(After posting a blog yesterday arguing against the death penalty, I realized that the forums would be a much easier venue for a debate to take place.  Here is a link to the original blog post and comments.)

The death penalty is a brutal hangover from primitive legal systems and has no place in modern society. The United States stands alone among the world’s democracies in its use of capital punishment. This form of punishment has no place in a nation founded upon reason, justice, and liberty. Reason dictates that the death penalty can only further incite violence in this culture as legal authority condones retributive killing. Justice sees nothing valuable in a punishment that clearly discriminates against the impoverished lower classes of society. Liberty finds its greatest violation in a government that is allowed to kill its citizens.

Beyond the intrinsically noxious nature of capital punishment, arguments for the measure are completely undemonstrated. The biggest argument in support of capital punishment, deterrence, lacks any supporting evidence. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that capital punishment actually encourages violence by incorporating state-sanctioned murder into society. Furthermore, most murders are crimes of passion, drunkenness, or both. The argument for deterrence rests solely upon the criminal’s capacity for sound reasoning to prevent a killing. Both inebriation and extreme emotion override the mind’s ability to logically examine a situation.

An even worse defense of capital punishment is the purported necessity of retribution. This puerile argument panders to the primitive mind and raw emotion. What place does this vulgar appeal have in a society based on rational empathy and social advancement? “An eye for an eye” is a Bronze Age intellectual concept that deserves to be left in the past along with slavery, infanticide, and numerous other social institutions which we no longer accept.

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If we just stop incarcerating people for drug usage then we would have cheaper prisons and more room to house the most dangerous prisoners.

I have really never been able to wrap my mind around the amount of money that is spent on prosecuting and jailing drug offenders, especially for marijuana. With drugs that have a particularly dangerous psychoactive effect--like PCP-induced psychosis or methamphetamine rages--I could see the argument that the drug use is dangerous for society as it turns the user into a potentially dangerous individual. But I see absolutely no argument that holds weight against marijuana, opiates, and certain hallucinogenics that could stand up against tobacco and alcohol. Even alcohol could be said to yield "potentially dangerous individuals."
Why do we kill people who kill people to prove that killing people is wrong?
"Do as I say, not as I do!"
But what crime isn't really a crime against society? What about mass embezzlement schemes? Giant Ponzi schemes and other financial larceny have a larger negative effect on society as a whole than a single murder does. Should we execute corporate thieves?

Actually, I'm sure that there are more than a few people who would like to see Bernie Madoff dead, so maybe this question isn't too off-base. :)
Is it wrong that I find greed, theft, and deceit more repugnant than murder? Maybe I have just had too much experience with the former and, fortunately, little experience with the latter. White collar criminals make me so much angrier for some reason. I guess I just see such desperation in the act of murder that I find it difficult to imagine what thought-process must compute in a person's head to produce the decision to kill. But I am probably projecting too much of my own emotion onto other people; I am sure that there are plenty of murders motivated by greed.
In the blog comments (I guess that was a blog?), I mentioned greed as as an evil motive that warrants special "consideration". I agree that crimes motivated by greed as opposed to anger, lust, passion, and even bigotry, are less compelling of ultimate punishment than are those motivated by material greed. I disagree with hate crimes legislation because once you get past mens rea (Latin for "guilty mind") what difference does the perpetrator's motive make, once it becomes "reasoned"? (would calculated be a better word?) I think that greed is the ultimate evil motive and perhaps the only one worthy of special consideration as an aggrivating factor. I personally see passion, and even hate, as as more of mitigating factors because they are (usually?) much less calculated (being subjectively "reasoned") . The very worst of crimes is a cruel tortuous murder committed for ill gotten gain by one who believes himself somehow entititled to that which he has not earned and that he decides to take from his victim at the expense of her life, her life being a mere inconvenience to his enterprise.
I agree that motivations do play some role in the degree of the crime committed. However, I hesitate to try and then say that murders motivated by greed should be punished with death while murders motivated by intense emotion should not. I guess I just think it would be too subjective to try and determine what exactly motivated each individual killer.
I've often thought (though never actually said), when discussing violent punishments like this with proponents: "Would it help you to understand my arguments, if I punched you in the face?"

While I certainly agree with your sentiments - I find it astonishing that such a brutal punishment, with such obvious ethical and practical problems, should survive in a country like the US - it sadly isn't true that the US is alone in the World's democracies in having capital punishment available. Japan and several other Asian democracies still have it and some (including Japan) still use it. It is one of the great features of the European Union that countries cannot join if they have capital punishment.
Neil, thank you for the correction. I cannot seem to find my source for saying that the US is alone among modern democracies in its use of capital punishment; I have the tidbit stuck in my head from a research paper I wrote two years ago. Unfortunately, my computer has been wiped since then, and the hard copy of the paper (and bibliography) seems to be hiding from me. I remember India being mentioned as retaining capital punishment, but I did not know that there were actually several Asian democracies that performed executions. The balance in the industrialized world still seems to be heavily in favor of abolishing the death penalty, but "the United States stands alone" is a hyperbolic at best and grossly inaccurate at worse. Thank you for the clarification. :)
It is also strange in a way that death is considered the ultimate punishment - you can punish someone in prison for decades.
<sarcasm>Oh, good point! The punishment isn't very severe, so we should kill them. That makes perfect sense.</sarcasm>
I honestly do not know much about the actual experience of prisoners beyond second-hand accounts in magazine articles and television shows. (Who can resist an episode of MSNBC's Lockup?) While I view things like showers and food as necessities, I do agree that it is wrong when prisoners start getting more amenities than the average working, middle-class person.

It does bother me a lot that I am working my ass off trying to juggle school and work to get my bachelor's degree while convicts are often able to earn a bachelor's degree without accruing any debt. And not having any healthcare while I do it is especially irritating.

However, I do know that education is possibly the single greatest factor in promoting a positive change in someone's life. I do not think that we should abolish prisoner education, but I do think that we should find a way to make them pay for it themselves.

I'm all for re-instating the chain gangs and not giving the prisoners a dime for the many hours they're forced to work.

I agree that work should be a bigger focus of the prison system; I have absolutely no problem with inmates being forced to do manual labor for eight hours a day to fund their existence. I am not arguing for prisoner rights or care so much as protesting a punishment that cannot be reversed. I see too much potential for flaw, corruption, and prejudice in the justice system for such an irrevocable punishment to be used.



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