Among the favored choices of entertainment during the era commonly identified as, “The Medieval Period,” was attendance at tortures and executions, normally ordered by the Church or the Crown. It might excitingly feature, the “Rack,” the “Iron Maiden,” “The Chair of Torture,” “Skin Flaying,” “Boiling”, or any one of the great many grotesque and grisly artifacts, used to inflict excruciating pain and death, on a human being. In later Centuries, particularly in the New World, the desire for such gruesome entertainment was assuaged only in its attendance at public hangings. The latter, one assumes, were somewhat less entertaining than, say, the bloody, and excruciating pain produced by the flaying of skin from a living victim, but it is somewhat of a consolation, that the people in attendance, did have the benefit of witnessing a victim in his shaky danse macabre, as he mortally strangled on the rope.
In modern times, we use the evolved euphemism, “Capital Punishment,” for the State termination of a convicted criminal’s life, in criminal matters involving intentional murder or less frequently, for treason. It may be that public sensibilities have to some degree positively evolved, at least to the extent that this homicidal event, is not celebrated in public, nor preceded by a first act of anguishing torture. We use the phrase, “evolved euphemism,” in reference to the fact that the word “capital,” has its origin in the word, “decapitate,” specifically referring to a public beheading, a danse macabre especially popular in the bloody days of the French Revolutions.
On a related subject, we would state that we do see positive utility in the general concept and use of euphemism, to soften the impact of harsh events, such as layoff (“downsize”), blind (“sight challenged”), died (“passed away,” and euthanize (“put to sleep”). The appropriate use by friends and acquaintances, of a neutral or general word, to soften reference to a harsh event, is empathic and commendable.
We award no such admiration for euphemistic references to immoral or improper actions. These include, as killing (“offing”), stealing (“lifting”), robbing (“shaking down”), steal or rob (“heist”) nor, indeed to State homicide. (“capital punishment”). Candidly and ironically, we see the act itself, as a replication of the specific brutal act which the State seeks to discourage. Our intrinsic objection, however, is not logical, but moral. Killing, with the sole exception of the existentially, unavoidable constraints of unpreventable, defensive war, is not, and was never, the proper office of any civilized society. It is distinctly and profoundly unnatural (for non-predatory animals, such as humans) immoral, and the practice should, at long last, be stopped.
We would submit that individuals who faithfully continue to look to the Bible as a moral guide, ought to realize that the enumerated moral strictures, and the prescribed penalties (lex talionis) for their disobedience, like stoning and other forms of death-dealing penalties, were conceived, by religious leaders thousands of years (and many light-years of human advancement) prior to modern society. Even so, the decalogue (“The Ten Commandments”) since the days of Moses, historically and religiously referred to as the basic moral and legal reference, contains in its sixth admonition, “Thou shall not kill.” For religious adherents we would emphasize the absence of any parenthetical exceptions. It is, however, inarguable, that no competent person, albeit with the best computer, can calculate the astronomical numbers of innocent human souls, murdered in the name of religious belief, or alleged religious heresy.
As a matter of eternal, universal, and fundamental morality, we cannot conceive of the propriety of any code, or practice, which condones killing, inclusive of its practice by the State as punishment. Although our posture is based on morality, there are well-known, numerous practical and societal problems with the concept, as practiced. The known practical impediments to any program of punitive execution, as condensed, are (a) the brutality of the killing, itself and the brutalizing of society by its approved practice (b) its ultimate finality, making any subsequent findings of error (legally, factually or by the use of DNA) irreversible (c) the unfair and demonstrated, color- biased application of the penalty, (d)the Constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments; to include the specific act of killing itself, as well as the many months of agonized and expectant death row attendance, pending the extensive processes of appeals and administrative procedure (e) the uniform determinations of qualified criminologists that its avowed purpose, “deterrence,” is not an empirical reality (f) the instances of negligent error regarding the act of execution, electrical or chemical, resulting in the horrifically painful prolonging of the prisoner’s death.
We would certainly welcome the cessation of State-authorized homicide for any, or all, of the above practical impediments, although we would be more appreciative of its termination for moral reasons, as a confirmation of our optimistic belief and aspiration for evidence of the continued moral evolution of mankind. As outspoken opponents of capital punishment, we have on occasion been asked, “How would you personally feel if someone in your family were murdered? We have uniformly answered, “I would, in such event, emotionally, want the perpetrator to be killed as revenge but in such an emotional state of mind, I would certainly not be in any position to make the best decision for society’’.
*Apologies for the use of name, to Camille Saint- Saens.