The Death Penalty: One Pacifist's Defense

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

Wrestling with the age old dilemma: eye for an eye? (approx. 1225 words)


The Death Penalty


This subject has only fascinated me recently, say, the past five years or so. Why it flew under my intellectual radar before that is lost on me.


People who are against it morally, who say you should never knowingly take another human life, are missing the point. What about the perpetrator, who knowingly took a life, or lives? Where is it rational in the human mind to cut them slack, to give them a break, to not make them face the same fate they violently FORCED upon their victim(s)?


I have a question for people against the death penalty: Might you change your opinion if your mother was raped and killed while taking a walk in her bucolic neighborhood? Would you not want that SOB killed? Would you be satisfied knowing that he was getting 3 squares a day, a bed, and probably a better basic cable package than you? That he still lived while your loved one did not? What kind of sense of justice is that? I’ve found most people against the death penalty to be rooted in self absorption, employing little or no empathy for their fellow men that’ve had loved ones violently yanked from their lives. What prompts my question to them is my belief their stance on the issue is based on abstraction. Brutal, cold reality would likely change the tune they sing.


There is a cogent argument against the eye-for-an-eye thing. That if we lower ourselves to their barbaric level, then we are no better than they are. But I don't think exacting revenge for barbaric acts is lowering ones self. It is eliminating a bad person. And that is the real crux for me.


There are simply some evil mother******* out there. There is no fixing them. There is no rehabilitating them. There is some legitimate research that supports the claim that many criminals in America, upon being released or paroled from prison, commit crimes to get back inside to what they perceive as "stability". And why would they perceive that? Because they are sociopathic chew toys who instinctively realize, upon re-entry, that civilized society has no tolerance for their behavior. They actually prefer the controlled insanity that is prison life.


Recidivism? It spits in the eye of the silly concept of rehabilitation. Sure, I understand that some men have gone to prison, played their cards right, learned a few things, and come out and been good, productive citizens. Those men did that in SPITE of the inept prison rehab programs. I also understand that MANY, MANY more men have come out of prison even more depraved than when they went in.


Anyone who has spent time in prison knows it's anything but a breeding ground for fixing what ails you. It is not a psychologist's couch. It's prison. Rehab is a myth. If you go to prison, it is very, very likely you will come out at least as bad a person as when you went in. Probably worse. That is common sense.


Scott Peterson should not die? O.J. Simpson should not die?




I am absolutely astounded that someone has not killed O.J., just completely blown away by that fact. In our society, where people kill for kicks? Where a whacked out freak executes the most innocent of the innocent, young Amish girls? And O.J. is playing golf everyday? (Update: I know he is now in jail) No one has just walked up and shot him in the head? Astounding.


George Carlin does a bit about how we can expand the concept of the death penalty, to weave it into our culture, to, for lack of a better phrase, make it more appealing. Of course, that would involve televising the "event".


Yeah, tell me you wouldn't watch. George says bring back public beheadings. Gruesome, sure. But with the camera on the grieving loved ones of the deceased, as the ax comes down, that would be compelling TV.


I hate bad guys. I have no moral or intellectual problem with having another human being put to death who has warranted that response.


And that is what it really boils down to. How do we determine what type of crime deserves the death penalty?


There are many different types of murder. Crimes of passion, for example. Spur of the moment, one time only murder. I don't vote for death there. You may be sensing a contradiction in that argument regarding O.J., whose acts were clearly crimes of passion. Well, maybe. So what. Total consistency is boring. I want O.J. dead. Simple as that. 


Kill a child? You die. Kill an ex girlfriend or wife? You fry. And how many of these angry ex’s also kill their own children? A lot. Kill a cop? See ya. Kill a politician, a person dedicated to serving the public interest? (yeah, I know, politicians suck) You should still fry. Randomly killing another human being for no particular reason, a thrill kill? Absolutely....fry, with extreme prejudice. Raping and killing a woman? Public beheading and then head and torso tossed into a dumpster and set on fire.


I could go on, but you get my gist.


And yet, I am a pacifist. I hate guns. Never seen the inside of a police cell, nor even a police car. My philosophy is rooted in the acknowledgment that certain people are bad, and our societal squeamishness in dealing with them allows many of them to flourish, not unpunished, but living a better life than the one they stole.


It has to stop. I don't care if the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent, which of course it doesn't, as the killing goes on unabated. And yes, I acknowledge, from a DA's standpoint, that prosecuting a death penalty case is difficult. But it's not about deterring potential killers.


It's about justice.


And separating justice and revenge is not as simple as it sounds. Revenge may be, and often is, characterized, justly or unjustly, as a form of justice. And the flip side? Two wrongs don’t make a right? Nice sound bite, but try putting your head to the pillow each night and saying that instead of counting sheep, after a day spent at your slain mother’s gravesite.


Justice is an artificial concept in the sense that it grew naturally out of the need for survival and social order.


I am comfortable using both terms in the same sentence. Being nuanced terms, they almost beg to be linked. And for this argument to boil down to semantics is silly. Shakespeare met this conceptual clash head on in “Hamlet”.



In "Hamlet", the concept of revenge was much more noble and simple then the enacting of it. That alone might hint at Shakespeare's underlying message: revenge is a messy, unfortunate undertaking whose price might not be worth paying. It seems that Shakespeare is making a commentary on how one's sense of justice can easily become a warped and corrupted ideal when revenge is the motivator.


I’ll settle on a bottom line which, for the sake of this argument, bypasses abstractions like ‘motivation’, and ‘corrupted ideals’.


Humans have historically engaged in a thinning of the herd. The death penalty is simply a semi modern-day form of that.


Now, back to Carlin’s idea…


Submitted: April 03, 2012

© Copyright 2022 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.

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