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sugarkang
09-22-2011, 10:58 PM
Will Wilkinson (http://bigthink.com/ideas/40312) @ Big Think


I don't know if Troy Davis got a fair trial. People accused of crimes should get fair trails. The innocent should not be sentenced for crimes they did not commit. All that's immensely important. But the deeper question here is whether death is an appropriate penalty for murder. It isn't. And that's why it was wrong to kill Troy Davis. It's that simple.

Now, I don't know how to convince you that even especially heinous murderers don't deserve to suffer the same fate they meted out. I suppose I would start by distinguishing justice from vengeance. I would observe that there is no pervasive ethereal moral substance that must be kept in some sort of cosmic balance lest society devolve into chaos. We may feel deeply, in our marrow, in our prickling indignant skin, that the yin of crime calls out for the yang of punishment. But I would warn against putting much trust our retributive instincts. I would suggest that civilization demands setting these feelings aside, that it requires that we ask ourselves in a cool hour the point of criminal justice.

I agree with all, err, most of this. The question is how you get people to not want to kill people. The victim's family waited years for this and all that time there was no cool hour they asked themselves the point of criminal justice.

miceelf
09-23-2011, 08:13 AM
Will Wilkinson (http://bigthink.com/ideas/40312) @ Big Think



I agree with all, err, most of this. The question is how you get people to not want to kill people. The victim's family waited years for this and all that time there was no cool hour they asked themselves the point of criminal justice.

We don't put the families of victims in charge of administering justice. There's a reason for this.

As well, although we might think the family wants to see the killer brought to justice, we know that the more heinous a crime, the more likely people are to believe an accused is guilty, regardless of the evidence. Given that a family member's death is more heinous to most people than anything else, it's not surprising if family members are absolutely convinced of the guilt of people, even in the face of DNA evidence against it.

stephanie
09-23-2011, 11:44 AM
I agree with all, err, most of this.

Seems to me that he's saying things that are quite similar to the points that people made in the big debate over acceptable reasons for punishment, that others (I thought you) criticized quite harshly.

(I was arguing the other side myself, although I pretty much agree with Wilkinson here. Also with the points miceelf makes.)

eeeeeeeli
09-23-2011, 10:52 PM
I basically agree with it too. I'm still convinced that justice is still largely about what people feel, not what they think. It isn't necessarily illegitimate, but certainly cause for concern. That is, if you can't make a rational argument for something, without merely resorting to "how it feels", then you're in dangerous territory.



"Now, I don't know how to convince you that even especially heinous murderers don't deserve to suffer the same fate they meted out."

This is an important point. Revenge is a very common argument for punishment from the general public. Yet eye-for-eye style justice is absurd, leading to all sorts of logical barbarism, much of which those same people would likely find distasteful (until they got used to it, no doubt! Fox would make a killing on P.P.V.).

So this sort of justice-by-feeling seems rather squishy, even when we are merely talking about that nebulous concept of social retribution. In other words, what determines what wrong has been done to society, if our "feelings" are so unreliable?

I'm still unclear as to what service it provides us that utilitarianism does not. Certainly a citizen 1000 years ago would experience feelings of unwhetted bloodlust, were a convicted murderer not to be executed in public, after humiliation and torture. Yet we require modern man to bite his lip and be satisfied with less. Is the modern man worse off, not having had his dark taste? Maybe in order to truly fulfill what is rightfully ours, by this supposedly sacred instinct, we should indeed give the thirsty public what it wants.

stephanie
09-24-2011, 09:56 AM
I basically agree with it too. I'm still convinced that justice is still largely about what people feel, not what they think. It isn't necessarily illegitimate, but certainly cause for concern.

