Should We Kill People?

Should we kill people who do not follow the law?

This post is not on a topic that I’ve had a lot of controversy discussing before, but I realise that it is actually fiercely fought across the world.  I think I will play devil’s advocate with myself a little, in order to get a feel of internal debate going here!

There are many things to say in favour of the death penalty. With repeat offenders of serious crimes it could be seen as the only solution there is for dealing with them, short of keeping them locked up forever.  It could save significant amounts of money, given that the government would not have to pay the living costs of criminals, and as prisons are getting over-full anyway, it could save space.  What’s more, it is a powerful deterrent (there’s no coming back from being dead), and, for the more scarily vindictive, some people deserve to die.

Apart from the very last point, I am inclined to sympathise with this line of argument, because it makes a handful of decent points (I understand I made them, but work with me here).  However, I personally am vehemently opposed to the death penalty.

I think that punishments should be preventative: in order to discourage people from committing crimes, and to stop people who are likely to commit crimes from committing them again.  I do not think that people should be punished simply for “doing wrong”, as I would struggle to see what would be the ideal end result, if not one of the above.  In that sense, I don’t think some people “deserve” punishment on any inherent level, and thus some people do not, fundamentally, deserve to die.

I believe that killing is wrong. I imagine that this is a view held by a lot of people.  I myself think that there are few things, short of rape and torture, that are worse, morally. If we were to institutionalise killing, then that normalises it to an extent.  If we are to kill people, how can we really take the moral high ground about lesser crimes such as stealing cds or smashing windows?  Would revenge killings count as murder, and how could we justify saying that if it is? A justice system should be trustworthy and respected, and that is hard to achieve if they get their hands dirty in such a way.  It’s a joke going through twitter now: “What’s the death penalty? Killing people that kill people to show people that killing people is wrong.”

However, compared to all the obvious practical advantages, should purely moral objections be given such weight?  I would say yes, as I believe that you shouldn’t put prioritise material gains over (as I see them) such fundamental moral ideas.  But what is more, there are serious practical problems with the death penalty. A significant flaw is one of the advantages I mentioned above: when you kill someone, you can’t just take it back.  The guilty verdict must be absolutely irrefutable. That is rarely the case.  Furthermore, execution rarely acts as a much stronger deterrent than prison, countries and eras with death penalties simply do not have lower crime rates (there are other factors involved, of course, but this shows the effect is small).

So it appears I can’t persuade myself otherwise. I still think the death penalty is pointless and barbaric.  Others are welcome to have their own opinions on the subject. As long as they do not become a member of government. Or vote.  Or speak.

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2 thoughts on “Should We Kill People?

  1. iwanttheconch says:

    I have a minor disagreement with one logical step (you made an inference as if it were a deduction, which even I think I’m being too pedantic in saying), and two major disagreements which have nothing to do with the death sentence (that killing is inherently wrong and that material arguments are not inherently more important than moral ones), but I do understand that I may be wrong on both counts. Really, my problem is that you have made every point I would make and more and any argument I make would be so weak that I simply cannot write a response to this blog!

    • igottheconch says:

      Thanks! (probably…)
      Most of this was pretty off the cuff stuff, so I might have made a couple of leaps which didn’t look like leaps to me, as it was my brain thinking.
      On your quibbles, the first is one discussed a little earlier (In both of our posts on morality), but I think if you believe in right and wrong (even subjectively), a lot of people would have killing pretty high on the “wrong” list. Perhaps I should say “my moral code dictates that killing is very wrong. Many people share this code. I would go on to say that, according to my code, it is wrong in most situations, and undesirable in all.” Happy?
      The second…well that depends to the extent of both. I wouldn’t spend a £1bn to prevent a man cheating on his wife, for instance. Frankly, the ultimate moral decision (regarding an individual, in my view) should not be put down simply to cost. To argue (seriously) otherwise, I see as…is sociopathic too strong? Possibly. But close.

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