In Which I Confess Why I’m Ambivalent About the Death Penalty

I’m going to just admit it–it’s pretty easy for me to oppose the death penalty right now.  I don’t believe that the State should have the right to take the life of a person just because he killed some folks.

But if the Death Penalty were on the table for folks like this?  I’d have no qualms about it.

I don’t guess that makes a whole lot of sense, but in my head, it seems wrong for the State to take the life of someone who could be made to see the errors of his ways.  But there are folks who are clearly just wired wrong–child molesters, serial killers–people who commit crimes and who are never going to get why its wrong and never going to stop.

It’s very hard for me to understand why removing them from humanity is so wrong.

9 thoughts on “In Which I Confess Why I’m Ambivalent About the Death Penalty

  1. And there goes your liberal street cred. Surprisingly, I lost my conservative cred when I wrote about my opposition to the death penalty. Said opposition is not because I find it flawed in theory but because it is flawed in application. Poor people get the chair. Rich people get Club Fed.

  2. Not just that, Uncle, but the unavoidable fact is that we sometimes make mistakes. You cannot undo an execution. Yes, I’ll pre-emptively answer the question. I’d rather see 10,000 convicted killers rot in prison than have a single innocent man executed. It’s not we are having them over for tea…

  3. I think we are in general agreement here. In a society with so many resources, there is no constructive reason to maintain the death penalty.

    To put it as simply and briefly as possible, we criminalize far too many behaviors to call ourselves a free society. Also, we squander resources on (an ever-growing industry of) punitive measures that would better be spent on social mitigation (that this notion is so widely ridiculed attests to the success of decades of reactionary poisoning of our public discourse).

    I point this out because I agree that as long as we remain imperfect creatures, there will be a number of us who are in some ways unfit to remain in society with the rest of us. But in a more mature society that number would not represent such a burden as does the current hyperinflated tally of the incarcerated.

  4. i disagree. i oppose the death penalty regardless of the risk of errors, and would even if there was no such risk.

    it’s not that some folks don’t deserve killing — plenty do, obviously — i’m just squarely in the camp that we don’t have the right to dish it out. self-defense is one thing, but when can an entire society ever really claim self-defense against a single person? killing, to me, is really just that serious, that doing it in cold blood (outside of the gravest extreme, i mean) is never and can never be justified.

    and yeah, that rules out the vast majority of wars, too. defensive warfare to keep out an invader i can see; possibly even interventionist warfare to put an end to genocidal tyranny, although i’d have to put the bar ridiculously high on that one. for offensive warfare, i can’t think of a good enough reason.

  5. Hmmm. On the ‘high theory’ side, I could see the death penalty in a certain subset of cases – people who were unquestionably guilty, who if let out were absolutely, positively, no-doubts-about-it doing to offend again, who were beyond any sort of help, and who posed an active danger to themselves, their handlers, or others in some sort of manner. Not “or,” “and.” If we could, through some sort of magical means, conclude that this was the case… and guarantee that through whatever equally magical means that no person for whom these criteria were not met would be killed, then I would say that I could understand and not oppose such a policy. If, if, if.

    That said, since we have no way to ascertain all of these things beyond a shadow of a doubt (and the numbers and whatnot are pretty awful to begin with), not to mention those (admittedly opaque to even my google-fu, and thus likely either false or ill-remembered) vague stories about people found not guilty and executed anyway. And the social problems that are already mentioned… if we’re going to do it, we need to do it uniformly and to the best of our ability.

    So… while I could see some sort of theory-only defense of the idea of killing off the dangerous and irredeemable, I can’t get anywhere near the idea in the world we’ve got, in the country we’ve got, with the systems and constraints we’ve got.

  6. Sorry, NN. I left out an important point (the reason I said “general agreement” as opposed to ‘complete agreement’).

    I don’t believe the death penalty should ever be enacted. All that other rubbish I wrote down is supposed to support that notion.

    The flip side of us all being deeply flawed is that the responsibility for enacting capital punishment should not be given to anyone.

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