Did you see the article (by Scott Atran) I linked in the Atran-Wright thread? I'd be curious about your thoughts on it -- it seems related to this.

eeeeeeeli
09-24-2011, 01:29 PM
Did you see the article (by Scott Atran) I linked in the Atran-Wright thread? I'd be curious about your thoughts on it -- it seems related to this.
Interesting article. There is definitely something "sacred" going on with justice, certainly capital punishment. And what does that sacred mean, right? Surely, its basis is something quite ineffable, and changes over time. Today, not being racist is a sacred truth. But it surely wasn't a few decades ago. Other, almost invisible things have slipped away. Why were we ever racist? I'm not sure we even knew at the time - it was sacred truth. (I'm actually convinced that this lack of knowing is what allows many today to believe themselves above racism - accepting that sacred truth - while still falling subject to the many prejudices and cognitive failings that afflicted previous, consciously racist generations)

And each of us has our own sacred values, defined by various allegiances and assumptions. I think the oddest thing is the circular way in which we hold sacred truths to be self evident, yet which are based on values and principles derived from thousands of years of cultural evolution. And yet that evolution of values and principles was surely informed in no small part by "sacred" considerations. Our sacred is informed by a reason, which itself is informed by a sacred.

OK, this is kind of terrible, but I just finished Robopocalypse, and there's a horrendous scene near the end where the robot mind has created these little robot parasites that attach themselves to a dead body, and by squeezing the diaphragm, vibrating the voice box, manipulating the lips and tongue, are able to make the body speak. As you know, I'm a determinist, and this might be the most disturbing, misanthropic analogy for what I generally claim to be occurring in human thought! But, it is vivid.

So, seeing this kind of abyssal relationship between the sacred and the rational, and the frighteningly unconscious way in which we think - even indeed, as we think - make me all the more skeptical of the notion that we are much in control at all.

Mind you, I actually find this insight liberating, in that in a seemingly paradoxical way I feel empowered by it. In religious terms, as best I can relate to and understand them, I see this determinist operational dynamic, this causal force of the natural world, as the closest thing I can imagine to a God. And in the manner I imagine people have always taken solace from religion, as a part of something larger than themselves, something that reminds them that their personal struggles are petty in the grander scheme of things - God's plan, I too feel a sense of belonging, forgiveness and purpose in this great natural unfolding of biological and cultural evolutionary history.

Especially, when reminded of the silly ways in which I as a human am bound to think.

* edit: I'm reflecting on the study of Israeli settlers, how the consideration of violence seemed to deplete rational thinking, in turn making violence more likely. It is as if the option of violence actually inspires actual violence.

Thinking of capital punishment, that the law is on the books, as a violent option, would by itself inspire violence. We've seen many studies in which the suggestion of an option or concept, changes decisions that would seem to be rational, and not directly connected to the suggestion.

I wonder if this dynamic in justice doesn't have to with a basic human fear impulse. The suggestion of violence triggers something deep in us, a sort of fear response, which is built to respond with violence. Something like a fear:attack mechanism.

Ocean
09-24-2011, 01:42 PM
Mind you, I actually find this insight liberating, in that in a seemingly paradoxical way I feel empowered by it. In religious terms, as best I can relate to and understand them, I see this determinist operational dynamic, this causal force of the natural world, as the closest thing I can imagine to a God. And in the manner I imagine people have always taken solace from religion, as a part of something larger than themselves, something that reminds them that their personal struggles are petty in the grander scheme of things - God's plan, I too feel a sense of belonging, forgiveness and purpose in this great natural unfolding of biological and cultural evolutionary history.

Substract the God metaphor, as for the rest:

Mind you, I actually find this insight liberating, in that in a seemingly paradoxical way I feel empowered by it. I see this determinist operational dynamic, this causal force of the natural world, as a part of something larger than ourselves, something that reminds us that our personal struggles are petty in the grander scheme of things. I too feel a sense of belonging, forgiveness and purpose in this great natural unfolding of biological and cultural evolutionary history.


