Friday, September 30, 2011

On Capital Punishment

I was struck by a remark made by a regular reader and commenter on my blog, John Myste. I don’t exactly remember where it was located, so I can’t link to it [yet], but John mentioned that after sharing his view that capital punishment should be banned, he found little support for it, even on the left.

To be honest, I’m not too fond of the idea of ending capital punishment mysef, but I am disgusted by the actual practice of capital punishment in America. The poor (who are often ethnic minorities) are more likely to be executed for their crimes, and part of this is linked to their inability to afford adequate legal counsel. But I think I have a solution to the problem.

I think capital punishment should be banned… for poor people. I don’t have a specific way of determining how to define “poor people,” but I think being too poor to be represented by anyone but a public defender is a good start. I think we can even exclude the middle class.

I would like to see the actual number of victims considered, as well. Let’s say you kill 10 people. You can count those ten people as victims, then everyone they’re directly related to, and maybe even throw in their close friends. I imagine those ten people were close with about 10-50 people each, so that means about 100-500 people were affected, and this is just a rough guesstimate. I can easily imagine scenarios where the numbers skyrocket, and there is probably no upper limit to the possible number of victims directly affected.

While this may seem callous, that isn’t very many people. It just isn’t. In a nation of over 300 million, a few hundred people barely registers. And indeed, people are killed in America every day, and unless you’re a white, middle- or upper-class woman, your story probably won’t even end up on the news. Not even most child deaths are reported nationally anymore, just a bunch of missing mothers and female college students. I guess the news only reports on a story that may elicit an image of an attractive Caucasian female being raped in a dingy basement somewhere.

I don’t think we should be executing people for murder, if only because I think that’s what the murderer wants. It seems like these days, most of the murders I hear and read about end in the killer taking their own life. It seems to me that executing a murderer is just finishing what he started (and it is usually a he). Make them live with the guilt. Make them slowly waste away in a cell while the world goes on without them.

This is especially important to me as an atheist, because I don’t think a person goes to hell when they die if they’re a bad person. From my perspective, killing someone is letting them off easy. The punishment ends once you execute someone, but it can drag on for years if you keep them alive. If your intent is retribution, the way to go is life in prison. The prospect of decades alone in a cell is infinitely more terrifying than putting them out of their misery.

But I’m not willing to throw capital punishment out altogether. I would like to change who is subject to execution, and I also take issue with the methods used. I’ll start with who I think we ought to be targeting with the death penalty.

The answer is simple: we should be making a public example of those whose actions affect millions. We should be killing those who pose a serious threat to society itself, not those who hurt a few people here or there. No, I’m not talking about terrorists. I think we should only execute politicians and white-collar, corporate criminals.

I never saw a better candidate for capital punishment than Bernie Madoff. That piece of human waste deserves to die. I feel no sympathy for him, and my deepest wish is that someone in jail castrates him and makes him eat his own genitals. I cannot wish enough horrible things upon him and those like him. When you gamble away the futures of millions of people, you deserve no future, and perhaps even a bloody, horrible demise.

And as for politicians, I think there are a whole host of crimes that warrant the death penalty. Bribery, for one, war crimes being another. If you betray the trust of your constituents by being beholden to wealthy interests, you undermine the very democracy our nation is built on. I can think of few things more truly dangerous than that… except maybe using a nation’s army to settle personal vendettas and to line the pockets of war profiteers, while in the process killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians. That also makes you not worthy of the oxygen you breathe.

Now that I think I have settled who should be subject to capital punishment, and for what sorts of crimes, I have to say: I take issue with the way executions occur now. The methods we use now are so… so… sterile and boring.

Here’s what I’m thinking: once every year or so, we should gather all of the condemned in a stadium, and they should be made to fight to the death for our amusement, and it should be televised on Pay-Per-View. All proceeds from PPV and ticket sales should go towards paying victims and their families.

I’m thinking we can mix it up and take a few cues from the Romans. In the morning, we could have corrupt bankers being fed to lions, tigers and bears (oh my). Around midday, there could be some hand-to-hand combat using medieval weaponry between disgraced elected officials. And for the main event: we’ll flood the arena floor with water, throw in some hungry sharks, and give all remaining contestants jet skis and chainsaws. The last man standing gets to live to fight another battle.

During the “off-season,” as it were, those awaiting their fate could be subjected to medical testing, and the surviving wounded could be used as practice for young surgeons. The general idea here is, we should make good use of these people who tried to take too much from society.

Ultimately, I don’t see capital punishment as a deterrent for murder. Most murderers don’t contemplate their crime far ahead of time; it is often a decision made in the moment, without much thought, and is often based on fleeting emotions.

