Death Penalty

January 16, 2007

A friend asked me recently about my opinions on the death penalty “in the light of recent events”. I assume she meant the hangings in Iraq but, personally, I think it more compelling when related to the dwindling idea of ‘free will’.

When it comes to personal feeling on the death penalty it is something a vary wildly on depending on whether I am sitting, relaxed and in happy mode or, alternatively, on the phone trying to get a call centre to solve a problem not related to my incompetence, but to the creeping senility of the company they represent. Something they can do nothing about since they are located in Bombay and have no actual connection to the offending American company apart from a monthly cheque and an email box marked ‘crucial-must be taken further’ that no-one reads.

When I take over the world my first law will be against the farming-out of call centres since there is no chain-of-command for you to climb in order to find the inept individual who’s throat you now want to wring.

But back to the point. Death Penalty is a choice you make when you choose what type of society you are going to have. Do you have a ‘rights of the individual’ type of society like South Africa or the UK or a ‘for the good of the people’ society like China or Cuba. Or some sort of inbetween mish-mash.

Pure ‘right of the individual’ societies the government is there to serve the idividual as a ‘servant government’ and protect their rights. Since the first right is usually ‘the right to life’ any thought of the state or people sanctioning killing makes the system break down. Respect for laws are only maintained because they serve the individual and respect them.*

In’good of the people’ societies you can have the death penalty as it can be ruled by the government or it’s judiciary, who serve the interest of the population as a whole, that the population of the country is better off with you dead. the advantage there would be the lack of reality television and daytime talk shows dumbing down the population as those folks would either be breaking rocks on a chain gang or feeding the local flora in a very personal and final way. In China, for instance, whole villages and districts have been allowed to starve when the rest of the country has spare food. It was deemed, for whatever reasons, that saving those people was too problematic.

Ultimately all other arguments come after that. When it comes right down to it human life (including mine) is not terribly important. we would like to believe otherwise and we are wont to join countless groups and organisations that flatter us and who say it is so but, really, it isn’t. The fact is that the way we try to understand the universe around us is a cute trick but it doesn’t actually make us important.

If we go to our genes for an answer they are selfish and concerned only with their individual survival and propagation. So from their point of view lowering any chance of you, personally, dying is ‘the business’. The successful genes were ones that made us pack animals so we form societies. Generally, the bigger the societies the safer we get. If use that motivator alone we have to simply choose which type of society is safer. Ultimately a ‘big brother’ society with no privacy and no freedom of choice is probably the safest. That society would in all probability have the death penalty. Conceivably for parking on a yellow line or answering your cellphone in the middle of a conversation at lunch. Personally, I approve.

If we go to morals for an answer we hit trouble. Whose morals do we use? I know of no two individuals who agree on absolutely everything. Hence the word ‘individual’.

Logical argument would state that societies are formed for the protection of the people within them. Worries over false conviction or possibly over ‘justifiable homicide’ would not allow for the risk of killing someone ‘incorrectly’. So you would place murderers in a position where they could not murder again. In isolation from physical contact. No death penalty. But what if the society cannot shoulder the expense and this causes people to starve? Too messy.

Ultimately I go to an extremely childish, simple but I reckon appropriate societal idea. When representing an idea that is deemed ‘right’ you should represent it through actions, not words. “Do as I do” rather than “Do as I say.” You cannot tell people that killing is wrong and then do it to the killers any more than you can teach a child not to bully others by beating him. You cannot tell a child “sweets are bad for you” and then allow them to be advertised on television.

If, as it seems increasingly likely from scientific breakthroughs in analysis of live brains, we turn out not to have free will the entire concept of punishment has to be looked at again. If we are programmed constructs then rehabilitation amounts to reprogramming or, as it is known rather dramaticaly in the spy genre, “brainwashing”. Then we need to very carefully evaluate our ideas on freedom, especially in regard to broadcast media and what is fed to us.

Peronally I have to say: It’s a beautiful day out and the swimming pool is calling. What say we just flip a coin over this whole death penalty thing? Tails- no death penalty. Heads, well… ask the French.

*Once it is plain that the law has no respect for the individual that individual will not respect the law. I think the fact that the laws of South Africa and our ‘servant government’ are seen to do little or not enough to look after the individual rights of our poorest (whether it be through incompetence or simply budgetary constraints) citizens is one of the leading factors in our crime rate.

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