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Subject: The Truth About... Capital Punishment rss

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Eric Jome
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This is another in a series of political and ethical articles in which I'll lay out the truth about hot or important issues. What is the truth? It's what you should believe in or know. And the truth I'll put down here won't need citations or quotes or authority figures to tell you what to think. You'll just know when you read it - it's the Truth.

By request... and because it's such a good idea, here's one on another important issue, capital punishment.

-----

Revenge.

Let's be honest. When you are wronged, you feel the need to get back at the person who has done you the injustice, right? And for the most heinous crimes, there can be only one just and true retribution. The guilty must be punished. Execution. Revenge.

Or at least that's what a lot of people seem to think. But, a lot of people are thinking wrong. Because that's clearly not the right or just or best thing to do. The state must be the impartial arbiter of justice, not the instrument of hatred and revenge. Murdering the murderer doesn't "bring closure" - it perpetuates the cycle of violence, sets a standard of killing which stains the hands of the entire society that endorsed it. Irrevocable tragedy when the machine of the law gets it wrong, unnecessary exercise of excessive power even when it prosecutes the case correctly.

Nothing is made better, made right by the state fulfilling a vendetta of revenge for the wronged. Instead, we should concentrate on a philosophy of reparation, not revenge. The death of a criminal does nothing to right the wrong. Indeed, a careful and just society spends vast sums more on trying to find some fictional moral standing on which to perform an execution than it ever would on simple incarceration.

That should be the focus of our legal and moral justice. Reparations. Not revenge.

Thanks for reading.
 
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Quote:
That should be the focus of our legal and moral justice. Reparations. Not revenge.


If we could evolve a system where murderers could be made to spend the rest of their lives living like dogs in the yard and spending their days on grunt work that earned enough extra wealth to give the victim's families a steady income as reparation... I'd vote for it in a heartbeat.

I will say though, revenge is a part of what humans are. Just because it's an intense emotion doesn't mean it's all bad. In fact, it's a survival trait or else we wouldn't have the instinct to demand an eye for an eye. The same could be said about anger and other hostile emotions. They are with us because they are part of the evolutionary package that allowed our race to survive and become dominant.

My only reservations about the death penalty have always been the potential for the wrong person to be executed. I'm all for it now that we have scientific DNA matching and much more transparency in our criminal and judicial branches. But I'd definitely go for the reparation scenario if it could be built in a satisfactory way.

 
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Eric Jome
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DWTripp wrote:
If we could evolve a system where murderers could be made to spend the rest of their lives living like dogs in the yard and spending their days on grunt work that earned enough extra wealth to give the victim's families a steady income as reparation... I'd vote for it in a heartbeat.


Well well. The Devil called. Something about a freeze in his area.

We agree.

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I will say though, revenge is a part of what humans are.


"what humans unfortunately are now and aspire to be better than"
 
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Eric "Shippy McShipperson" Mowrer
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It's interesting how people have a soft spot in their hearts for a cold blooded murderer, yet don't even think twice about terminating the life of an unborn child, the very definition of innocent. Aren't we all just masses of tissue? The difference is the mass of unborn baby tissue didn't murder anybody and the mass of adult tissue, tats, and body piercings did.

I'll be willing to do away with capital punishment if you can show me a fair way to discipline and 'rehabilitate' these people without slapping law abiding citizen in the face... you know... the ones that have to pay for their own college education, health care, food, recreation, etc.
 
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Marshall P.
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Sweet Jesus I agree with Tripp.

The way I look at capital punishment is this: contrary to the declaration of independence you have no inherent right to life. Anything in this world can kill you from a microscopic virus to a saber tooth tiger. It's not morally wrong for those things to kill you. Other humans can also kill you. Is it morally wrong for another human to kill you? Under most circumstances yes. Why is it different if a human kills you instead of a flesh eating bacteria? The difference is that as humans we can recognize that it's in our own enlightened self interest not to kill each other, and ultimately ours is the only behavior we can control. We can, of course mitigate, or in some cases entirely prevent, the risks from these other forms of death. But we don't do it by convincing a shark that it's morally wrong to eat us.

