It’s natural, it’s the way we are.

Yesterday I took my car in for repair as part of a recall.

A number of folks were sitting around waiting for service work to be finished. Naturally, we were talking about various things, and I mentioned that some of the problems they were talking about were a result of, or worsened by, high population.

As you might imagine, there was a period of silence, followed by a number of protestations. One man said that, while he and his wife had chosen to have 2 children, he had “a right” to have as many children as he wanted. I asked where does that right come from. His reply was, “It’s natural, it’s the way we are.”

Further conversation ensued, and he said he thought that, as long as he could support them, he should be able to have as many children as he wanted. I asked what happens if he has them, then can’t support them. He sort of stumbled around the idea that “family will do it.” “But what if your family can’t or won’t” He said they would.

Well, I was reassured. You bet.

Thus was avoided any recognition that we live in a finite world, and there is a link between individual action and global problems. This, of course, means that we have no responsibility for the effects of our personal choices on ourselves or others.

Rights without responsibilities – the American Dream.

But what was interesting to me was his reasoning and support for his position: “It’s natural. It’s the way we are.”

Once again, here was an example of supporting a position with a reason that would be laughed at in support of any number of other human activities.

If someone makes us mad, or has something we want but won’t give it to us, we can simply kill them and take it. It’s our right, because it’s natural. It’s the way we are. We are told that humans have been doing just that for most of our history, and prehistory, for that matter.

Of course, the other person may kill us instead, but that’s how it goes. It’d natural. It’s the way we are.

If I want to live in your house, I can simply throw you out and take it. If you can stop me, you stay. If not, I get your house. Until you decide to take it back, or someone else decides they want it. It’s natural. It’s the way we are. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

Puts mugging in a different perspective, doesn’t it?

When I was a child people who acted like that were called “savages” or “uncivilized.”

When I was in college I was told that people like that were “mentally ill” and had “poor impulse control.”

I suppose that is still true, but now we call it “Standing up for our rights.”

What do you think?

Justice or Murder?

Imagine if you will:
There is a predator in the city. He stalks young women. He rapes and then kills them. The police investigate and believe that they know who he is. He goes to trial. A jury (a dozen people from the city who have the good of their neighbors at heart, and the support of a large majority of those residents) determines that the person must be eliminated for the protection of the people. They find him guilty. The state executes him.

We call this justice.

Now imagine this:
There is a predator in the neighborhood. He stalks young women. He rapes and then kills them. The residents know who he is. The neighborhood watch committee (a dozen people from the neighborhood who have the good of their neighbors at heart, and the support of a large majority of those residents) determine that the person must be eliminated for the protection of the people. They catch him. They kill him.

We call this premeditated murder. (And vigilantism.)

Prosecutors, prosecution witnesses, judges and juries in cases where the death penalty is imposed are premeditated murderers in fact, if not in law.

That may be acceptable. It depends on what we, as a society, choose to accept.

What is the problem for which capitol punishment is the solution?

If our goal is to be certain that the killer never kills again, either execution or life without parole will accomplish that. (Although, of course, a convicted killer may kill another prisoner if they are not isolated form others in prison, so perhaps that would be necessary.)

As is often mentioned in discussions of the death penalty, the problem with execution is that we make mistakes and convict innocent people, and then execute them. Life without parole does make it possible to partially correct erroneous convictions by releasing those later found to be innocent. The question of compensation for these victims is another discussion.

Given this reasoning, it seems clear that life without parole is preferable to execution.

If our goal is to exact revenge for their crime, then let’s admit that and have a public discussion about the best way to exact revenge. There is substantial evidence that life imprisonment may be more vengeful than death, but that would be part of the discussion.

If our goal is deterrence, it appears that the preponderance of evidence indicates that the death penalty is not a significant deterrent. We should discuss how much deterrence is sufficient to outweigh the certainty of wrongful convictions.

It is true that dead people do not commit crimes again. So, where do we draw the line? Do we reserve the death penalty for premeditated murder? Any murder? Any wrongful death? Rape? Assault? Owning a dangerous dog? Threatening the President?

What are we trying to achieve here?

What is the most effective way to do it?

I would suggest that, in our real world of imperfect people, the death penalty has deterred few, if any, murders, and been the instrument of a multitude of murders of innocent people by the state, in our name.

I would like to see an end to murder in my name.

What do you think? Let us know.