11 thoughts on “Cruel and increasingly unusual

  1. Supercilious self-righteousness is no evidence of civilization either. I’m sick and tired of hearing people arrogantly assume they’re on the moral high ground when they oppose the death penalty. It’s the snob’s way of trying to prevent serious discussion.

  2. It’s the snob’s way of trying to prevent serious discussion.

    Feel free to initiate one.

    You may wish to take into account such things as i) the fallibility of all known judicial systems ii) whether it’s legitimate for any person to coldbloodedly take a life in any context iii) the empirical evidence for any deterrent effect of capital punishment.

    Alternatively, you may just wish to whine about liberal arrogance. Entirely your call.

  3. I had just come around to the idea of capital punishment when I read Hitchens argument against it: that it is the deliberate destruction of evidence. Ethically, I think both sides have good arguments, but, pragmatically, that one takes some beating.

  4. John: i) applies as a critique to the whole criminal justice system; ii) requires you to be a pacifist to some degree (most of us aren’t, but I guess the SBBS Assassination Policy meets the test); iii) the evidence is very mixed, but not non-existent – and for some hang-em-and-flog-em types (well, me, anyway), the goal is retribution, not deterrence.

  5. I agree re i – however, you can let an innocent person out of jail, which is a salient difference. Re ii, you don’t need to be a full-on pacifist: formulating things in self-defence terms works fine (an imprisoned murderer is not a significant) threat to society. Re iii, I agree the evidence is somewhat mixed, which is why I phrased it as ‘the empirical evidence’ rather than ‘the lack of’.

    Retribution is a more interesting one. I don’t really believe in it as a goal of the criminal justice system – IMO the gov’t ought to keep people as free possible, both from crime and from punishment where the latter isn’t required to prevent future crime. This is where I really part company from conservatives on the death penalty issue, and therefore generally avoid arguing about it (cos I think you’re wrong and weird, you think I’m wrong and weird, and nothing empirical is going to make a blind bit of difference to either of us…)

  6. Sounds about right to me John – very different conceptions of justice and how to achieve it, I think. You’re still wrong and weird, though, obviously.

    Re ii – I agree you don’t need to be a full-on pacifist, but you do have to draw the line pretty damned tightly. Which makes me wonder where it leaves all the liberal hawks (like Hitchens, for example)?

  7. John’s obviously right about all judicial systems being fallible. The question then becomes : Is it worse to run the risk of executing the wrong person, or to allow murderers to evade capital punishment? For me, 2 factors are important : a) How high do we set the criterion of proof? Clearly it must be high enough to minimize error, maybe with criminal accountability for those responsible for insufficiently founded verdicts , and b)
    How much is it going to cost to imprison and guard those who would otherwise have been humanely killed by lethal injection? Sounds a bit crass, I know, but when you consider how many lives such massive sums could theoretically save in ,say, Darfur, you realize that it is a questionable morality to keep a few guilty people alive at the expense of the lives of the many innocent.
    The second point that John raises is probably the central one. I have respect for pacifists, and for those like Gandhi and Martin Luther King who have thought the thing out and live it. Nevertheless, it is possible to be a person of integrity and idealism and still come to a different conclusion. There are times, I believe, when cold-blooded, premeditated homicide is not only legitimate but morally obligatory. Imagine a situation where a psychopath has taken a school class hostage and is systematically murdering the children ; a cool head and an accurate police bullet would surely be the lesser evil in such a case?
    On a completely different level, there is the argument that is based on the Bible : namely, that we are actually obliged(!) by God to administer retributive justice, which explicitly includes the duty of executing murderers. From this point of view, we have no right NOT to execute.
    As regards the empirical evidence, all that I’ve seen points unequivocally to a deterrent effect. Maybe it’s purely circumstantial, and the fall in the murder rate was due to other factors we have yet to identify, but until we do, I assume it’s down to the reintroduction of capital punishment.
    There are passionately – and honestly – held beliefs on both sides of this debate, but we degrade both ourselves and our point of view when we abandon reason in favour of self-flattering propaganda.

  8. "How much is it going to cost to imprison and guard those who would otherwise have been humanely killed by lethal injection?"

    It works out cheaper to keep them in prison until they die: mainly due, I believe, to the vast amount spent on legal arguments making sure they "deserve" the death penalty (you could phrase that another way I guess). There is an excellent book on this subject (who’s title I typically forget) written by a US lawyer who started out as being passionately pro-death penalty, and after researching the topic for a book sided against capital punishment, mainly for the pragmatic reasons John gives. The point about about cost comes from there.

