Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Spanking Moussaoui

Should Moussaoui be executed?
The usual voices speak out from both sides of the capital punishment debate: some think it barbaric, and some think it necessary. But Moussaoui puts another crimp in the whole debate . . . what do you do with someone who wants to die? When the most severe punishment we can apply winds up martyring a bumbling idiot, is justice served?

I'm interested in the question, not so much because I'm into the capital punishment debate, but because of what it says about our attitudes toward punishment in general, especially when we apply it day-by-day with our children. "Punishment" is, at root, the intentional infliction of suffering on another person, strictly for the sake of their suffering. Some argue that the punishment is for the good of the individual ("to teach him a lesson"), some for the good of society (the deterrence of bad behavior in others) , and some in the interests of justice ("he deserves it"). While we could argue the efficacy or wisdom in any of these rationales, no matter how you slice it it's hard to feel good about making other people suffer. Or, more specifically, it's easy to feel good about other people suffering (who doesn't occasionally delight in the suffering of others?), but hard to feel good about yourself making other people suffer.

Interestingly, our justice system usually sidesteps the question of suffering by defending its sentences as either in the interests of public safety ("take him off the streets") or restitution ("undoing the harm done"). Whether the convict suffers or not is either "necessary evil" or "icing on the cake", depending on how much you identify with the convict.

Research from folks like Stephen Pinker, and my own observations, convince me that punishment is a hard-wired notion in our psychology, something we evolved as a part of our capacity to form social groups. We will always feel the need to "make those bastards suffer." Whether that's a valid basis for ordering our lives is another matter.

At this point, I really don't know how much I believe it. Historically, viscerally, I'm pretty hawkish on punishment. I believe capital punishment can be appropriate and necessary. I don't doubt there may be times when I need to make my children suffer. I believe, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, in "the creative power of suffering." But to delight in suffering of others, while natural, is hardly noble.

As for Moussaoui . . . I wish we could just ignore him to death.



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