I laughed when Neros minions sent
fire-tortured souls to the sky.
Without the walls of Pilates halls,
I shouted Crucify!
I roared my glee to the sullen sea
where Abels blood was shed.
My jeer was loud in the gory crowd
that stoned St. Stephen dead.
Robert E. Howard
Even if the death penalty were morally legitimate (and I think it isnt), and even if we could be justifiably confident that every one of those 234 executed prisoners was actually guilty of the crimes for which they were sentenced (and I think we cant), it would still be grotesque to react to those executions with cheers and applause, as the audience did at this weeks Republican debate. Surely a mood of solemnity and regret would be more appropriate. These Republicans howling and hooting over executions are the kind who formerly reveled in seeing Christians thrown to the lions. The fact that they now have the effrontery to call themselves Christians only adds insult to injury (literally).
I wish I could say that was the only time I facepalmed while watching the debate. I agree that the death penalty isn’t morally legitimate, but I can’t help but want to ask you more about your position.
When you say it isn’t morally legitimate, do you mean that there are no circumstances where executing, for example, a mass murderer that poses no immediate threat to anyone (perhaps tied up and bound to something) would be naturally legal? Being a heroin addict is naturally legal, but there doesn’t seem to be a time where being one is morally legitimate.
I think moral legitimacy entails natural legality (at least typically — perhaps one could cook up weird scenarios where it doesn’t) but not vice versa.
Being a heroin addict is ordinarily imprudent. And when one’s addiction prevents one from fulfilling responsibilities to others, it’s morally problematic (in a narrower sense of “moral”; I have no burden to argue that prudence is no part of morality). But I would have thought there were times when this wasn’t the case–when being a heroin addict neither got in the way of the achievement of one’s own goals nor prevented one from fulfilling one’s responsibilities to others. In this case, I’d have thought it was morally legitimate.
I think I’d agree with Roderick, if I understand him correctly, that justice sets the outer bounds on the use of force–that is, that justice delimits the circumstances in which others can reasonably use force to interfere with your use of force. (Of course people often use the word “justice” to mean other things; accept this usage as conveniently stipulative, at least for now.) There may be moral constraints on your behavior such that, even if it would be unjust for others to stop you from using force in a given case, it would nonetheless be wrong of you to use force in that case. (Charles seems to believe, I think, that a number of cases involving animals are like this.) But there aren’t cases in which morality permits you to use force when using force would be unjust. Justice doesn’t exhaust morality, but morality never permits the violation of the requirements of justice.
Killing the defenseless is, on my view, unjust and immoral–both for the reasons that make it unjust and, perhaps, for others as well.
Outside of abortion, I take it, or does the statement stand without that exception added?
Sure. My point was just that violence has consequences it would be worth avoiding on pragmatic grounds.
Sometimes I think Arthur Silber when he writes about Alice Miller might actually be correct in his speculations on the origins of such reactions.
Is it really more civilized for the shooter who killed 76+ in Norway to get 21 years in a nice prison? If so, then I am happily one of the savages.
If you’re happy sounding like the shooter, well, it’s your life.
I live in Texas and have to deal with the BS from this guy, also I would complain about GW Bush’s reign – but that’s another discussion.
He, Perry, constantly talks about government over stepping their bounds on citizens. He has used his powers to call emergency sessions to add extra measures to abortion laws, mandate vacations for school girls of a vaccination that just came to market for HPV and probably several other measures that I can’t recall, but he has vetoed a texting an driving bill on the measures that it was “an over step of government”.
I hate to call this out too, but also is spending 10K a month for apartment, while the governors mansion is being rebuilt during a time when there is a several billion dollar short fall in the Texas coffers.
The whole “Texas economy” claim on his current campaign isn’t even his doing. Some of the stuff was in place before he was even governor, specially tax related.
Don’t even ask about the education in this state, or about the whole immigration issue.
This guy in my eyes is nothing more than an idiot and shouldn’t be president because he will fuck everything up while trying to instill his religious believes on America. America was built on the thoughts of religious freedoms, or the thought of not having a religious system shoved down their throat. Of course in Texas it’s Baptist church and football that maters.
It would be better to house reprehensible vermin without any chance for rehabilitation for decades? If you cannot trust that a criminal could – or should – ever be safely re-integrated with society, he should be put down. Period.