    Ah, here it is: On Amazon

  9. An article I read in 1999, which was pretty much pro-death penalty, alluded to estimates of executions in the US costing an average of 5 to 10 times a 40-year prison sentence.

    Which is why it’s retribution that swings it (pardon the pun) for me.

  10. I remain a bit sceptical on the costing. I don’t think it’s fair to include the legal costs only as part of the execution alternative ; in principle, they should be equally high in both cases. After all, they belong to the expense of ascertaining guilt, which should be equally important regardless of system.
    Thanks for the information, though. I trust I stand correctable, even though the idea looks very counter-intuitive.

  11. Why should some bullying murderer get away with it just because he is 16 i knew what i was doing when i was 16.
    Bullies are evil and want o kill people like me . So down with bullying thugs.
    Why does it make any difference how old you are. Who cahncges that much from when they werwe 16 to 18. I dont Thugs wanted me to die when i was at school if they had killed me they shoukld have been hanged. I dont se what is wrong with that. Bring back the death penalty to snobby bullying thugs. Thyere were really evil sadistic cruelly snobby bullies at my school who wanted guys like me to die, so those bullying thugs should be hanged under law. I am not dangerous they are. They wanted me to die and still do so why can’t i feel the same way back.
    Down with bullies.

    Why is it when the bully suffers you care but when the victim suffers you dont. Why what kind of derrnaged morality is that.Youre not liberal you just support abuse.

    Here is my impersonation of your logic
    Why dont we give money to child abusers wife beaters rapists and that will show all us swivel eyed victims who are really insane for being upset at being bullied and never getting justice. Better still why don’t we give money to israeli soldiers who shoot dead Palestian children, so they can tell their side of the story and laugh and goad their victims after all all that will be hillarious to watch the "swivel eyed" Palestinian victims getting upset and tramustied and killing themslves due to the injustice. Yes bring back fucked reverse logic morality blame the victim brick wall psychos, sadistic fuickers with manipaultive crappy evil loigic, let them sneer and trmautise their victims more and more into mental illness, traamtise and pulverise the vicitim and then say well the victims had a nervous breakdown so it serves them right. And then call the victim hate filled anda ranter, but then when they abuser suffers get really upset and Yes get back at the victim

    Now for my real view.
    Down with shitheads who want to punish the victim.
    Maybe if you ever suffer a form of abuse we’ll all rember how you feel about victims.
    This is a copy of an e-mail i sent on the subject of two evil snobby bullying evil elitist snide thugs Tom Pualin and Andrew O’Hagan. Why does your paper employ and listen to snide bullying thugs like Tom Paulin and Andrew O’Hagan. They are bullying thugs the sort who would join the NAZIs in the thirties. They are snobby elitist bullying thugs. Both are literally psychopaths and have commented on wanting the deaths of people they don’t like for no reason. Paulin wants Jews in Israel murdered, he also hates shy qiet men who live on their own. I think i will be like that when i grow up, so fuck off to Pualin. . . While O’Hagan wants all shy men who live on their own to kill themselves because the snobby evil thug O’Hagan thinks if he hates people then they should surely carry out the punishment on themselves, as punishment for O’hagans psychotic mindset. O’Hagan and Paulin are psychotic evil elitist snobby scum. Dont give me any immoral indignation crap of some psychotic thug getting angry that i would be upset about some evil thug wanting people like me to die. I know some scum bags are so psychopthaic that they don’t even think it right for me to get angry when i hear of scum who want people like me to die.
    Up with http://www.netwebresearch.com/servicesview
    Down with evil bullying thugs who htink their the voice of common sense. Down with thugs.
    Defensive comments.
    I am not on thos board for advice or to be inslulted by some evil snide snobby abusive scum bag i am hear to give an opinion. It is not my fault that there are some shitheads so derrnaged that when they hear anti abuse view they get angry and start spouiting out crap. And don’t tell me some crap that my words are a rant, or boring, or insane.
    The fact is my views are profound and if you disagree with me your a dangerous evil shitherad who toloarates and supports abuse, you htink people like me should be emotional punch bags for evil scum. All abusers htink their victims are trvial scum so it no wonder you htink it is disagraceful of me to have the cheek to complain about abuse and bullying.
    Tom Paulin is scum.

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