Welcome to the club! :)

stephanie
09-24-2011, 05:05 PM
Interesting article. There is definitely something "sacred" going on with justice, certainly capital punishment. And what does that sacred mean, right? Surely, its basis is something quite ineffable, and changes over time. Today, not being racist is a sacred truth. But it surely wasn't a few decades ago. Other, almost invisible things have slipped away. Why were we ever racist? I'm not sure we even knew at the time - it was sacred truth. (I'm actually convinced that this lack of knowing is what allows many today to believe themselves above racism - accepting that sacred truth - while still falling subject to the many prejudices and cognitive failings that afflicted previous, consciously racist generations)

I think this is all right -- I will probably have more of a response later. Like I said in the thread, I both agree with the article and am puzzled by what it means for my views.

So, seeing this kind of abyssal relationship between the sacred and the rational, and the frighteningly unconscious way in which we think - even indeed, as we think - make me all the more skeptical of the notion that we are much in control at all.

Yep.

Mind you, I actually find this insight liberating, in that in a seemingly paradoxical way I feel empowered by it. In religious terms, as best I can relate to and understand them, I see this determinist operational dynamic, this causal force of the natural world, as the closest thing I can imagine to a God. And in the manner I imagine people have always taken solace from religion, as a part of something larger than themselves, something that reminds them that their personal struggles are petty in the grander scheme of things - God's plan, I too feel a sense of belonging, forgiveness and purpose in this great natural unfolding of biological and cultural evolutionary history.

Interesting and actually -- like you say -- like many religious folks I know. I'm still in rebellion myself, so it troubles me. I want to believe in control, although that's more a personal thing than about what I hold others to. Like I've mentioned before (and more related to the topic), there's an interesting Wendy Kaminer book on the DP and related topics (It's All the Rage) that slams the distictions we make re personal responsibility based on class, which I actually agree with. Most of the defenses everyone else comes up with are more true for the average killer, who gets no defense on that basis at all. And, contra whb, I'm not saying I defend him on that basis, but just question our consistancy.

I wonder if this dynamic in justice doesn't have to with a basic human fear impulse. The suggestion of violence triggers something deep in us, a sort of fear response, which is built to respond with violence. Something like a fear:attack mechanism.

This seems right to me. I know myself I respond to fear with anger and desire to attack. I think there's something re outgroup dynamics and hatred too -- they are inhuman -- that I perceive going on with war and that whb has suggested related to the DP in a way I haven't thought through.

Ocean
09-24-2011, 05:55 PM
I wonder if this dynamic in justice doesn't have to with a basic human fear impulse. The suggestion of violence triggers something deep in us, a sort of fear response, which is built to respond with violence. Something like a fear:attack mechanism.

This seems right to me. I know myself I respond to fear with anger and desire to attack. I think there's something re outgroup dynamics and hatred too -- they are inhuman -- that I perceive going on with war and that whb has suggested related to the DP in a way I haven't thought through.

I have assumed that we all realize that anger and retaliation are a response to real or perceived harm or threat of harm. Additionally, people who are organized in groups, and create rules about what's acceptable behavior, need those rules to be followed so that there's a sense of consistency and safety. Those are the roots of the actions governed under a justice system.

In some particularly heinous crimes, that are unthinkable in their dimension to the average person, there's an added element of aberrant dehumanized behavior. Such evil impulses, deviant and sick, have the effect that others aren't willing to give the perpetrator the same rights that other human beings are entitled to. So there more aberrant the behavior the more dehumanizing the effect. From an evolutionary perspective (and I don't particularly enjoy doing this exercise) it makes sense that aberrant behaviors would have to be weeded out, the sickness not passed on.

From a neurobiological perspective, when a crime that creates emotional distress is committed, it "lights up" a circuitry in the brain that requires some form of release, commonly via expression of anger.

