The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To kill or not to kill?

The death penalty raises a lot of emotions. People seem to come down on one side or the other; they are either in favor of it or opposed to it, there seems to be no middle ground. And how could there be? Death is permanent, irrevocable. Once the penalty is carried out, it cannot be rescinded. There are no "do overs."

You might have guessed by now that I am torn about the death penalty. I favor its existence as an option. I dislike its implementation. I worry about the possibility that an innocent person might be executed. I am certain that this has happened. More than once, I am sure. We have an imperfect system, as all systems created by humans are. And imperfect systems create opportunities for error.

On the other hand, there are people who I believe deserve the death penalty. For the good of society, maybe for the good of mankind.

I admire those who strongly oppose the death penalty on moral grounds. Those who believe that the state has no more right to take a life than any of its citizens, who would not kill even in self defense. I once thought I had that conviction. I was wrong. I was lying to myself. I would kill to defend myself or to defend another. And I have come to view society as I would a person. I believe it has the right to kill in defense of itself or a member of that society. Even a member of another society.

Think back to World War II, perhaps the only moral war in history. But it wasn't seen that way by many and it definitely wasn't seen that way in the beginning. It was seen as revenge and as self preservation. We did not know what the Nazis were actually doing to Jews and any people they saw as undesirables; Gypsies, Slavs, the mentally and/or physically disabled, and more. We had inklings, of course, there were signs of what was to come even before the war began. But we didn't declare war against the Germans until after they declared war against us. And they did that because we declared war against Japan in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the end, we realized that the war was truly a war between good and evil. And people died because of it. Innocent people who were merely caught in the middle.

A person who believes that a state has no right to kill would have to believe that even World War II was immoral. Yet not to fight it could also be seen as immoral. To not fight it was not really an option. When I was in the Navy, there was a concept used by those opposed to the Vietnam War. It went "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" An interesting concept. But a faulty one. At least one side will always show up. If someone wants to kill you and you do nothing to stop him, he will succeed. You will be dead. You may be morally correct but you will still be dead. If you do not act to defend someone else, they will die. If you do not resist aggression, aggression will succeed. In order to "give" a war, an aggressor must exist.

I have known people who think that we, and others, pushed the Japanese into war. They also thought that Germany was forced into Nazism and thus war by their treatment after WW I. They made logical and powerful arguments. All of which were flawed. We choose our reactions to perceived slights and insults. Our parents taught us that, did they not?

I recall one day when my son came into the house with his friend David and complained that David had hit him. I asked him what he had done that made David want to hit him and Brian replied, "I hit him first." I am sure there were words exchanged before that and that these led to an escalation into the hitting. I didn't care about that, the choices were made by both to escalate it and Brian was merely the first to choose to make it physical. He could have chosen other ways to react but didn't. Therefore, he was in the wrong.

I see the death penalty in much the same way. It is a symbol of society's willingness to resist murder of its citizens. A person chose to place himself in a position which led to his facing the death penalty. That is not the fault of the state. If you put yourself in a position where you could be perceived to be guilty of a capital crime, you are not an innocent. You are a victim of your own poor choices.

Still, it is conceivable that a completely innocent person might find himself facing execution, as rare as that might be. And that is why I am so ambivalent about it.

1 comment:

Tom Sightings said...

I think I'm with you -- I'm in favor of he death penalty in theory b/c some crimes are so heinous (mass murder; serial murder; torture) that society has no reason to extend a sympathetic hand. But I'm opposed in practice -- b/c it's too cumbersome, too divisive, and like you say, the justice system sometimes gets it wrong.