Three Seas Forum

the archives

dusted off in read-only


The value of a life posted 01 July 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionThe value of a life by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

Quote: "Wil":3najt8bp
Quite honestly I am in favor of the death penalty, but let me say this first: I do not think that "special laws" should apply because it was a police officer that was killed. Don't get me wrong, I have a great respect for law enforcement, but I don't feel that we can change the rules for them.[/quote:3najt8bp]

But here lies a major problem - the enforcement of the laws vary according to person and situation. In such a case, death penalty opponents would argue, there is room for subjectiveness to creep into the system that decides which punishment to mete out. I'll address this in more detail below.

I agree with the fact that our judicial system needs a major overhaul. There are many major failings, one of which is the overcrowding of our jails and prisons. Not to mention the conditions that the prisoners live in. Many live in better conditions then they did when they were free. I feel that the death penalty is necessary in this case because there simply isn't enough room or money to house all these criminals. There needs to be some way to reduce the numbers of said criminals and rehabilitation works only in some cases.

Let's look at these sentences (nothing personal, just pointing out what you state here is what many others have stated before):

You mention the overcrowding of our jails and prisons. Yes, Americans jail more people as a percentage of the population than any other "free" and "democratic" nation. Yet over 50% of these people are non-violent offenders. Overcrowding thus has little to nothing to do with those serving time for violent crimes, if these statistics are to believe. Likely, there are other explanations for this overcrowding (such as mandatory sentencing) and other possible solutions (a move toward a greater focus on rehabilitation and treatment rather than incarceration).

As for the quality of life "going up" for some, what does this have to do with the death penalty? Yes, the majority of those who commit crimes come from the lowest and least educated groups of citizens (and non-citizens). Yet conditions are not as cozy as what many have been led to believe. I know of those cases for special equipment, but often that is purchased for control purposes (take away certain things, such as exercise equipment, and the potential for rioting increases exponentially. I work in a youth residential treatment center, which functions similarly to a minimum-security prison in many ways. We've learned from past experiences not to restrict freedoms too much among the residents, because if the means of defusing energy and frustration are removed, it becomes like a powderkeg).

And now the issue goes toward money. If only a relatively small minority (say 25%) of prisoners are there for the killing of another human being, irrespective of motives or methods of killing, then wouldn't the argument that prisoners need to be executed more often due to overcrowding become a thorny issue? Only a small number of those convicted of murder ever receive the death sentence, because often the murders were done in acts of passion. That is why the courts have differing degrees of murder.

But I will agree on the need to reduce those who are in prisons, albeit in certain situations (non-violent) and for other options (such as mandatory treatment/rehabilitation).

I do believe that there are crimes that deserve death; the killing of an innocent for one, and mass murder for another. Both these crimes are very detrimental to society, and thus should be punished harshly. I don’t believe that the death penalty should be used for revenge or anything like that, but to remove a threat from society, one that can, if left unchecked, threaten to destroy society as a whole.

But why not life without parole? Isn't that a harsh enough sentence, to sentence one to live, suffer, and die without ever leaving a maximum-security prison? It seems to be an effective punishment in Western Europe and in 12 American states. What purpose could the death penalty serve but to act as a symbol of reprisal/revenge? That's a question I've had for years on this issue. Why execution and not incarceration?

Side note: I would highly recommend Michel Foucault's Disclipine and Punishment as a nice primer book on the move from public punishment to private. He cites Beccaria quite a bit, if I remember correctly.

As to the question “can we put a price on life?” I think that some ways we can, and do. The worth of your life is decided when you look at what said person has given to society as a whole. One who simply leeches of society, I feel, is worth less then someone who contributes a great deal. Since we are such social creatures, and put a great weight on the community, I feel it is valid to judge someone based on what they contribute.

But what are the implications of such a question? Look at how you answered. I'm not attacking you for having such an opinion (in fact, I'd commend you for thinking things through more than many do on this issue, on either side), but there's a sense that those who commit violent acts are often viewed as somehow being "less than human" than those who were victimized (the active victim, and the passive victims, such as the offended society that is sickened by such a criminal act).

It is not an attitude exclusive to this topic. No, it extends out into virtually every branch of human interaction. Has for millenia and probably will continue to do so. Is it right? Is it wrong? Or is it morally neutral to do so? I would think it would depend upon the person judging, the situation being judged, and the foreseen consequences of such a judging.

Nice reply, Wil. Should be interesting to see how this dialogue continues.

Oh, and before I forget, I also recommend highly Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, a story about the life and death of Gary Gilmore, the first American executed after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. view post


The Three Seas Forum archives are hosted and maintained courtesy of Jack Brown