The relevant arguments against capital punishment, have been frequently enunciated, over the years, unfortunately, with less than universal, success. To us, each one of the classic arguments is, in and of itself, valid reason to discontinue this barbaric practice. We would attempt, however, to espouse our own additional grounds for its discontinuance, following a recitation of those (valid) classic grounds. We will maintain, that the death penalty, is an anthropological, evolutionary and societal aberration, and a travesty against nature.
The traditional arguments for its discontinuance, include the observation that it is inhumane, irreversible (if later shown to be erroneous), lacks the intended deterrence (as consistently proven by sociological and criminological statistical studies), has empirically been shown to be applied unfairly ( especially to the poor and black people), is unconstitutional (“cruel and unusual punishment”), it is an atavistic form of revenge, and is morally objectionable, since it is (State, sponsored) homicide. It appears that its proponents, illogically, and unethically, seek to teach people not to inflict suffering on others, by inflicting suffering.
It cannot be emphasized too much, that the continued use and modern retention of the term, “capital punishment,” is revelatory of the ultimate validity, of our proposed theme; as will be expressed. The word, “capital,” referring to the head, is historically derived from the ages- old practice of beheading. It is instructive that this pictorially, grisly, use has still been, revealingly, maintained, in this 21st Century.
The death penalty was part of a medieval, Dark Age, system, which included the “breaking wheel,” “keelhauling,” “sawing,” “hanging,” drawing and quartering,” “burnt at the stake,” “slow slicing,” “skinning” “boiling alive,” and other effective methods of “restoring justice.” One, particularly aesthetic example, of the meting out of justice, was the inimitable practice called, “the bald eagle.” The latter involved, placing the convicted criminal in a prone position, severing his ribs from the spine, with a sharp implement, and then, pulling the lungs through the opened body to create a pair of “wings.” These official acts of punishment were, generally performed before an enthusiastic, viewing public. Clearly, the classic argument that the death penalty brutalizes society has merit.
In authoritarian regimes, the death penalty is commonly utilized as a means of political repression. For example, it appears that during the Stalin era, more than one million citizens were executed in the year 1937 through 1938, most of them, by a bullet in the back of the head. In the Chinese, “Cultural Revolution,” as reportedly stated by Mao Zedong, more than 800,000 people were executed by the State, in 1966 to 1976.
The General Assembly of the United Nations has, over the years, adopted resolutions providing for a global moratorium on executions, looking to an eventual abolition of the same. However, shamefully, the United States is part of the 60% that still retain the death penalty.
The ancient Bible and the Koran, provide for the death penalty, as does the practices of many ethnic cultures. It may be noted that the renowned, Hebrew philosopher, Moses Maimonides, wrote, “It is better and more satisfactory, to acquit a thousand guilty people, than to put one innocent to death.” This concern endures to this date, and is expressed along with the other classic, oppositional arguments, cited above, seeking repeal.
Before the recitation of the bases for our opposition to the death penalty, we would like to subscribe to all of the classic and practical arguments, against it, but, most particularly, those arguments that relate to morality and cruelty; the balance, while absolutely valid, relate to the problematic effects of its implementation. It is true that mistakes in justice cannot be corrected, due to its finality. The assumption that it makes for deterrence, like the perception that it grants justice to the victim’s family, are obviously erroneous. Arguments concerning its selective application, the cruelty of waiting for the date of death, the botched procedures, the expensive and lengthy appeals, are all beside the point. The salient point is that it is intentional homicide, practiced by society, based upon an atavistic, cruel and ignorant vengeance-seeking practice which is shamefully unbecoming to modern mankind.
It took a course of uncountable eons, for the planetary environment, or nature, to ultimately produce, its most advanced, and conceivably, its ultimate product, mankind; a creature gifted with an advanced brain, the means of working and advancing (the opposable thumb) and an upright position for efficient mobility. After living alone, with the accompanying necessity to spend all of his time seeking food and safety, he progressed to inter-dependent and socially stimulating, societal living. The continued progress of this magnificent product of natural evolution, is largely due to man’s gifts of the ability for reason, and capacity for advancement. Today, mankind owes an unpayable debt to nature, for such potential, and to his many generations of forebears, for his present developed state. He is connected in time, to the homo sapiens of the Stone Age, and all of his brethren up to date. How dare he, or his society, kill another such human being for any reason? Errant people, even the most disreputable of us can be isolated from the rest of society; but, as fellow, homo sapiens, not, permissibly, terminated.
Humankind has come a long way since the dark ages, which may have been a retrogressive, misstep, involving, witches, spells, heresy, black magic, burning people at the stake, superstition and the like; it was a wrong turn, a deviation from the steady advancement of mankind toward an ever improving societal existence. The 19th Century Age of Enlightenment, that followed, seemed successful in opening man’s eyes to rational and empirical progress, and was a clinically needed antidote to the disease of Dark Age ignorance.
Capital punishment, or, as more descriptively and functionally termed, “the death penalty,” is, inarguably, anthropologically regressive; an atavistic, shameful and cruel medieval relic of the Dark Age. It is a U turn from enlightenment and moral modernity, back to the evil age of torture and the rack. Our supplemental argument for the elimination of the (ancient) death penalty, in short, amounts to, an appeal to modern man’s stage of rational perspective and moral progress.