On NPR the other morning was some coverage of the latest Moussaoui case decision. Now that the jury's found him eligible for execution he moves on to final sentencing. And then appeals, most likely. But I digress.

A brief interview with some random family member of a 9-11 victim. On the way out of court, Moussaoui exclaimed, "you will never get my blood! God curse you all!" Apparently he does that a lot; he may have noticed that it freaks out the audience. Some were understandably upset, but not really for the reasons you'd assume.

"I'd describe him like a dog with rabies, one that cannot be cured, and the only cure is to, to put him or her to the death, " said one. Another, who lost her cousin Eddie on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, complained:

For him to leave the courtroom and say, 'you can't have my soul,' I mean, this man has no soul. He has no conscience. So what else could we ask for then this? For this part to end in this manner.

I'd really like to thank these two for nicely illustrating my biggest objection to capital punishment. I don't much care what happens to Moussaoui personally; it's nothing new to observe that every day many thousands die for no particular reason, and a great many live comfortably who've committed worse crimes than anything he's accused of. However, while closure is all well and good, slaking the public's thirst for vengeance is a terribly dangerous thing. The wars that turn vicious and stubborn get that way because the people on one side stop seeing the other as human, as worthy of being allowed to live as a default position. And while I doubt those interviewed would appreciate the irony, the rhetoric of dismissing one's enemy as a soulless and diseased animal is a favorite talking point of extreme Islamic fundamentalists as well.


Here! Here!

On the other hand, the one that belongs to the devil's advocate, the public will have a thirst for vengeance no matter what. I'll admit I've only read one chapter of Discipline and Punish, but I cannot imagine there's much to be gained from pretending we are not a vicious, hierarchical, vengeful species. However, these impulses being contrary to the principles of human society as we wish to view and create it, is there anything wrong (in principle, not practice) with creating a system of, frankly, catharsis by which we assuage this impulse and still keep society functioning as best we can?

The execution, to coin a phrase, of this philosophy is of course another story, a story to which your points can be made germane as well. The trouble may come with how easily manipulable is the public's desire for revenge. If we accept revenge as a motivating factor in the first place, which we would do by executing Moussaoi (sp.? I'm not looking at your post right now), we unquestionably caused September 11.

Just musing. I may do my own post on this.

Fair enough. Let's say I accept your premise. Then it seems to me that the way we carry out the death penalty is still an extraordinarily inefficient way of generating catharsis. Vast quantities of time and effort are poured into painlessly stopping the heart of a convict on a gurney, in an act which virtually nobody involved will get to experience firsthand anyway. In that narrow sense, the war in Afghanistan, viciously executed, would have been the most efficient possible reaction to the 2001 attack.

But as you point out, the public thirst for blood is a malleable thing subject to little rational scrutiny. Many were persuaded to slake that thirst in Iraq instead, for instance. With better leadership, I am convinced, they would also be satisfied in more productive and less bloody ways as well. (I have ideas about what this might look like, which I may have to get into sometime.) Ultimately the American eagerness to spill blood is a cultural phenomenon, which we would do well to engineer against.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on April 6, 2006 12:26 PM.

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