What is the mechanism by which we enforce this moral prohibition against murder on other humans? We do it by forming societies and either implicitly or explicitly setting the norms for behavior. The first and most basic norm is that we generally agree not kill somebody else (certain exceptions apply). It's this social contract that enforces our moral system.

If somebody breaks that social contract by killing somebody else then that, in my mind, is tantamount to that person "opting out" of the social contract. And if they're not in the social contract with the rest of us then the prohibition against killing them does not apply (that's the whole reason it's in each of our own enlightened self interest to stay in the contract and behave more or less morally.) Therefore, capital punishment is a justifiable punishment for the crime of murder.

Now, having said that, I'm generally against the death penalty for exactly the reason Tripp stated. It's just not worth the risk of making a mistake and killing the wrong person. And the power of life and death is not something to casually hand over the state either. Even if something can be philosophically justified doesn't mean it should be done.


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Eric Jome
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ejmowrer wrote:
It's interesting how people have a soft spot in their hearts for a cold blooded murderer, yet don't even think twice about terminating the life of an unborn child, the very definition of innocent. Aren't we all just masses of tissue? The difference is the mass of unborn baby tissue didn't murder anybody and the mass of adult tissue, tats, and body piercings did.


You know, I was very proud of the pope on this. Their policy of the sanctity of life is at least consistent and well considered.

The problem here is that abortions cannot be stopped. But capital punishment can be. Individuals make bad decisions and end up worrying about an abortion. Entire societies plan and build a system for capital punishment.

Quote:
I'll be willing to do away with capital punishment if you can show me a fair way to discipline and 'rehabilitate' these people without slapping law abiding citizen in the face... you know... the ones that have to pay for their own college education, health care, food, recreation, etc.


Who said anything about "rehabilitate"? I said reparations. Pay for your crime. But not with your life - taking that away gives us little in return. Not much market for the pieces... well, you could always ask the Chinese how it's going. Perhaps cornea futures are on the rise.
 
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mdp4828 wrote:
If somebody breaks that social contract by killing somebody else then that, in my mind, is tantamount to that person "opting out" of the social contract.


Shall the entire society then opt out to kill that person?
 
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cosine wrote:
ejmowrer wrote:
It's interesting how people have a soft spot in their hearts for a cold blooded murderer, yet don't even think twice about terminating the life of an unborn child, the very definition of innocent. Aren't we all just masses of tissue? The difference is the mass of unborn baby tissue didn't murder anybody and the mass of adult tissue, tats, and body piercings did.


You know, I was very proud of the pope on this. Their policy of the sanctity of life is at least consistent and well considered.

The problem here is that abortions cannot be stopped. But capital punishment can be. Individuals make bad decisions and end up worrying about an abortion. Entire societies plan and build a system for capital punishment.

Quote:
I'll be willing to do away with capital punishment if you can show me a fair way to discipline and 'rehabilitate' these people without slapping law abiding citizen in the face... you know... the ones that have to pay for their own college education, health care, food, recreation, etc.


Who said anything about "rehabilitate"? I said reparations. Pay for your crime. But not with your life - taking that away gives us little in return. Not much market for the pieces... well, you could always ask the Chinese how it's going. Perhaps cornea futures are on the rise.


I said something about rehabilitate, because to merely punish would only make the problem worse. How do you put a price on murder? Torturing somebody for the rest of their life is morally superior to killing them?
 
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mdp4828 wrote:
Sweet Jesus I agree with Tripp.

The way I look at capital punishment is this: contrary to the declaration of independence you have no inherent right to life. Anything in this world can kill you from a microscopic virus to a saber tooth tiger. It's not morally wrong for those things to kill you. Other humans can also kill you. Is it morally wrong for another human to kill you? Under most circumstances yes. Why is it different if a human kills you instead of a flesh eating bacteria? The difference is that as humans we can recognize that it's in our own enlightened self interest not to kill each other, and ultimately ours is the only behavior we can control. We can, of course mitigate, or in some cases entirely prevent, the risks from these other forms of death. But we don't do it by convincing a shark that it's morally wrong to eat us.