The particular way in which we express anger is learned. A child will hit or throw an object. An adult may yell or express objections. Anger is tempered and modified by maturation and culture. For example, if a particular culture considers that the accepted response to a woman's extramarital sexual activity is to stone her and or perhaps kill her family too, that's the result that will be sought by those who experience anger at her actions, and the only way of properly release it. A different culture may dictate that the reaction to such anger could be separation by the husband, or some form of expressed disapproval. So, indeed, the responses required to take care of that provoked anger vary greatly according to culture. It can be shaped.

sugarkang
09-25-2011, 02:21 AM
We don't put the families of victims in charge of administering justice. There's a reason for this.

Let me begin by stating where we agree or where I assume we agree. Both of us do not like the death penalty. I've mentioned in the past that I'm against it for the simple fact that the reasonable doubt standard isn't good enough. Eyewitness testimony is egregiously faulty and that is currently the basis for doling out many death sentences. This, by itself, should be enough justification for ending capital punishment.

Now, as to your point about victims' families not being in charge of administering justice, I agree. However, what your statement doesn't capture is the part where we have allowed government to maintain a monopoly on violence to serve as the victims' agent in administering justice. I've talked about this in a couple other threads. Criminal justice has two primary aims: utilitarian and retributive.

Retribution is a basic human desire. If the Nietzsche passage (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showpost.php?p=219396&postcount=206) I quoted some time ago wasn't a sufficient explanation for why it exists, one ought to at least defer to the Supreme Court on the matter in Gregg v. Georgia (http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0428_0153_ZO.html):

"The death penalty is said to serve two principal social purposes: retribution and deterrence of capital crimes by prospective offenders."

So, yes, victims' families must not take revenge into their own hands because it is not only essential for ordered society, it is the law. However, the law also recognizes that the victims' family deserves retribution. Whether or not one agrees with the law doesn't change the fact that it is the law.

My original point was that retribution, as the justification for capital punishment, exists because the people demand it. So, back to my original statement. If you want to end capital punishment, the key is to get people to not want to kill. The best argument to start chipping away at capital punishment is the one I gave: innocent people die.

Now, here's a more difficult question. What do you suppose should happen to the people who killed James Byrd, Jr. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Byrd,_Jr.)?

James Byrd, Jr. (May 2, 1949 June 7, 1998) was an African-American who was murdered by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas, on June 7, 1998. Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer, and John King dragged Byrd behind a pick-up truck along an asphalt pavement after they wrapped a heavy logging chain around his ankles. Byrd was pulled along for about two miles as the truck swerved from side to side.[1]
Byrd, who remained conscious throughout most of the ordeal, was killed when his body hit the edge of a culvert severing his right arm and head. The murderers drove on for another mile before dumping his torso in front of an African-American cemetery in Jasper.

chiwhisoxx
09-25-2011, 02:40 AM
Great Douthat column re: Troy Davis here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/douthat-justice-after-troy-davis.html?_r=1

His main point is one that I share: the death penalty can serve as a bit of a red herring in pursuit of actual reform of the criminal justice system, which has plenty of urgent problems we need to address.

Wonderment
09-25-2011, 04:12 AM
His main point is one that I share: the death penalty can serve as a bit of a red herring in pursuit of actual reform of the criminal justice system, which has plenty of urgent problems we need to address.

I agree that it was an interesting article with an unusual perspective. Ross draws attention to the horrors of the US prison system aside from the death penalty. But the red herring argument is a real stretch.

I've been an death penalty abolitionist for a long time. Almost invariably, people who are activists in opposition to the DP are also advocates for prison reform.

So when Ross says, "Simply throwing up our hands and eliminating executions entirely...could prove to be a form of moral evasion a way to console ourselves with the knowledge that no innocents are ever executed, even as more pervasive abuses go unchecked" he's misreading the core principles of the anti-DP movement. People who oppose the DP are quite well-aware of other "pervasive abuses."

stephanie
09-25-2011, 11:29 AM
I agree that it was an interesting article with an unusual perspective. Ross draws attention to the horrors of the US prison system aside from the death penalty. But the red herring argument is a real stretch.

