Monday, July 25, 2005

"Dead Man Walking", by Sister Helen Prejean

good quote from a good book (better than the movie) I'm reading :

"...In sorting out my feelings and beliefs, there is, however, one piece of moral ground of which I am absolutely certain: if I were to be murdered I would not want my murderer executed. I would not want my death avenged. Especially by government -- which can't be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill.

Albert Camus' "Reflections on the Guillotine" is for me a moral compass on the issue of capital punishment. He wrote this essay in 1957 when the stench of Auschwitz was still in the air, and one of his cardinal points is that no government is ever innocent enough or wise enough or just enough to lay claim to so absolute a power as death.

Society proceeds sovereignly to eliminate the evil ones from her midst as if she were virtue itself. Like an honorable man killing his wayward son and remarking: "Really, I didn't know what to do with him"... To assert, in any case, that a man must be absolutely cut off from society because he is absolutely evil amounts to saying society is absolutely good, and no one in his right mind will believe this today.

Camus addresses the moral contradiction inherent in a policy which imitates the violence it claims to abhor, a violence, he says, made more grievous by premeditation:
Many laws consider a premeditated crime more serious than a crime of pure violence.... For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death upon him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life."

...something to consider when you are trying to make up your own mind about the death penalty.