Seems that prison has become so lax that it really serves little to deter crimes. It is almost literally like going to jail in the game Monopoly – which mostly served as a welcome respite from the costly realities of heated gameplay.
I’m certainly not a defender of our prison system. But the choice “shall we murder them, or instead lock them up in rape rooms and torture chambers?” suggests a certain lack of imagination. (Incidentally, your suggestion that the prison system is “lax” is truly surreal.)
And whatever happened to the idea of restitution?
Restitution to restore the damages to the people who have been killed and the living who have lost an irreplaceable good? Unless you’re a necromancer…
It seems to me that the question of the moral legitimacy of capital punishment is almost purely academic given the by now glaringly obvious inability of states to institute capital punishment in a way that is just even on the supposition of its legitimacy. You said that you don’t think we can be sure that all 234 of the people executed in Texas were guilty. But we can, in fact, be sure that at least 12 people sentenced to death (though, luckily, not executed) in Texas have not been guilty: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf
I have no deep qualms about the moral legitimacy of capital punishment, but that seems quite beside the point.
On purely utilitarian grounds, capital punishment could be justified because of deterrent effects (and of course executing innocent people achieves the same result as executing guilty people if all you’re interested in is deterrence). As long as you execute fewer people (guilt/innocence is irrelevant) than the deterrence effect dissuades people from killing, you’re justified.
Of course that seems like a reductio of that sort of utilitarianism to me, but some folks seem to go for it.
People have used restitution-based legal systems before in the past, and came up with all sorts of ways of dealing with murder. True, none of their methods brought the victim back to life, but then neither does executing the killer.
The fact that full restitution is impossible seems like a weak argument for not requiring partial restitution.
Having been to prison I can assure you it was anything but “lax”,it was an awful,not soon to be repeated experience for me.
I have to agree with you on people hooting and cheering the death penalty and claiming to be Christians,I am 100% sure we have executed people who didn’t commit the crime they were convicted of.
I say this after having seen the wheels of justice grind over people,let there be no mistake.The justice system has very little to do with justice and much to do with money,power and job security for those involved.
That’s not to say that there is nothing good done in locking up hardcore criminals,just that a LOT of people innocent or convicted on questionable circumstances linger and rot in our jails and prisons.I have seen it first hand.
As a Christian it is not my place to decide whether a man lives or dies,I do not have that authority and never will.But human nature being what it is,we will continue to slaughter our fellow man,cheerfully and efficiently for many decades to come.
It seems that all of you are ignoring the subtext of the moderator’s question.
The question I heard, taking in the tone of voice was:
“How can you possibly justify your support and participation in a system so barbaric that it caused 224 people to be executed?”
This was an obvious personal attack on the governor. He made a reasonable reponse defending his actions that obviously found favor with the audience.
The second cheer was the same. A cheer for a man who is not ashamed of his actions, and who acted as the people in the audience who are cheering would have acted. You obviously heard it differently.
Re the poem – I was a Robert E. Howard fan back in the day and treasure the few hard-bound copies I own of his books.
Let me amend my view of the question put to Perry to:
“How can you possibly justify your support and participation in a system so barbaric that it caused 224 people, many of whom were innocent, to be executed, something in which no reasonable person could possibly participate?”
Well, it’s a good question.
A good question for a candidate in a bi-party debate. A reasonable answer from someone who is not ashamed of his actions or opinions. It also shows that he is not afraid to make tough decisions.
This post and thread is based on a audience response that is at best ambiguous and at worst, slanderous.
Neither was Hitler. The willingness to make tough decisions is no virtue in and of itself; it depends what the decisions are.
I think the idea of the post is that even if the death penality is morally justified, it is still outrageous that people stand up and cheer an execution; maybe cause it is still killing another human being in cold blood. What is so hard to get about that?
To clarify, if the audience response is a cheer for Rick Perry’s reasonable response to a clearly derogatory question as I believe, rather than a cheer for the deaths of 224 people at the hands of the justice system, then this post is slanderous.
But they cheered at the mere mention of the executions, before Perry had said anything in response. So they were, what? cheering for the reasonable response they expected him to give?
And how is it “reasonable” to respond to a question about the risk of executing innocents by giving a rah-rah response that says nothing about the risk of executing innocents? How was Perry’s eventual response anything but evasive?