I've been an death penalty abolitionist for a long time. Almost invariably, people who are activists in opposition to the DP are also advocates for prison reform.

So when Ross says, "Simply throwing up our hands and eliminating executions entirely...could prove to be a form of moral evasion a way to console ourselves with the knowledge that no innocents are ever executed, even as more pervasive abuses go unchecked" he's misreading the core principles of the anti-DP movement. People who oppose the DP are quite well-aware of other "pervasive abuses."

Yes, I agree with this. In fact, DP opponents are largely the only people I ever find who care about prison reform. More people care generally about the issue of non-violent offenders, but not in an activist way. And as for the justice issue, the problem of fallibility, I mentioned elsewhere that it's weird the extent I assume that people I know are anti DP given the percentage in the country as a whole, but part of that has to do with an understanding of the problems with justice generally, and for the poor in particular. And thus it specifically connects the problems with the DP -- and with the false verdicts in IL and surely elsewhere -- with more general problems. Getting rid of the DP doesn't solve the problem -- obviously it's wrong to be locked up for a crime you didn't commit -- but it's a start. No one thinks it's the end.

stephanie
09-25-2011, 12:17 PM
Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but I feel -- a bit -- like I'm being accused of stating the obvious when I reflect on my own experience. So I'll just note that however obvious it was, it didn't feel that way at the time, and I assume my experience is not inconsistent with that of others.

I have assumed that we all realize that anger and retaliation are a response to real or perceived harm or threat of harm. Additionally, people who are organized in groups, and create rules about what's acceptable behavior, need those rules to be followed so that there's a sense of consistency and safety. Those are the roots of the actions governed under a justice system.

Despite this, as I was saying, I think our own responses to violence against our country are probably revealing. The first war I recall is Iraq I, and I was scared of the idea of the war (in the age so that some of my friens were moving to draft age, and I recall that being a big issue) and then more excited by our easy victory (which I had considered in doubt) than I like now to recall. The next is Bosnia, and I definitely am aware of some dehumanizing reactions. The next, of course, is 9/11 and the response, and I know there was a lot of the dehumanization there, almost actively so. I know my response to that was not rational.

The particular way in which we express anger is learned. A child will hit or throw an object. An adult may yell or express objections. Anger is tempered and modified by maturation and culture. For example, if a particular culture considers that the accepted response to a woman's extramarital sexual activity is to stone her and or perhaps kill her family too, that's the result that will be sought by those who experience anger at her actions, and the only way of properly release it. A different culture may dictate that the reaction to such anger could be separation by the husband, or some form of expressed disapproval. So, indeed, the responses required to take care of that provoked anger vary greatly according to culture. It can be shaped.

This is super interesting and I'm thinking through it. I think I have weird reactions to anger/provocation due to childhood issues, so it hits a bone, I guess.

Wonderment
09-25-2011, 03:40 PM
I think I have weird reactions to anger/provocation due to childhood issues, so it hits a bone, I guess.

I used to do a nonviolence workshop, and one of the things I'd ask participants was to recall an incident of violence in their lives and to describe in a few words what feelings came up without going into details of the event. They could be witnesses, perpetrators or victims of the event. People would say things like "rage, forgiveness, revenge, hatred, resentment, terror, shame, panic," and so on.

No one ever said that there had been no violence in their lives.

rcocean
09-26-2011, 12:01 AM
Yes, I agree with this. In fact, DP opponents are largely the only people I ever find who care about prison reform. More people care generally about the issue of non-violent offenders, but not in an activist way. And as for the justice issue, the problem of fallibility, I mentioned elsewhere that it's weird the extent I assume that people I know are anti DP given the percentage in the country as a whole, but part of that has to do with an understanding of the problems with justice generally, and for the poor in particular. And thus it specifically connects the problems with the DP -- and with the false verdicts in IL and surely elsewhere -- with more general problems. Getting rid of the DP doesn't solve the problem -- obviously it's wrong to be locked up for a crime you didn't commit -- but it's a start. No one thinks it's the end.

