it did, the argument stops there, and we can determine that Pardo isn’t even close to a real-life Dexter. If it didn’t include innocents, then he wasn’t very good at what he did. He managed to kill a few people who weren’t exactly role models in the community, but they certainly weren’t worthy of his type of justice. His code was loose and erratic. Whether he had good intentions, which is highly debatable, or whether he was simply a dirty cop who found it easier to kill and steal to make a profit, is totally up to you. Personally I choose the latter.
The law exists for a reason. It’s not perfect, and doesn’t get everything right. But on the whole it does keep society in balance, people on both sides of the law remain accountable, and the legal system may stutter, then flourish, but it doesn’t spiral out of control.
But what if we look at this from the point of view of philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Unfortunately he died in 1832 so he wasn’t around long enough to watch Dexter exterminate numerous bad guys, and the occasional good guy, and toss their garbage bag-wrapped bodies into the North Altantic Ocean.
I wonder whether Bentham would have taken any issue with either Dexter or Pardo?
Bentham is well-known as the founder of modern utilitarianism, and most notably the greatest happiness principle. He wanted to base the code of law around the moral principle that the measure of right and wrong is based on the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Basically it means the pleasure needs to outweigh the pain.
So, under Bentham’s theory, could Pardo’s actions be deemed acceptable? Would the pain from killing those drug dealers be less than the happiness gained by not having them around? The users who are itching for their next crack hit might disagree, but the rest of the society would probably agree that having half a dozen serious drug dealers removed from the street isn’t a bad thing.
I’m still not on Pardo’s side. Despite using the greatest happiness principle, in both Dexter and Pardo’s case, we’ve seen how the best intentions can spiral out of control quickly. Assuming Pardo was trying to rid the Miami streets of drug dealers, he killed innocents and he’d only been in action for four months. Would he have eventually got it right or would it have only gotten worse? Despite Dexter’s best intentions, he ended up killing, directly or indirectly, nearly everyone he ever loved. His son fled to another continent to be raised by a serial killer and to grow up without mommy or daddy.
This one is still crystal clear and Bentham’s principle hasn’t changed my mind. The best intentions can spiral out of control and I’m going to leave you with an exaggerated example.
A group of thirty old people who live in a retirement village stroll down to the community hall for bingo every week. In doing so, they walk past a brick wall full of expletive-laden graffiti that they all find extremely offensive. Every week the wall gets cleaned, and every week the graffiti returns from the same spray can of the homeless 14 yr old boy who lives under a nearby bridge. Every now and then, while the old folks are frequenting the community hall, said homeless kid breaks into one of their dwellings and steals some jewellery and cash, presumably to buy food, cigarettes, or a new spray can.
The happiness of the thirty old folks not having their possessions stolen, and not being exposed to the offensive graffiti, would easily outweigh the pain felt from one homeless kid being removed from society.
Even my dark passenger couldn’t justify that one.