Sunday, April 16, 2017

Quick Thoughts on the Death Penalty

1) I am against the death penalty. This is for a very visceral reason. The idea of telling a human being that he or she is going to be put to death at a particular time, in a particular place, and that there is nothing he or she can do to escape that, seems utterly brutal to me. I can't get over that. Now and again, when reading about a condemned prisoner, this strikes me with great force.

Somehow, it would seem better if the judge took out a pistol in a moment of rage and executed the prisoner on the spot-- less inhuman.

Besides that, there is the paradox that the death penalty is usually reserved for crimes so bad that it's hard to believe the convicts are not insane, or at least not moral agents in any meaningful sense, whatever the psychologists say. I admit this is a controversial subject, even a slippery slope. (Both Lewis and Chesterton pointed out that replacing the idea of evil with the idea of mental illness must have extremely deleterious consequences.) But it's how I feel.

2) I also have a ghoulish fascination with the death penalty-- last words, execution methods, the drama of the last day, the spectacle of someone who has put himself (or herself) so far beyond the pale of ordinary humanity that we seem to be dealing with another form of life. I'm not proud of this. if America abolished the death penalty tomorrow, this ghoulish part of me would be disappointed.

3) There's another part of me that values American exceptionalism, from imperial measurements to driving on the right side of the road. I want America to be different. So, if America abolished the death penalty tomorrow, this side of me would also be disappointed.

4) Chesterton once said that, although he was anti-vivisectionist, he was also anti-anti-vivisectionist. I'm anti-death penalty; but I often find myself feeling distinctly anti-anti-death penalty. The rhetoric opponents of the death penalty often use is guaranteed to antagonize me. Society has moved this day and age...barbaric... Listening to many death penalty opponents-- their rhetoric, more than their arguments-- makes me want to bring back public hanging. And I nearly always have a sympathy with someone making an unfashionable and stigmatised argument, so I can't help half-siding with death penalty advocates in such debates.

On the whole though, I'm against it.

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