Thursday, January 10, 2008

Absolutist Positions Often Backfire

I thought I should elaborate on the death penalty post.

I am not in favor of the death penalty. I believe that the abolition of the death penalty must done through the legislative branch.

Efforts to sneak an abolition of the death penalty through the courts with the argument that the executed might suffer pain will probably back fire.

The form of this argument seems simple: Opponents to the death penalty set the bar to a seemingly impossible level by saying that any execution method where we can detect pain should be prohibited. Since we can detect pain in all currently used execution methods, a single court case can effectively abolish the death penalty.

Technology is such that we could probably make machines that thwart the pain detection mechanisms.

A world where opponents to the death penalty abolished the practice through a court case that demanded a more humane execution machine will lead directly to a world with a more humane execution machine.

In this world, a biotech firm creates a euthenasia machine with a 99.99% success rate. This machine is certified by the scientific community to be humane and pain free. The logic of this new world is quite ugly.

The converse of the premise that execution is bad when the execution method is painful is that, when the method of execution is scientifically accepted as pain free, then execution is good.

This thrashing between extremes has played out several times in western history. Each time someone comes up with an execution method that is deemed humane, there is a spike in executions.

During the French Revolution the progressive elements were aghast and the torturous methods of execution used by the royalty. The society decided that guillotine was humane and egalitarian. The revolutionaries then put tens of thousands of people to the guillotine.

In the US, people decided that hanging was humane. If done right, hanging snaps the neck without severing the head. The hangings (and then lynchings) were done by people who thought they were being humane and were progressing society. BTW, in the first wave of lynchings, the victims were primarily white trash. It was not until blacks were being lynched en masse that our society turned against it.

The idea that the rightness or wrongness of executions lies with the execution method seems to lead to patterns of attrocity.

Abolishing the death penalty in the wrong venue with the wrong arguments invariably lead to world that thrashes between extremes.

BTW, we live in a world where it is generally accepted that "The Earth is in the Balance." The "Inconvient Truth" is that "global warming is caused by people."

The logic gets real ugly: People are the cause of catastrophic climate change. The methods to reduce CO2 are all a joke. The disciples of Thomas Malthus know the real problem is human population. You don't save the polar bear from drowning by CO2 caps. The only way to put the earth back in balance is by addressing the core problem: human population.

The last thing we need in a world that universally accepts that humans are the cause of global warming is a business community working feverishly to create a humane execution machine, and a population that wrongly believes that developing a humane death machine would make executions a good thing.

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