Well, obviously your belief in this case is based on careful consideration of the actual event. You’ve noticed what all the rest of us have missed: Republicans are telepathic. That’s how they could cheer Perry’s response before he made it.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Perry’s actual response was particularly outrageous; neither, I think, was that Roderick’s suggestion. And just who, by the way, is Rod supposed to be slandering? Surely not Perry. The audience at the debate? Is it even legally possible to slander a group of people who can’t be clearly identified as individuals?
Your defense of Perry against a charge leveled at the audience confirms my suspicion that people who like Perry are deeply irrational.
Perry did not evade the question at all. Another way of looking at the question is: How do you sleep after executing your job as elected governor of Texas? I personally don’t want someone in charge of this country to stay awake at night second-guessing their decisions and those of the judges and prosecutors who are aware of the gravity of their decisions in a capital murder case.
Then again, I may be wrong. The crowd may have been cheering for the people who may be able to sleep a little easier knowing that those who killed their spouse or child are no longer breathing on this earth. Barbaric.
Well, I gave an argument for the conclusion that Perry’s answer was evasive. You haven’t given a reply to that argument; you’ve just asserted the opposite. Ball’s in your court.
You also haven’t explained how the crowd could be cheering an answer Perry hadn’t given yet. Again, ball’s in your court.
As long as we have to be ruled at all, I’d prefer rulers with a conscience who are capable of second-guessing their decisions to cheerful psychopaths who plow ahead with no regrets.
“Then again, I may be wrong.”
Yes you are. The problem is that you cheer at the sole idea of killing somebody in cold blood, for any crimes he may have commited, even if it is legall to do it. Is that so hard to get, or do your moral compass is so fucked up to get it?
It’s a fair question. Having a “job” isn’t a good reason to abolish your conscience. No job — not even any government job — is more important than the obligations to be decent and just.
If George Wallace rose from the grave in order to run for President again, I sure hope that someone would ask him how he slept at night after executing his job as the elected governor of Alabama. Because that domming governor sure hurt an awful lot of people, and if he wasn’t ashamed of it (as he never was, to his dying day), that doesn’t speak well to his humanity, and it also is a good reason to loathe and fear the prospect of such a man gaining even more power over other people.
Well, you lay on the sarcasm pretty thick, but the suggestion — that you might ought to cheer at the thought of killing a helpless prisoner, premeditated and in cold blood, in order to help the victims’ family with their insomnia — really is barbaric. Other people’s lives are not yours to sacrifice for the sake of somebody else’s emotional closure.
Can you fill me in on the George Wallace reference? Just skimming his wikipedia article says he later regretted supporting segregation as the Governor of Ala.
Roderick: So Perry is a psychopath?
Rad Geek: So Perry is another George Wallace (former Governor of Alabama)?
The question to Perry was: Do you struggle to sleep at night? His answer was a clear no. Evasive?
Should Perry lose sleep for his participation in a system which the majority of Americans believe moral, and which is the law of the land in Texas, the law he swore to uphold?
Losing sleep over your previous decisions leads to becoming indecisive on your next. I want my leaders to learn from their previous decisions, but to concentrate on their jobs, their next decisions, not their last one.
As Perry says, the majority of Americans support the death penalty. So I believe that first cheer is not for the deaths of the inmates, but against an obviously antagonistic moderator, and for what they believe is justice.
Theoretically, I am against the death penalty, but I can imagine how I’d feel if someone killed one of my children or my wife. Would you still be so adamant if someone viciously killed a loved one? Really?
No. Rick Perry has killed far more people than George Wallace did.
If your question is meant to be a rhetorical question, then this is an absurd appeal to popularity, followed by an absurd appeal to authority. If your question was not meant to be rhetorical, then the answer is, yes. Majority approval is not a reason to abolish your conscience, and neither is “the law of the land.” And if Rick Perry swore to uphold a law which requires injustice, then that may well be a problem for Rick Perry, but it’s not a problem he can get out of simply by doing the evil he once swore to do.
Well, good. If experience has shown that there’s a reasonable probability that what you’re about to do is seriously wrong, then maybe you ought to take a moment to second-guess yourself.
Right; what they “believe is justice,” in this particular case, is killing prisoners. So they were cheering for killing prisoners. How does that differ from what Roderick already said they were doing?
