This is sure to illicit responses from all over the spectrum. We hope so.
We mentioned in a post that Celtic warriors practiced decapitation of their enemies and that they would flaunt the heads of the defeated as trophies. Gosh, we just can’t imagine such barbarism today. Thank goodness things like be-headings and stoning of women are terrible relics that have passed into those sordid parts of our human history for which we are ashamed and that … wait, what now? Saudis still behead people? Are you sure? You’re saying the Saudis, our allies in the war on terror, the wealthy and enlightened Middle Eastern country with the progressive women’s rights initiatives and a free and open society — you’re saying that their duly elected officials, those benevolent appointed citizens, kill people by beheading them? And, are you also saying that Iranian courts sworn to uphold the intensively long-studied and carefully established laws of their nation still stone people to death? Stoning, as in the horrific crime against humanity performed millenia ago by people that had not yet discovered the number zero? That kind of stoning? So, the Ayatollah maxim of “Whether by incredibly advanced science (i.e. nuclear holocaust) or by stones from toothless, illiterate minions, we will kill you” is not just a suggestion? Ah, yes. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Of course, our own sociological sophistication precludes any such barbarism from happening in our own country. Fortunately, we have advanced past killing other humans for the sake of some primitive notion like vengeance and … come again? You say we still have state-sanctioned executions? You mean, the “death penalty” is still an active form of punishment in our own culture? No, that can’t be right, can it? Surely that’s only on the fringes of society. No elected civil servant at the highest level of government would ever support such a terrible form of penal management. The citizenry as a whole would recoil in horror from such tyranny. Hmm? You want us to take a look at the following video?
Holy living hell. And the audience applauds. This was filmed in Saudia Arabia or Iran, right? No, it was in our own blessed country? Well, now.
So, here’s our perspective. We aren’t going to moralize on whether the death row inmate is being treated inhumanely by removing him or her from life. That’s another discussion. At this moment, the question is what does the death penalty say about the humanity of the rest of us? Those of us that did not commit the terrible crimes for which we are judging the ones that did must reconcile ourselves to the notion that meting out justice in a form that culminates in a collectively approved killing might have a negative impact on our collective psyche and morality. In our opinion it does.
There is no purpose for the death penalty other than vengeance. And vengeance is a primitive action that springs from anger. And anger is a response to a perceived threat borne out of fear. And fear is what we experience when we don’t know how to handle a situation. And we typically don’t know how to handle the situation of a terrible crime so the easiest (and wrong) thing to do is kill the person that has frightened us (kind of like when a person kills a mouse in the house – our primitive response is to feel threatened by the possibility of a bite or disease, regardless of the rationality of what may or may not be actual). Killing the person that created the situation also means making a damn big assumption that we are 100% correct in allocating guilt-with-all-faculties-intact on the individual. So, killing the killer doesn’t really solve or restore anything. What is frightening is that it may make us feel better. And, that’s the rub. If we feel good about killing people, even though the original offense was committed by the other, is that a morally sound response for the apparently rational (or righteous?!) members of a society that has the power to do incredible good or unspeakable evil on a geometrically increasing rate? Nah. We’re not the Iranians. We would never do anything insane like use nuclear weapons against humanity. Hold on now, what was that? You say we actually have a policy that says otherwise? Let’s take a look:
The classified version of a National Security Presidential Directives (specifically NSPD-17), as reported by the Washington Times on January 31, 2003, states: “The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force, including potentially nuclear weapons, to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies.” Even if the presidential directive has been supplanted with something more rational by the current administration, it is [insert the worst expletive you can think of here] nuts that a very small group of people can make the decision to obliterate humanity. When the missiles are flying, how are they any different than the Kims in North Korea? Game over. Backing the bus up, however, it is the responsibility of the citizenry in a democracy to hold our elected officials to morally correct standards of respect for life. We can’t prove that there is a connection between supporting the death penalty and supporting a nuclear strike, but in both scenarios, there is an erroneous justification that we have the right to impose death for others. The death penalty is immoral. Again, not because killers don’t deserve the ultimate punishment (who really knows that) but because we should never be the ones making that a reality.
Fear. Anger. Vengeance. Death.