How to be against the death penalty and keep the kids off the lawn at the same time

People need to realize it is natural to want someone to die for a horrible deed they have done, just like it is natural to want to Rule the World or to get a Pony, but then also live with the fact that you don’t get the pony, world domination, or to snuff out a life because that life frightens or annoys you.

Ideally one might avoid the hateful emotion to begin with, but without the appropriate affective pathologies in place, or years of training, that’s rather difficult.

I often think of what Mike Dukakis should have said when asked what he would do if Kitty was raped and murdered by Willie Horton. He should have said “I’d want to kill the guy. But long before I had the chance the Criminal Justice System would kick in and there’d be due process.”

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Thanks to Ruth Gaul Schleissmann for suggesting I change “OK” to “natural” … a natural substitution that is quite OK.

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13 Responses to How to be against the death penalty and keep the kids off the lawn at the same time

  1. azkyroth says:

    My thoughts on the death penalty is that there ARE cases where execution is completely appropriate – people like Paul Hill, Tim McVeigh, Andrew Wakefield, where there’s no rational doubt as to the person’s guilt and they’ve demonstrated such a cold-blooded indifference to human life and suffering that there’s no realistic chance of them ever being reformed. But the way it’s applied now, eliminating it entirely would be vastly better.

  2. David Evans says:

    “to snuff out a life because that life frightens or annoys you.”

    That’s tendentious wording. Do we imprison criminals because they frighten or annoy us? No, we do it for some combination of punishment, deterrence and crime prevention.

    Is wanting a murderer to die a hateful emotion? I’m not sure. What I feel about some murderers can be put in two ways:

    By taking away someone’s life they have forfeited their own right to life

    or

    By violating the implicit contract at the base of society, they have lost the benefits of that contract.

    This is not to deny that there are other arguments against the death penalty.

  3. Greg Laden says:

    azkyroth: Right. Starting with your philosophy (it’s ok to put a selected few to death) there is no real cost to just not having a death penalty.

    If the philosophy is “I will not be satisfied as a human being, and the purpose of the world is to see to my satisfaction if certain people are not killed” then it will be hard to get rid of the death penalty.

  4. Greg Laden says:

    That’s tendentious wording. Do we imprison criminals because they frighten or annoy us? No, we do it for some combination of punishment, deterrence and crime prevention.

    Me? Tendentious?

    You’ve extended my comment to be about things it is not about. So the answer to the question you ask is no, why would you think that?

    Is wanting a murderer to die a hateful emotion? I’m not sure. What I feel about some murderers can be put in two ways:

    One could define hate to mean that wanting someone to die is always hateful. Or not.

    By taking away someone’s life they have forfeited their own right to life

    or

    By violating the implicit contract at the base of society, they have lost the benefits of that contract.

    Those are not a priori truths. There is no immutable rule humans must follow that says that there is a way to forfeit your life by your actions. The contract of which you speak is evidence of that: There can be such a contract, or not. That’s why it is a contract!

  5. David Evans says:

    Greg:

    OK, my extension of your comment was illegitimate. I still think your wording is tendentious. You assume that those in favor of the death penalty must be motivated by fear or annoyance. I think there are other motives – deterrence, or a desire for justice. I have no reason to fear someone on Death Row in the US – even if released, they are not going to cross the Atlantic to get me. And “annoy” is a weak and trivializing word in this context.

    “Those are not a priori truths”. I did not claim them as such. I was talking about feelings.

  6. Greg Laden says:

    David, there are all sorts of reasons to be in favor of, or against, the death penalty.

  7. SundogA says:

    I actually support the Death Penalty in some cases. I honestly believe there are some people who need to be removed from even the possibility of further interaction with our society. But those would have to be people for which there is simply no rational doubt as to guilt – certainly not in this case. And if another effective option was available – some type of permanet exile, perhaps, or a truly escape proof form of imprisonment – then I would certainly not insist upon death.

  8. Randomfactor says:

    That’s exactly how Dukakis should’ve handled the question.

    I would want to kill the offender with my bare hands; the justice system protects me from my own self-destructive impulses as well as protecting society from crime.

  9. Canada lost its taste for capital punishment in 1976 after 710 executions since the country’s inception. I can’t say that we have been any less ridiculous about our criminal justice system as a result, though. Our current government is all about putting as many people into megajails as humanly possible for the most tenuous of crimes.

  10. itzac says:

    And ain’t it grand, Jason?

    If the purpose of the death penalty is to prevent a future crime, shouldn’t the fact it’s practiced in parts of the county with higher crime rates be a clear indication it’s an utter failure?

  11. SundogA says:

    No doubt of that, itzac. The whole “deterrance” argument is utterly without worth.

  12. Pingback: The outrage over Troy Davis, vs the outrage over the Death Penalty | Lousy Canuck

  13. Paxton Dolan says:

    I agree that while we may want a person to die for a wrong they have committed, in the end that is not our decision to make. I know that personally, I would feel that wishing someone would die is just as bad as killing them myself. I would never want to have that on my conscience, which is why I am firmly against the death penalty.