I have no reason to think he’s literally a psychopath, no; but the characteristics you say are desirable in a ruler do seem to edge toward the psychopath end of the spectrum.
Well, the question was: do you struggle to sleep at night given the possibility that some of those executed were innocent? To reply cheerfully that in Texas the guilty must expect to be executed is certainly an evasion of that question.
Yes, if the majority is mistaken and the law is unjust.
And actually, yes even if the majority is right and the law is just. Even on the assumption that the death penalty is legitimate, it’s something one should not impose lightly and where one should always be worried about the possibility of mistake.
People sometimes say that a virtuous person will always enjoy their duty and perform it cheerfully. (Aristotle has been interpreted as saying this, though he actually says something much more nuanced.) But, borrowing an example from Karen Stohr — suppose it’s your duty to break bad news to someone (e.g., that their loved one has died). If it’s your duty, you ought to do it; but anyone who does it cheerfully and with no feeling of reluctance would be a creepy person.
I want my leaders to resign. Or to be overthrown. Or to be so widely ignored that they lose all power and have to find an honest job.
But in this case what they believe is justice is the deaths of the inmates, no? What’s the difference?
In any case, even if it were justice it would be inappropriate to cheer for it, for the reasons I discussed above. And here’s another example:
Suppose the only way I can save myself from drowning is by kicking away the hysterically panicked person clinging to me. So I kick them away, they drown, and I survive. My action was perfectly justified, but it would be weird to cheer me for it, or to say I should lose no sleep over it.
Or think of Sophie’s Choice. Was her decision justified? Absolutely. Should she feel cheerful — or cheerable — about it? Surely not.
No doubt if someone killed one of my loved ones I’d want that person dead. So what? The emotions people would feel in horrific circumstances do not seem a particularly reliable guide to policy. The law is reason free from passion, as a mostly wise slaveowner once said.
And since when a belief is justified or not barbaric just cause “the mayority of x population” believes it is? 50 years ago the mayority of americans believed in racial segregation…still doesn´t change such belief was and is barbaric.
The legitimacy of slavery was also a pretty widely held belief for thousands of years of human history — as well as being the law of the land in most lands. Does that mean that no one should have lost sleep over enforcing slavery (e.g., catching and punishing runaway slaves)?
Slavery? Racial segregation? You’re confused and off topic.
Your ideas of leadership are also confused. Dithering while making a decision can mean your core beliefs are unclear. I’m reminded of a Zen parable. Two travelling monks came to a river. There was a woman who wanted to cross, but was afraid she may fall and be swept away. Although it was forbidden for monks to touch women, the elder monk picked up the woman and carried her to the other side. After travelling for some time, the younger monk turned to the elder and said, ‘How could you touch that woman?’ The elder monk gently replied, ‘I put the woman down on the river bank. Why are you still carrying her?’
I think it is reasonable to argue that the people in the audience were cheering because they opposed the attacks of the blatantly hostile moderator whose obvious intent was to disparage Perry, rather than for the executions. If so, your righteous indignation goes down the drain.
Rather than voting for Perry, vote for someone like Obama who agrees with you (oh wait… well you must have an anti-Obama-the-barbarian post somewhere too). I’m sorry I wasted my time and yours here. Still, thanks for the Robert E. Howard quote.
You’re the one who treated the mere fact that something is the law and is supported by a majority as a reason in its favour. Slavery and racial segregation are clear counterexamples to the principle you invoked, and so are clearly on topic.
Listen to the clip again. Notice at what point the applause erupts.
I can’t think of very many issues where Obama agrees with me.
Quite a few, actually.
P.S. – Does executing an innocent person and then covering it up count as true leadership?
“The law is reason free from passion, as a mostly wise slaveowner once said.”
This seems to conflict with what you say in your “thinking our anger” paper.
It’s one side of what I said.
You make it seem as though these people are observing an execution, rather than a political debate. Context is critical in properly interpreting crowd reaction — something that is clearly far more subjective and dependent on context than you seem to recognize.
In any context that has one person speaking to a crowd, it is the normal and acceptable convention that the crowd uses applause and cheers to express approval, agreement and/or support. What happened in the clip above was nothing different.
