Thursday, March 17, 2005

The death penalty: not cruel enough?

It recently was reported that in Iran, a person was flogged 100 times, turning his back a bloody mess. He then was lifted and strangled to death by a crane as thousands of onlookers cheered.

It probably would come as understatement to most of the readers of this blog that such behavoir violates Americans' standards of decency.

But not so fast.

Now comes a blog entitled The Volokh Conspiracy, whose author says criminals in this country need to be tortured a bit -- or maybe a lot -- before they are executed. Revealing his true colors, blogger Eugene Volokh writes:

I should mention that such a punishment would probably violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. I'm not an expert on the history of the clause, but my point is that the punishment is proper because it's cruel (i.e., because it involves the deliberate infliction of pain as part of the punishment), so it may well be unconstitutional. I would therefore endorse amending the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to expressly exclude punishment for some sorts of mass murders.

Naturally, I don't expect this to happen any time soon; my point is about what should be the rule, not about what is the rule, or even what is the constitutionally permissible rule. I think the Bill of Rights is generally a great idea, but I don't think it's holy writ handed down from on high. Certain amendments to it may well be proper, though again I freely acknowledge that they'd be highly unlikely.

This requires no further comment from me. To read Eugene's full entry, go here.
You can also access the article out of Iran by going here.

Many thanks to Neal from North Carolina for letting our readers know about this...this...this...perspective on retribution.


Kobutsu Malone said...

On Punishment

I speak from the perspective of a simple Buddhist priest - I have learned over the years through working with my own children, students, prisoners and my fellow human beings that any form of punishment, be it corporal or psychological, is injurious, causes pain and is counterproductive.

Punishment involves the deliberate infliction of physical or emotional pain or injury - on a being - by another person or persons who exercise a “power over” dynamic toward that being. The deliberate infliction of pain on an individual in response to an action after it has occurred can in no way change the effect of the original action nor can it serve to educate or awaken the individual. The physical or emotional pain or injury of punishment done to a child or an adult creates only fear and trauma, it not only damages the person being punished but it damages and enslaves those who inflict the punishment. The abuse of physical violence visited on anyone is a deliberate act which scapegoats the person through lack of control over our burden of internalized oppression.

The net result of any kind of punishment is internalized oppression, humiliation and degradation for both the giver and the receiver of the punishment. It is difficult indeed to really see the profound depth of this truth because we as individuals and collectively as a society live within an oppressive and coercive environment. Our vision is completely blocked to the truth by materialism in the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of our lives. Arrogance and aggression permeate our society, our history, our religious traditions, our so-called “judicial system” to the point that we can not dare to even question the premise of punishment without drawing shocked response from our fellow citizens. We live in a nation surrounded by violence, we worship violence and the infliction of pain in our entertainment, in our day-to-day interrelationships with each other. We forget that this is a legacy of hatred and oppression that we have inherited from our parents and they from theirs. We forget that our country was founded on the violent conquest and enslavement of indigenous peoples. Our nation perpetrated the institution of racial slavery of African people for generations for the economic gain of the privileged. We forget that our religious traditions have been used to justify the perpetration of genocide and slaughter on indigenous people in the name of “civilization.”

I submit that punishment is uncivilized and serves no purpose other than the perpetuation of oppression. - I was punished, therefore it is justifiable for me to punish another. I was spanked as a child - it did me no harm - therefore I can spank my children. However, deep introspection into our own experience reveals the painful and horrible truth. It is through the means of introspection and insight that we can begin to perceive our addiction to the assumption that punishment is acceptable .

Each and every time we have ever been punished we have been socialized in punishment – we learn to modify our behavior in the presence of our oppressor who wields power over us out of fear. We internalize our oppression out of more fear and carry it within us. When our oppressor, the one who punishes us, is no longer present, we allow ourselves to feel resentment. In time our internalized oppression builds into hatred for ourselves and others. In the long run our internalized oppression, our internal rage and anger result in depression and social alienation, or, when externalized, the oppression of others. We, in effect, have learned to become the oppressor, we pass on the cycle of violence to our families, our children and our society. Punishment, corporal or otherwise, no matter how it may be justified, is unacceptable and inexcusable, because it destroys any possibility for real healing.

Punishment inflicted for the purpose of influencing others, the alleged deterrent effect, is nothing more that brutality by proxy, socialization in oppression by threat. Deterrence is a myth maintained by the powerful out of ignorance and arrogance and perpetrated on the powerless. People do not consider penalties when involved in illegal activity, their only concern is "getting-over" on those in power - not getting caught

The only truly effective and successful methods of dealing with correction of behavior comes through compassionate communication, comprehension of social responsibility, education, restraint and discipline. Punishment simply does not, and has never, worked.

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