I would rather see capital punishment reserved for more deliberate crimes, the kind that require criminal decisions to be made over and over again over a period of time. It is these types of crimes that can be deterred, because they require one to make conscious decisions to break the law. Having a corporation buy your vote is not a crime of passion, nor is scamming investors out of billions of dollars. These are crimes against humanity, crimes perpetrated by those who betray the power and privilege we as a society bestow upon a very select few. These are crimes committed by those who know better, by those who abuse their status and public trust. Really, they are the crimes of those who think (and right now, know) they can get away with it.

What better way to send the message that, “No, you will pay for your crimes,” than to promise a bloody and painful death before the roar of a crowd they cheated?


  1. Jesus! This is the most barbaric analysis I have seen yet.

    I disagree that people deserve to suffer for any reason. I know that is a minority opinion. I strenuously disagree that making society more barbaric would act as a deterrent to crime. And I super strenuously disagree that trading unintentional inequality for intentional inequality against the rich would promote any form of social justice. I am trying to figure out the possible benefit of reviving Roman barbarism.

    I will read this more thoroughly when I get off work. I sure it was meant in jest. Actually, kind of amusing.

  2. The idea is, I suggest making this the liberal stance (fat chance, liberals are huge pussies), and then we can all compromise and just say no one should be put to death, because that is a line no one should cross.

  3. The problem is this: assuming that the liberal stance is no capital punishment (it is not, but I will assume that it is for the sake of the discussion), and assuming the conservative stance is "kill them."

    Then here are my choices:

    1. Liberal stance is best.
    2. Conservative stance is barely tolerable.
    3. This new object is unthinkably bad.

    I don't consider it a compromise. The third option promotes something more barbaric than capital punishment and it also intentionally promotes social injustice.

    I am one of the liberal pussies who would never agree. It is capital punishment the way a lion might do it.

  4. My suggestion is not the compromise, it is a strategic position to argue from in order to achieve the compromise.

    You're thinking checkers, but we're playing chess.

  5. I wondered why my checkers were so tall.

  6. Alright, that came off as condescending...

    Basically, let me lay it out simply in plain language. Republicans worship the rich and powerful, and they cannot see what's so unjust about capital punishment. Therefore, the answer is to suggest we start executing the rich and powerful. If they can see that we liberals should not be calling for the heads of the rich, they might, just might, be able to make the connection, "Wait a minute... no one should be making a decision about whether someone should live or die."

    You can't expect a bigot to ever understand their ignorance unless you subject them to prejudice, because someone who is a bigot is too stupid to empathize with someone other than themselves. You must turn them into the victim, or at least suggest very seriously that they could be a victim, in order for them to have any sympathy for others. That's just been my experience, anyway.

  7. I see. You are trying to subject them to social injustice so they will want to fight against social injustice.

    While I don't agree with the approach, obviously, it is a funny idea.

    Barbarism begets barbarism. Always remember.

  8. You're trying to aim for the bullseye in a hurricane, I'm suggesting you have to adjust for the wind.

  9. In a hypothetical scenario where you did not have the power to end the death penalty, but did have the ability to see it applied in accordance with the Rule of Law ... letter and intent ... where those guilty of treason, regardless of ethnicity, religious belief, wealth, or government office would be prosecuted by a principled, law-abiding Attorney General -- we're imagining you're operating now in a democratic secular utopia where every corrupt politician has been removed and the whole government (beat cop to Chief Executive) re-populated with intelligent, ethical women and men who are incorruptible and take their responsibility to serve seriously -- would you prefer to leave the system as it is today, or switch to our hypothetical system that, while fair, would result in more executions?

    Put another way, would you prefer: (1) a corrupt and unfair system that executes fewer people, but a higher proportion of which are innocent, mentally retarded, and/or poorly represented, OR (2) a fair system that seeks the death penalty in more cases where the law allows for it, and brings more cases against those who today would never be charged due to privilege, resulting in more (say five times more, for argument's sake) executions, but never resulting in the execution of someone who wasn't both guilty and unquestionably accountable for their crime?

    At the risk of revealing myself as a wolf in sheep's clothing, while I vehemently oppose the death penalty, I'd prefer the latter scenario to the former. (And once in place, I'd pick up a placard and head to the prison to protest the next execution and hope for a second dubious genie to come along and offer me another conditional wish.)

  10. I would prefer the first, because it killed less people. I know it's "hypothetical," but I always have my doubts.

    And I don't think treason is grounds for execution. This country was founded on treason.

  11. Oh but in the context of what I wrote: of course I prefer the latter, since that means a more spectacular show.

  12. [Can you explain to me how we would be living in a world where no one would lie or be biased, but there are still somehow people committing capital crimes on a scale which would warrant more executions than we currently already have... as the leading execution country in the world?]

  13. Bret, is that a tender heart full of mercy and compassion beating under the breastplate of the Armor of No-God you've polished to brilliance with blood of your vanquished foes?