Along the same lines, it is perfectly normal for members of a crowd to use applause and cheering to express their support for and approval of a candidate who shares, and/or expresses his intent to support, their view on any given issue. It is the only way we have for expressing said approval and support.
To suggest that the crowd is cheering for the issue, rather than as a way of expressing approval of the fact that the speaker agrees with them and/or promises to support their view of the issue, is either a naïve misunderstanding or a deceitful misrepresentation of the dynamics of such a context.
When a politician promises a subsidy that will help potato farmers at a campaign stop in Idaho, and the crowd cheers, they’re not cheering for potatoes; that is, their cheers are not synonymous with, “Woohoo! Potatoes! Yaaay, potatoes!” Rather, they are cheering and clapping to express their approval of the politician’s decision to pursue such a subsidy, and potentially their support for the politician either wholly or partly on that basis. They are expressing at the very least agreement with the speaker, and potentially also support for his proposed actions or even his candidacy.
When a candidate speaking in Oregon or Massachussets promises to ensure that Roe v. Wade is upheld, and the crowd cheers, they’re not cheering for abortion. It is not as though they are sitting in an operating room (or wherever abortions are performed?) and gleefully clapping and shouting, “This is awesome! We should do more of these! Yay, abortions!” That’s absurd. Yet, nonetheless, they do applaud and cheer the candidate promising to uphold Roe v. Wade, and this is neither vulgar nor morally questionable. Why? Because their applause and cheers aren’t taken as a celebration of abortion; they’re taken as agreement with a candidate who shares their views, and approval of his proposed actions.
Likewise, when members of the crowd cheered in response to Governor Perry’s record on the death penalty, they were not “react[ing] to those executions with cheers and applause,” nor were they “howling and hooting over executions.” As you suggested in the comments above, observe the timing of the applause; it doesn’t come as soon as the word “executed” is uttered. It comes after Perry’s record as governor, as it pertains to capital punishment and as it compares to other governors “in modern times,” is announced. That statement carries with it the implication that Perry would continue such a policy in the future. The crowd is not cheering death or “hooting and hollering over executions” any more than our hypothetical Idaho crowd is screaming, “Yaaaay potatoes!” or our hypothetical liberal crowd is shouting, “Wooohooo abortion!”
What other commenters have been trying to explain to you—and admittedly, not as articulately as they could have; though you have only made use of your superior linguistic and rhetorical ability to pick at technicalities and slap them down for their clumsiness, rather than trying to understand what they’re trying to say, as anyone truly interested in real discussion should—is that this crowd was not cheering death. They were not saying, “Woohoo! Executing people is awesome fun! It’s my favorite Sunday afternoon family outing!” They were saying, “I support capital punishment, and I’m glad that you do, too, Governor Perry. I approve of your record on capital punishment, and I also approve of the implication that you would continue to support the death penalty if elected President.” They were expressing approval and support for a political idea; they were expressing their agreement with Perry’s policies and actions regarding this issue. And they were doing so in the only way we have at our disposal for conveying such agreement, approval and support — because hundreds of people all saying what I’ve put in quotes above would be awkward, completely unintelligible, and extremely disruptive to a political debate. It would completely fail to accomplish its purpose. That’s why we applaud and cheer; it’s quick, it’s efficient, and it’s not confusing. It conveys a simple message: “I agree with, support, and/or approve of what you’ve just said/done, enough so that I’d like to express as much audibly.”
This is why, to return to my initial point, it is vital to consider context. Sitting in the viewing room while witnessing an execution, cheers and applause would (and should) absolutely be interpreted as celebrating death—and I feel fairly confident that any one of the people in this crowd, if they found themselves in that context, would behave with the solemnity you correctly insist that they should. But when they’re sitting in the crowd at a political debate, cheers and applause should obviously be understood as expressing support for the political views, positions, promises and/or actions of a candidate.
To suggest that the crowd was “react[ing] to those executions with cheers and applause” or “howling and hooting over executions”—such hyperbolic and histrionic language and tone—would seem to suggest an ignorance of crowd dynamics at political rallies and other speaking events that, frankly, is rather unlikely given your apparent mental acuity. Rather, it would seem to hint at a deliberate attempt to vilify the crowd in order to advance your own agenda. It’s really no different than radical conservatives calling Barack Obama a Communist.