What is the mechanism by which we enforce this moral prohibition against murder on other humans? We do it by forming societies and either implicitly or explicitly setting the norms for behavior. The first and most basic norm is that we generally agree not kill somebody else (certain exceptions apply). It's this social contract that enforces our moral system.

If somebody breaks that social contract by killing somebody else then that, in my mind, is tantamount to that person "opting out" of the social contract. And if they're not in the social contract with the rest of us then the prohibition against killing them does not apply (that's the whole reason it's in each of our own enlightened self interest to stay in the contract and behave more or less morally.) Therefore, capital punishment is a justifiable punishment for the crime of murder.

Now, having said that, I'm generally against the death penalty for exactly the reason Tripp stated. It's just not worth the risk of making a mistake and killing the wrong person. And the power of life and death is not something to casually hand over the state either. Even if something can be philosophically justified doesn't mean it should be done.




I've never really thought of it as a social contract like this. You've put to words what I only had in my mind as a vague, undefinable (by me), ideal of justice, which by definition has to be... well... just.
 
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Marshall P.
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cosine wrote:
mdp4828 wrote:
If somebody breaks that social contract by killing somebody else then that, in my mind, is tantamount to that person "opting out" of the social contract.


Shall the entire society then opt out to kill that person?


Um, what? Do you understand how contracts work? If you break our contract then I'm already out of the contract. If you break your contract with everybody in society then... I'll let you fill in the rest.
 
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ejmowrer wrote:
Torturing somebody for the rest of their life is morally superior to killing them?


I'm not interested in torturing them at all. I'm just interested in having them pay back their debt to society.

Let's for example say they took a life. It would seem to me that they should then fill that person's place by contributing on their behalf. And they should probably have to pull their own weight as well.

Labor camps. Fines. I am sure there are lots of ideas we can come up with for what we can put this person to work doing. But I'm certainly not going to waste anyone's time poking them with a sharp stick - now 3 people's lives are wasted, the victim, the criminal, and the torturer.

Reparations means contributing. Not suffering. Revenge is all about suffering.
 
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mdp4828 wrote:
Um, what? Do you understand how contracts work? If you break our contract then I'm already out of the contract. If you break your contract with everybody in society then... I'll let you fill in the rest.


This is revenge talking. Breaking the social contract does not give me the right to murder someone.

Learn to rise above your baser thoughts and feelings and do the right thing. Morality is not a contract. When you opt out, I don't get to opt out too. I should remain moral and just and do the right thing. Not stoop to your level and become a debased murderer.

An eye for an eye never meant that we should poke out eyes. It meant we should not go beyond fair compensation for a crime.
 
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cosine wrote:

This is revenge talking. Breaking the social contract does not give me the right to murder someone.


It does if the social contract is "I won't murder you as long as you don't murder anyone."

Quote:
Morality is not a contract.


I don't know how aware you are about a lot of research that has been done on the emergence of moral systems? It turns out that much of what we would consider moral behavior can be shown to emerge naturally from a rational agent acting in his own enlightened self interest using a strategy of reciprocal altruism. The strategy basically boils down to "be nice at first, but after that reciprocate the behavior of others."

This is all highly simplified I know, but we are having a very high level and simple discussion here. At this level of abstraction I believe my argument is sound.
 
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I don't know how aware you are about a lot of research that has been done on the emergence of moral systems? It turns out that much of what we would consider moral behavior can be shown to emerge naturally from a rational agent acting in his own enlightened self interest using a strategy of reciprocal altruism. The strategy basically boils down to "be nice at first, but after that reciprocate the behavior of others."


Well, Adam Smith figured it out for us about 250 years ago so I'm guessing current research is just affirming his postulates.

What rankles some about the self-interest theory (and Smith's subsequent writings about sympathetic accord with self-interest) is that it tends to fly in the face of the mythical truly selfless human being who acts out of the "pure altruistisitc nature of man". Richard Dawkins gave an almost perfect analogy of this "contract" when he described the tacit agreements that exist between monkeys who are tasked to pick nits from their fellows and expect their nits to be picked in kind.

