Friday, 21 September 2012

Capital Punishment She's Last Year's Model.

You call her Natasha but she looks like Elsie.  I used to oppose capital punishment on, as it were, moral-absolute grounds: if it is wrong for a murderer to take a life it's wrong for the state to take a life; guilt can never be certain; killing criminals is a violent response to crime which in turn inculcates a broader culture of violence, and so on.  Now I'm not so sure about the moral absolutism.  Some people probably don't deserve to carry on living, after certain actions, I suppose.  But I still oppose capital punishment as forcefully as ever I did, and for one main reason.  What's odd is that I don't often see this reason aired in debates on the subject.  The incertitude of criminal convictions, and the inhumanity of state-sanctioned murder, are still powerful arguments, I think.  But the ethical focus (it seems to me) is less to do with the accused.  It is the accused's family, friends, lover/wife, children.  They have done nothing -- they are innocent -- and nevertheless the state sets out deliberately to damage them: to bereave and emotionally hurt them.  Proponents of the death penalty might say that this is an unavoidable part of the process (which is surely all the more reason to oppose the process); that it's the murderer's fault his family and loved ones are bereaved (but the state has alternatives to killing criminals); that incarcerating the murderer will also to cause family and friends distress.  This last is true, obviously; but if your husband is in prison you can still see him. If your husband is dead, you cannot.

This leads to the story idea: in an ethical future, capital punishment must, by law, involve (a) the humane termination of the guilty party's life, and (b) the Eternal-Sunshine-of-the-Spotless-Mind-esque eradication of all memory of the guilty party from the minds and memories of his nearest and dearest.  There are several dramatic possibilities in this premise, I think.

7 comments:

Captain Ombunkaloola said...

A nice idea, and, to my knowledge, an original one.

Archie Valparaiso said...

Very nice idea, yes.

The hero's mission, having somehow survived the humane killing bit and escaped (you're good at those somehows, Adam): to restore the erased memories of his loved ones... and wipe those of his enemies to stop them from hunting him down.

(May need work - Ed.)

Zenek said...

And erasing their memories is not inhumane?

Zenek said...

And erasing their memories is not inhumane?

Adam Roberts Project said...

Zenek, you're right: it is a violation of another person. Similarly, locking a criminal into a prison and granting their loved ones only occasional visiting rights punishes the (innocent) visitor as much as the (guilty) criminal. But both these things, it seems to me, are considerably less inhumane than deliberately bereaving a human being. Being bereaved of a loved one is one of the most severe emotional pains anybody can suffer.

Zenek said...

But you are not deliberately bereaving a human being. To argue for that raises all sorts of questions concerning intentionality and action

Adam Roberts Project said...

I don't see it raises 'all sorts of questions', to be honest. If you kill somebody you inevitably do two things: you deprive the person of life, and you cause great grief to all the people still alive who loved that person.