An interesting attitude which I find puzzling and don't share. Everyone's time and energy is limited, as is their sympathy. Frankly, I can think a 100 better ways to improve society or to help people then obsessing over whether some serial killer gets the DP or not. We all die, its just of question of when. People are now dying in Afganistan because of our foreign policy. No one seems to care, even though these people are much more worthy of attention.

Other than concern over its fair administration, I simply can't understand why anyone wastes their time defending people like Davis. Poverty and ignorance aren't excuses for cold blooded murder or rape. The man has had 20 years to prove his innocence. People have studied his appeals and ruled against him.

And the vast majority of poor people, and those of low education don't commit crimes let alone commit capital offenses, only a handful do.
Blaming Davis' actions on his ignorance and poverty or "racism" is an insult to the 990/1000 people who in similar circumstances or ignorance and poverty DON't commit any crimes.

Which again, circles back to my amazement at the amount of energy expended defending the indefensible.

miceelf
09-26-2011, 01:30 PM
Let me begin by stating where we agree or where I assume we agree. Both of us do not like the death penalty. I've mentioned in the past that I'm against it for the simple fact that the reasonable doubt standard isn't good enough. Eyewitness testimony is egregiously faulty and that is currently the basis for doling out many death sentences. This, by itself, should be enough justification for ending capital punishment.


I am actually undecided about the death penalty, primarily because although I think that there are a set of crimes that merit death, the abuse and errors are just too prevalent in our current system to ensure taht it is only the perpetrators of those crimes that would get the DP.

So, I actually think that the killers of Byrd should get the DP, even though I don't want the DP to be an option in our current system.

stephanie
09-27-2011, 12:22 PM
Frankly, I can think a 100 better ways to improve society or to help people then obsessing over whether some serial killer gets the DP or not.

Like I said before, I don't think this is an accurate way to phrase the concern: "obsessing over whether some serial killer gets the DP." My impression is that opposition to the DP in general tends to be more theoretical in nature, opposition in specific cases (like Troy Davis) tends to focus on perceived problems with guilt or with a particular violation of rights.

Reading about many of these cases it is most striking to me the lack of evidence and the poor trial that so many people get, and that to me is a particularly important matter as it relates to the quality of justice in the country generally. It's also worth noting that in a number of the cases where innocence was later established, the people working on the appeals didn't suspect that the people involved would turn out to be innocent -- they were just focused on underlying procedural issues.

People are now dying in Afganistan because of our foreign policy. No one seems to care, even though these people are much more worthy of attention.

Lots of people care. But I find the idea that you can be concerned about one thing only at the expense of other things odd. No one is ignoring Afghanistan because they care about the DP. (People are in many cases disagreeing about Afghanistan because they think it's a more complicated question, whichever way they come down on the DP. I think there are a variety of arguments on this board that reflect that.)

Other than concern over its fair administration, I simply can't understand why anyone wastes their time defending people like Davis.

Well, with Davis, I think concern over its fair administration is a major part of it. Beyond that, some people just think it's wrong for the state to take life when there's an option such as prison.

Your "poverty and ignorance aren't excuses for cold blooded murder or rape" seems a red herring, as I don't see anyone claiming that rape or murder are excusable here.

Which again, circles back to my amazement at the amount of energy expended defending the indefensible.

Seems like you are misstating the substance of the discussion.

JonIrenicus
09-27-2011, 04:39 PM
... Criminal justice has two primary aims: utilitarian and retributive.

Retribution is a basic human desire. If the Nietzsche passage (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showpost.php?p=219396&postcount=206) I quoted some time ago wasn't a sufficient explanation for why it exists, one ought to at least defer to the Supreme Court on the matter in Gregg v. Georgia (http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0428_0153_ZO.html):



So, yes, victims' families must not take revenge into their own hands because it is not only essential for ordered society, it is the law. However, the law also recognizes that the victims' family deserves retribution. Whether or not one agrees with the law doesn't change the fact that it is the law.

