The topic of the death penalty came up today, with the state of Georgia gearing up for the first execution in the United States since Oklahoma’s 45-minute sufferfest. In response to a frustrated Facebook post I made yesterday, my uncle lobbied his opinion on the matter. While I respect that he has an opinion on the matter, his advocacy for death penalty made me cringe.
Make no mistake, though, I do not respect his opinion at all, and let me clarify that statement before people start jumping the gun about me being narrow-minded (preventative statement: I have been accused of this before). I do not believe that opinions need to be respected, especially if they come from questionable knowledge and/or sketchy sources and/or personal bias. I think this philosophy of “you have your opinion and I have mine” and “while I respect your opinion, I think… blah blah blah blah blah” is ludicrous, especially when the opinion I’m expected to respect is wrong. The respecting of opinions does nothing but allow unsubstantiated information to run amok in a time and place where substantiated information and facts are at their highest importance. Maybe we could have respected opinions two or three decades ago, but the fact remains that Americans are, collectively, too stupid and ignorant to facts and are consistently misinformed.
The median IQ of this country is 100, for fuck’s sake.
Anyway, back on topic. My uncle believes in the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” philosophy, as evident by him making the comment that people should be penalized in a manner that fits their crime. He believes in the execution of murderers, even to the point where if one of his kids killed someone else, he would demand to be the one that gave them the injection. Of course, this is rhetoric. I really do not believe he could do it.
Anyway, his responses cast a bright light on why capital punishment is such a hot issue in the United States. My uncle advocates an old-world response to a modernized problem (meaning: a modern manifestation of a problem), citing that capital (as well as corporal) punishment has been shown to be a deterrent for negative behaviors in our society. He also explicitly stated that there are evil people in this world who “need to be destroyed.”
So, let’s break these statements down, shall we? Firstly, people are not intrinsically good or bad. Their alignments are determined, to an extent, through altruism, yes, but the alignment of any one man or woman goes far beyond a genetic compatibility. We are born with a capacity to be either good or evil, as dictated by our actions. For example, someone who is the product of a murderer is not necessarily predicated to be a murderer themselves, much like the progeny of a drug addict may not necessarily become a drug addict themselves. It takes social influence to determine where the altruistic blueprint will go, as the capacity is there, genetically, both ways. On the other hand, studies have shown that people who were on the receiving end of corporal punishment as children were more likely to deliver corporal punishment to their children over the course of their adult lives, along with being more likely to abuse their children (physically and sexually), abuse their spouse (physically and sexually), align themselves with the “eye for an eye” philosophy, and become murderers and drug addicts themselves.
The point is that for all of the genetic influence needed to determine the actions and philosophies of any one man, social interactions and confrontations determine what direction that intrinsic nature goes. So, as I mentioned before, people are — at their core — neither good not bad, but we all have the capacity to be both.
What does this have to do with capital punishment?
Capital punishment can only manifest if it is socially acceptable to follow the “eye for an eye” philosophy. Think about it logically. Does it really change anything if the person is executed for their crime? Does it bring the person (or people) they killed back? Does it make the grief process any easier for the family (or families) of the victim (or victims)? No, all capital punishment does is add one more dead body to the equation and one more grieving family to the equation. There is no evidence to support that capital punishment is a deterrent of future violent crimes, since the death penalty has been back in effect for around forty years and the United States still boasts one of the highest homicide rates of any developed nation in the world.
People kill each other for a variety of reasons and allowing a state to murder someone just because they took someone else’s life only validates murder, especially in states with high homicide and execution rates (i.e. Texas). It’s hypocritical to think that it’s okay for murderer to be legal by a government institution and illegal for the people. This is the dynamic of the death penalty. To put this in further context, members of the political right support the death penalty, but also frequently advocate that the government has too much power at the expense of the people, implying that the government should not have any more rights (and some argue should have less rights) than the people. Using this logic, the political right should be pissed off that the government has the right to murder someone and they don’t. Right?