Friday, May 23, 2014

Out, Out

There's an argument for the death penalty (and, apparently, the electric chair specifically) that goes something like this:

If a man raped your daughter and murdered her, You'd wanna see him fry.
Well, given that I copied that verbatim from a discussion about capital punishment, this particular argument goes exactly like that.

While I understand the sentiment, this has always struck me as an exceedingly weak argument for capital punishment. Mainly because it refuses to take ownership of the issue. Taking a stand on an issue means taking responsibility for that stand. Which precludes claiming that people who don't agree with you are dishonest, not thoughtful or have never had anything awful happen to them. (Reality intrudes, too. There are people in the world today who have had a loved one raped and murdered, but yet do not support the death penalty; whether out of personal mercy, a willingness to forgive or an understanding that another body doesn't make anything better.)

We, as a society, are within our rights to decide that death is an appropriate punishment for certain acts. Right now, that means that the collective we are okay with (or at least not heavily opposed to) the idea of the state executing people. Now, in my opinion, this means that at least some us understand that we're likely to do in some innocent people that way (and have likely already done so), and also understand that we're taking a risk that we, or someone we care about, might even be one of them. But, especially, if we have enthusiasm for the idea, we should be secure enough in our willingness to support state-run executions (and sometimes, it seems, state-encouraged vengefulness) that we don't have to question the motives, consideration or experiences of others.

Personally, I'm in the "not really opposed" camp. But I wouldn't be unhappy if it went away, especially because I understand the risks and believe that the death penalty shouldn't be a means for us to outsource our need for vengeance, simply so we can sate our anger and bloodlust without risking getting any of it on our own hands. And I think that it often becomes just that. The state shouldn't be an instrument of revenge. If I decide that I have a need for vengeance against someone who has done me a grievous harm, it's my job to put a bullet in them. And then to camp out on the courthouse steps with the smoking gun and a willingness to do the time.

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