My original point was that retribution, as the justification for capital punishment, exists because the people demand it. So, back to my original statement. If you want to end capital punishment, the key is to get people to not want to kill. The best argument to start chipping away at capital punishment is the one I gave: innocent people die.

Now, here's a more difficult question. What do you suppose should happen to the people who killed James Byrd, Jr. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Byrd,_Jr.)?

You have to convince people to not want to kill/destroy evil. You have to convince them that merely neutralizing it is sufficient, you have to convince them that no one on this earth, no matter what they do, deserves to die.

People often claim they have no value judgments or emotion tied up among the anti death penalty crowd but this is false, they buy in the value that all human life is equally sacred and deserving of continued existence.

It BOTHERS the anti death penalty crowd that we kill murderers. They pretend the only thing they are concerned with is the utilitarian rationale for the death penalty. The truth is that these people make just as many if not more emotionally charged value judgments about the "humanity" of the death penalty as a proponent does.

So how does anyone debate the merits of a value, a preference about how the world ought to operate, what we ought to favor?

Not sure, but for a start I'll try to assault the value of only valuing mere utility.


Today we have two options available to us as punishment for the murderers of Byrd, the death penalty, and imprisonment. Both serve some utilitarian function of protecting society from their harmful activities in the future. But both could be considered inhumane to the murderers to a greater or lesser degree. In the fist case, we take their life, if one believes all life is sacred, this can never be right. In the second case we strip away these peoples freedoms and lock them in a cage, often for the remainder of their lives. The latter serves the utilitarian end of protecting society, but the stripping away of personal freedom still retains SOME form of retributive function and we can't have that, that would not be "enlightened" enough. Because retribution for its own sake is a BAD thing in all forms, barbaric, something to be snuffed out (oh so many value judgments here).

-Retribution limiting option provided by hypothetical science fiction example:

Let's say we had the technology to hook these murderers into a matrix style system that could create an entire world to operate in that was identical to our own. But in this virtual world they could be let free to roam and operate unmolested, their memory of their previous actions could be wiped (not all of their memories, just the ones that lead to the murders and conviction) and they would think they belonged to this virtual world. This causes all sorts of other potential wrenches and problems, but lets just focus on the fact that this scenario is less of a punishment than stripping someone of their freedom and locking them in a cage until death or killing them outright.

You have your utility of protecting society without the added retributive punishment of our first two options, the murderers are allowed freedom in this virtual world, and can live out the rest of their days as they see fit, and if they happened to murder again in that virtual world, no actual people would be harmed, so all is well!

Would that option be preferable to you all, or does something rub you the wrong way about essentially not punishing the man by allowing him to live his life (virtually) freely?

stephanie
09-27-2011, 05:10 PM
In the second case we strip away these peoples freedoms and lock them in a cage, often for the remainder of their lives. The latter serves the utilitarian end of protecting society, but the stripping away of personal freedom still retains SOME form of retributive function and we can't have that, that would not be "enlightened" enough.

I think there are two obvious responses here. First, that you are arguing against a strawman -- plenty of people are comfortable with life in prison or retributive punishments even while still objecting to the DP. (I know of a lengthy thread that dealt with that topic.) Second, even for those who do have an issue with retribution as a purpose for punishment, there are arguments commonly made that would explain allowing life in prison as a punishment. It is true, of course, that they want a more pragmatic focus that you would probably allow for -- a focus on the actual effect of our punishment policies on the amount of murder, of violence, in society.

(Personally, I'm not a utilitarian, but it seems to me that utilitarian concerns are worth looking at.)

Because retribution for its own sake is a BAD thing in all forms, barbaric, something to be snuffed out (oh so many value judgments here).

Given that you are directly responding to Will's post, it's worth noticing how different his tone is than the one you are imagining.