Somebody has to go first and the point of an actual contract would be when, having gone first, your expectation for similar treatment is fulfilled.

Murdering another person is clearly breaking a social contract. And it's clear that having done that the murderer cannot ever be trusted to not repeat the behaviour if allowed to re-enter similar social contracts. Chances are he'll murder again... or commit other serious crimes.

While killing the murderer may bring emotional relief to some... and I'm sure it does to some... it may not to others and it certainly will never replace or even begin to repair the ripple effect and devastation that the murder created in the lives of the survivors. My personal feelings are that if it was beyond doubt that the murderer did commit the act and if society was unwilling to enforce a grueling reparation program... then capital punishment is a less acceptable alternative.

I still don't see how capital punishment fixes the damage done for anyone... although I'll admit that it does often remove a true threat to society and ensure no future murders from that particular monkey. I think (and I say "think" hoping it's as close as I'll ever get to the reality) I'd rather see a murderer have a long and harsh life ensuring that the family he robbed of their relative at the very least had extra money to pay for whatever things might ease their pain.

And it does remove the possibility of killing another innocent person through judicial or police incompetence.
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I will also express amazement at reading two (two!) of DW's posts where I am in nearly complete agreement.

While I'm not morally scandalized at the idea of capital punishment, its real-world execution (groan..) leads something to be desired. The judicial murder of an innocent person should be avoided at all costs. No one should die because their court-appointed lawyer is incompetent, but unfortunately, they do. Just as DNA and modern forensics have the ability to make a case, they have the ability to break a case. The retrospective analysis of prior capital cases is a decidedly mixed bag.
 
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I <3 Adam Smith.
 
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cosine wrote:
And for the most heinous crimes, there can be only one just and true retribution. The guilty must be punished. Execution. Revenge.

Or at least that's what a lot of people seem to think. But, a lot of people are thinking wrong. Because that's clearly not the right or just or best thing to do. The state must be the impartial arbiter of justice, not the instrument of hatred and revenge.


Huh? What is justice? What does it mean to be "just"? It means to be equitable, to be fair.

So you kill someone in cold blood...

Is letting them go free fair? No.

Is letting them sit in a cell all day watching cable TV for the rest of their life fair? No.

Life for life is fair. It may not be perfectly fair, but it is as close as we can come. You, however, seem less concerned with "justice" and "fairness" than with "making things better" through "reparations".

If you want to argue against capital punishment on the grounds of making reparations, then fine, but please don't then claim it is about justice and fairness.
 
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What's wrong with killing people?
Especially since they had their day in court and were convicted?
The history of the world, my sweet,
is who gets eaten and who gets to eat.
Because in all of the whole human race,
there are two kinds of men and only two
There's the one they put in his proper place
And the one with his foot in the other one's face.
Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief
For the rest of us death will be a relief.


 
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Koldfoot wrote:
Just got around to reading this thread and I have one comment which at a glance may seem to have little to do with the topic at hand.

A common misconception is that the US has a justice system. It may be called that, but courts no longer determine what is just. Courts, with very few exceptions, determine what is legal. In many cases courts are statutorily barred from determining what is just.

I wish we had a system for justice. We don't. We have a system that determines what is legal and what isn't. The two are as far apart as east is from west.

Having said that, Capital Punishment for certain crimes is just and will always be just. It is currently legal.


Here's a good one. The Supreme Court, in order to prevent potential lawsuits, has stated that the police have no responsibility in stopping crimes -- even if they happen to be in the vicinity. The court provides for the officers' judgement to be applied.

In essence the police do not have to protect you. They are not a preventetive. The individual is owed nothing in this case, because society at large is considered more important. Therefore, the purpose of the police, using their line of reasoning, is to investigate after the fact so that the rest of the group may be protected. The person being assailed has no remedy, other than self-defense. Think about that next time you are threatened.
 
