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Thursday, October 23, 2003

Exterminate the brutes
Jonathan makes several strong arguments against the death penalty that can never be made too often. Another tack I like to take is a ghoulish species of reductio. Most supporters of the death penalty advance some version of one or more of the following arguments: the example of the death penalty deters potential criminals, it serves as the ultimate punishment for (the only one commensurate with) the worst forms of murder, and it prevents from doing so those likely to kill again. OK, cool. Then why don't we, instead, without anesthesia chainsaw off the arms and legs of convicted capital criminals?

Is it really likely that the set of those deterred from murder by the threat of being pillowed to eternal rest on an IV drip is significantly different from, or at all events greater than, the set of those deterred by the threat of mutilation by chainsaw and a miserable existence thereafter? Which would the reasonable person consider a more fearsome, more horrendously retributive, punishment? No arms, no legs--what's a murderous criminal gonna resort to (Black Knight: "It's just a flesh wound! Come back here! I'll bite your legs off!")?

Obviously, I'm not really in favor of such a change in policy. I've never met anyone who is. Most people say it's excessively barbaric. Exactly. That's what we death-penalty opponents and the citizens of the rest of the developed world think of our death penalty. So it's really just a matter of how your taste in horror has been socialized into you. The reason so many Americans support the death penalty is the very reason that so many Americans commit violent crimes: they're all Americans, a people socialized to believe that the anti-us must be eliminated, flushed away for good.

Hugo Bedau from Tufts has written some great books against the d.p. The ACLU position statement, which he also wrote, is here
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