You have your utility of protecting society without the added retributive punishment of our first two options, the murderers are allowed freedom in this virtual world, and can live out the rest of their days as they see fit, and if they happened to murder again in that virtual world, no actual people would be harmed, so all is well!

I don't think this isolates the retribution question (on which you and I probably have some agreement), because it assumes that we don't encourage crime through such a policy or, perhaps, fail to deter it as much. I personally found it pretty hard to come up with a policy argument that separated out the arguments. I suspect -- as noted in the long argument in the other thread -- that in many cases our focus on discussions of deterrence and the like contain behind them what I'd see as retribution-based arguments, the notion that justice requires that punishment fits the crime. I assume Will would agree, but just argue that that's irrational or wrong, which I don't currently think.

Now why not go all the way to the DP, then? It just seems to me different for the state to take a life, plus I can't separate out the issue from how the system works in practice to get over the arbitrariness of it, or the problems with the justice system. If it were possible to do this, it would at least be a different question. And, yes, the concerns exist with regard to the broader justice system and not just the DP.

Ocean
09-27-2011, 09:07 PM
Like I said before, I don't think this is an accurate way to phrase the concern: "obsessing over whether some serial killer gets the DP." My impression is that opposition to the DP in general tends to be more theoretical in nature, opposition in specific cases (like Troy Davis) tends to focus on perceived problems with guilt or with a particular violation of rights.

Reading about many of these cases it is most striking to me the lack of evidence and the poor trial that so many people get, and that to me is a particularly important matter as it relates to the quality of justice in the country generally. It's also worth noting that in a number of the cases where innocence was later established, the people working on the appeals didn't suspect that the people involved would turn out to be innocent -- they were just focused on underlying procedural issues.



Lots of people care. But I find the idea that you can be concerned about one thing only at the expense of other things odd. No one is ignoring Afghanistan because they care about the DP. (People are in many cases disagreeing about Afghanistan because they think it's a more complicated question, whichever way they come down on the DP. I think there are a variety of arguments on this board that reflect that.)



Well, with Davis, I think concern over its fair administration is a major part of it. Beyond that, some people just think it's wrong for the state to take life when there's an option such as prison.

Your "poverty and ignorance aren't excuses for cold blooded murder or rape" seems a red herring, as I don't see anyone claiming that rape or murder are excusable here.



Seems like you are misstating the substance of the discussion.

I think rc's point is that we shouldn't worry or waste time writing posts on unimportant issues like death penalty, but rather address important issues like why people criticize Ann Althouse or such. ;)

stephanie
09-28-2011, 11:37 AM
I think rc's point is that we shouldn't worry or waste time writing posts on unimportant issues like death penalty, but rather address important issues like why people criticize Ann Althouse or such. ;)

Heh.

Sulla the Dictator
09-30-2011, 05:52 PM
We don't put the families of victims in charge of administering justice. There's a reason for this.


That is right, it would be chaos. In exchange for taking their vendettas, we have promised them justice. And justice in all human culture has involved the ultimate punishment for the most heinous crimes.

Sulla the Dictator
09-30-2011, 06:00 PM
"Now, I don't know how to convince you that even especially heinous murderers don't deserve to suffer the same fate they meted out."

This is an important point. Revenge is a very common argument for punishment from the general public. Yet eye-for-eye style justice is absurd, leading to all sorts of logical barbarism, much of which those same people would likely find distasteful (until they got used to it, no doubt! Fox would make a killing on P.P.V.).

So this sort of justice-by-feeling seems rather squishy, even when we are merely talking about that nebulous concept of social retribution.

The death penalty side is justice by feeling? What motivation is there to preserve the lives of inarguably guilty murderers (Which is the controversial part of anti-DP argument) other than some sentiment? Not only are most of these people killers, they're usually defectives.

Their defense usually involves prettied up youth photos, crying mothers, and adopted poses of religious piety. In other words, appeals to emotion and pity.