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Koldfoot wrote:
Osiris Ra wrote:
Think about that next time you are threatened.


I'll be thinking about the legally carried .38 strapped to my ankle and the tiny 5 shot .22 magnum in my pocket. As a cab driver I've had to give them some thought in the past, maybe 2 or 3 times every year, but luckily have never had to do more than think about them.


That reminds me of a funny comment someone made, and you might appreciate it:
The most stressful job today.
Bank guard in Alaska.
You've got six customers, and all of them are wearing ski-masks.
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Koldfoot wrote:
Osiris Ra wrote:
Think about that next time you are threatened.


I'll be thinking about the legally carried .38 strapped to my ankle and the tiny 5 shot .22 magnum in my pocket. As a cab driver I've had to give them some thought in the past, maybe 2 or 3 times every year, but luckily have never had to do more than think about them.


The old-timer cops at my lodge swear by the Sig Saur .45s. They took to them as backups for the NYC now-standard-issue Glocks, instead of the recommended .38 backups. Just as reliable, and with more stopping power.
 
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cosine wrote:
DWTripp wrote:
I will say though, revenge is a part of what humans are.


"what humans unfortunately are now and aspire to be better than"


There is no way to change human nature. Get it through there. There will never be a way. No amount of social engineering can or will change the tail-less hominid. Nothing. Never. All of the experiments in that area have turned people miserable.

Hell, if you did find some wat then I, or someone like me, would have to destroy you and kill all your work. Simple.

You seem to believe in the quaint notion of progress. As this was a myth invented by a 19th century philosopher it should have been left in the 19th century, just like those other 19th century idiocies -- Marxism and socialism.
 
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Koldfoot wrote:
Sig makes good firearms. My old man has a .357 Sig and it is a pleasure to shoot. I'll probably get one if a Democrat is elected in '08 simply to have one before high capacity magazines and/or another class of firearms are again banned.

A semiauto is never as reliable as a revolver. If a revolver misfires you simply pull the trigger again. Although with practice people can become quite adept at clearing misfires in a semiauto, in a real-life, adrenaline-rush situation I'd much prefer to pull the trigger again.


These are old-time cops, real conservative in their choices. Not a one has had the .45 ACP jam and they have had to use them.

I am real happy to have these guys in NYC, as we are losing most of the cops who left Nam and joined the force. Most of the idiots who came in without a military background f*ked things up royally. They had no idea when a threat response called for armed force, except for what they saw from Dirty Harry films. Damned shame. It is why NYC has had so many problems with our PD from the mid 80s-late 90s. I am hoping that the guys and gals who served in both Iraq wars will replace most of the f*kups. I suppose that there is always hope.
 
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Osiris Ra wrote:
There is no way to change human nature. Get it through there. There will never be a way. No amount of social engineering can or will change the tail-less hominid. Nothing. Never. All of the experiments in that area have turned people miserable.


I weep for you. I really do. It must be terrible to live in a world of fear and despair, where the monsters that prowl the streets are only a moment away from stripping you of your life for their amusement and pleasure.

I suppose it makes it easier to ignore the suffering of others and accept their deaths - even a defeatist fatalism has it's rewards, I guess.
 
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cosine wrote:
Osiris Ra wrote:
There is no way to change human nature. Get it through there. There will never be a way. No amount of social engineering can or will change the tail-less hominid. Nothing. Never. All of the experiments in that area have turned people miserable.


I weep for you. I really do. It must be terrible to live in a world of fear and despair, where the monsters that prowl the streets are only a moment away from stripping you of your life for their amusement and pleasure.

I suppose it makes it easier to ignore the suffering of others and accept their deaths - even a defeatist fatalism has it's rewards, I guess.


You weep for no one. Just sit upon your throne feeling smug and superior. What do you actually do besides spout off the wisdom from the tablets you have written there atop your mountain? You complain, but what do you do?

As far as people go, they are mostly monsters. It is the reason I gave up my pursuit of becoming a psychiatrist, and took a masters in misanthropology.

BTW, could at least try to be a little funny. You are way too serious.
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