    By my own argument, treason, like everything else is not grounds for execution. Unless I'm mistaken, and I didn't bother to look it up, I believe it is a capital crime.

    Entirely unrelated, the band I'll never put together's new name is "Dubious Genie and the Conditional Wishes".

  14. [My hypothetical was that the scoundrels were routed from government, but still accountable for their crimes in office; scoundrels of all other stripes still walked the earth in the same numbers. The hypothetical breaks down in that there are not a sufficient number of intelligent, honest people to staff every office of our government. We would probably not be able to staff a single, moderately successful car wash hiring by those standards.]

  15. I dunno about a tender heart of mercy and compassion... my reason for doing it is that I see life in prison as worse than execution. If anything, that makes me kind of sadistic.

    My imaginary band is called "Nine Inches Of Engorged, Veiny Jesus." Our first album will be called "Popping Mary's Cherry."

  16. "Republicans worship the rich and powerful..."

    No, we don't.

    "...and they cannot see what's so unjust about capital punishment."

    I cannot see what is so just about letting murderers live.

  17. I cannot see what is so just about letting murderers live.

    Some of those that get executed are murderers and others are not, Heathen. However, I do agree that your solution, killing those found guilty of first degree murder by a jury that is not qualified to decide, is far more humane and more just than the tactics proposed in this article.

  18. No, we don't.

    Well, you're an atheist, so you don't worship them, you just kiss their ass.

  19. Sweden practices rehabilitation, not capital punishment, and their national crime rate is almost non-existent. And by almost... I mean to say... they still have crime, just not on the scale of the U.S.

    Which makes me think... what are they doing right that we're doing wrong?

    Well, for starters--they are curing their criminals--as they recognize the majority of criminal behavior has causes, so instead of doing away with the person, they are rehabilitating them.

    Which seems far more ethical to me. I think this shows us that, as a form of "justice," Capital Punishment is, perhaps, not the way to go.

    Moreover, in Japan (where I currently live) capital punishment is legal, but Japan is very reluctant to ever use it.

    Since 2009 there have been a total of 9 executions in Japan, compared with the hundred or so executions in the U.S. in the same amount of time.

    This refusal to invoke capital punishment, reserving it only for mass murderers and treason, shows an acknowledgement that it isn't necessarily needed as a means to keep the crime rate in check. In fact, it does nothing to deter the crime rate at all.

    First, we aren't addressing the core issues which contribute to criminal behavior--and we aren't curing the criminals by rehabilitating them and helping them function within society.

    Second, we aren't curtailing the crime rate, so basically unlimited amounts of potential death row inmates can pile up. There are already over 3,500 death row inmates waiting for executions in the U.S. That's just astonishing.

    Instead of figuring out a better way of serving the peace and maintaining due justice, the U.S. will just allow the criminals to multiply on death row until, the next thing you know, they've quarantined New York city, made Manhattan into a penal colony, and Snake Plissken is called in to get your ass out, because your plane happened to go down in the wrong part of the country.

    I for one oppose Capital Punishment on the basis that A) it doesn't address the underlying issues of what motivates criminal behavior and 2) it doesn't actually function as a form of justice.

    So what good is it?

  20. I see the humor in this post, and I understand your basic premise, but I think the death penalty is wrong on the basis that it can misused for political oppression. You don't even trust the government to pat down airline travelers, yet you want to give these same people the power to kill their own citizens? I have little faith in the fairness of the judicial system in America, and giving incompetent pigs such power would only serve to pave the way for a totalitarian regime. Sure, Made-Off probably deserves a really harsh punishment as an example for all corrupt rich pigs to see. But I don't trust our government with the power to kill. Hell, I don't even trust them with stuff half as mundane as that.

  21. But Your Lordhship, the government wouldn't be doing the killing. We leave that to the lions, tigers, bears, and each other.

  22. But Your Lordhship, the government wouldn't be doing the killing. We leave that to the lions, tigers, bears, and each other.

    That literally made me laugh out loud. That is why I like this site. Though you are a benighted barbarian at times, you are a funny one. As Winston Churchill said, "I like a man who grins when he fights."

  23. I might go along with this if you included pedophile priests. We need to rid the nation of priests anyway. We might as well start there.

  24. Pedophiles would be a great addition, as long as they're repeat offenders. If there's one crime that is easy to falsify, it's pedophilia. But a pattern of accusations over time is hard to ignore, and I really believe most people who are predatory pedophiles (as opposed to the passive kind who don't act upon their urges, they just go to a lot of Little Miss Barbie Doll competitions...) are beyond rehabilitation.

  25. "are beyond rehabilitation."

    What about lobotomies?

  26. I'm really not a fan of cerebral mutilation, nor do I like chemical castration.


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