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July 2, 2010 1:11 AM   Subscribe

Pleix makes a great case against the death penalty.

[bronze at Cannes Lions]
[mefi 2005][… 2003][… 2002]
posted by iloveit (97 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmm. It's a pretty commercial, but is it really a "great case?" If it's presenting an argument at all, the argument seems to be

"The death penalty is bad, because if you make execution instruments out of wax, they will melt, and then all that hard work of carving them out of the wax will have been totally pointless, because you won't get to use them or even show them to anybody, and all you'll have left is a little melty candle with a sort of barbed-wire emblem around it. And that's just sad, as anybody who's ever spent a few weeks carving implements of death out of beeswax knows."
posted by koeselitz at 1:34 AM on July 2, 2010 [12 favorites]


Welcome, though – great first post! My disagreement with specific terms doesn't mean I don't appreciate it. Thanks!
posted by koeselitz at 1:35 AM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think it was great as art, but as a message? Not so much.

As with everything on YouTube lately, the vuvuzela significantly improved the video...
posted by wierdo at 1:50 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


What koeselitz said -- there wasn't really an argument, although the fact that we need to present an argument against the death penalty is witness to just how primitive our judicial system is. It's 2010 for fuck's sake. The only real pro-death penalty argument that it's a deterrent is (a) not reason enough to kill people (you can't undo death, and guess what, people make mistakes), and (b) hasn't really been shown to work anyway.
posted by spiderskull at 1:55 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a pretty commercial, but is it really a "great case?"

A "great case" could be nonverbal, couldn't it? If the larger debate consists of a lot of messages (logical and emotional) thrown back and forth by either side, can't an image be one of those statements?

A photo of a naked girl running away from a US napalm attack made a great case against the US being in Vietnam. Using no words, it cut through a lot of bullshit and probably won (or helped to win) the argument for a lot of people.

I don't know how effective this death penalty film is (or could be) in that sense -- it depicts helpless people being killed by government representatives, then melts them away as if to suggest that it is something we could do something about -- but if it gets people to stop and think about a subject that probably makes a lot of eyes glaze over by now, maybe that's one way of making a "great case" against the death penalty.
posted by pracowity at 2:03 AM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: it is so Cruel
posted by Rhaomi at 2:24 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm anti jewelry. Shiny tat.
posted by vectr at 2:35 AM on July 2, 2010


Where killing doesn't happen.

(Reference for non-NBA fans)
posted by i_cola at 2:37 AM on July 2, 2010


Of course if you're not willing to bet your life that the justice system where you are isn't 100% perfect then you should really be against the death penalty.
posted by i_cola at 2:39 AM on July 2, 2010


I've thought about this little video way too much now and while I think it's great looking and well done and an interesting idea, it is not 'good', it does not work. The only ones in each little scenario who should be melting/melted are the shooters/killers. The victims should be left standing, that way, the enactors of the punishment are taken away and we (the viewers) are left with considering the nature of transgressions against societies and those societies' reactions - hopefully coming to the logical conclusion (since we can see, by projecting on the wretched form left behind, our own feelings were we in the same situation) that the death penalty is barbaric.

There. Now I feel better.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:43 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I empathize with the idea that the death penalty is barbaric, but I also believe that an encounter with a real sociopath could persuade one to question his or her stance. And I understand those people too.
posted by belvidere at 3:04 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, life! Full of people who want one thing and people who want another. Oh dearie me.
posted by WalterMitty at 3:06 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only real pro-death penalty argument that it's a deterrent is (a) not reason enough to kill people (you can't undo death, and guess what, people make mistakes), and (b) hasn't really been shown to work anyway.

Which is why most principled arguments in favor of the death penalty only make reference to deterrent effects in passing. The core of the argument is that it's the right thing to do.

If you disagree with that, well, there's the point of disagreement.
posted by valkyryn at 3:10 AM on July 2, 2010


I would be totally for the death penalty if it were painless, if it was applied totally consistently, if cops and juries and judges were infallible and totally unbiased, if all people sentenced to the death penalty received first rate legal advice from the very outset, if it were cheaper than incarceration, if we could neatly sort people who had genuinely repented from those who posed a continued danger to society, if we made some mitigation for the genuinely disturbed, abused and mentally ill and if it were reversible in case we found some more evidence that exonerated the guilty person.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:27 AM on July 2, 2010 [27 favorites]


I also believe that an encounter with a real sociopath could persuade one to question his or her stance.

Yeah, but no, I don't think killing people is the right thing for the law-and-order branch of a government to do.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:28 AM on July 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


The victims should be left standing

But they are, aren't they? I thought it was the killers and their weapons (sword, rifle, noose, electric chair) that melted away.

Two more things this little film does to advance its message:posted by pracowity at 3:44 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked the commercial. Not a great argument as others have said. I don't think it could really convince death penalty advocates. I used to be one. I live in Illinois, the moratorium here really helped spark renewed interest in its abolition. I am anti-death penalty now. I feel it's morally wrong, but a whole host of other arguments helped convince me that it was wrong.

I think the one I still cling to is simple. Out of all the powers to hand over to the state, the power to kill you? I don't fucking think so. The government in Illinois is beyond inept, same goes for a number of other US states. You really want to give these bozos the right to legally murder you? I don't think they can tie their shoes (I'll bet there's a lot of velcro on the floor of the Illinois General Assembly), trusting them with life and death decisions? The governor? The IDOC? The courts? No. Fucking. Way.
posted by IvoShandor at 3:51 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


War is death penalty. US govt has delivered death penalty hundreds of times overseas this year. Moratorium on death penalty must mean moratorium on war. Will your govt sign?
posted by Faze at 4:01 AM on July 2, 2010


In trying to think of this as a "case," that is, something other than just a means of galvanizing an already-convinced audience, I'm trying to imagine it done the opposite way about abortion.

I can't help thinking it would do nothing to convince me (as a pro-choice/women's right to choose) voter.

I'm left to assume this will do nothing to convince pro-death penalty voters.









It is very stylish, though.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:01 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


For those who feel this commercial is not making a great argument or not connecting, this is the first commercial that has changed my view of Amnesty from a bunch of unrealistic letter-writers to a force of good in the world. I thought the staging of the wax figures was beyond creepy. It expressed violence, cruelty, and unbearable routine ("this man gives the order, that man shoots."). I saw the guns melting and it was like seeing the sun rise after a long, cold, dark night.
posted by eeeeeez at 4:07 AM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


The only real pro-death penalty argument that it's a deterrent is (a) not reason enough to kill people (you can't undo death, and guess what, people make mistakes), and (b) hasn't really been shown to work anyway.

A true story:

A twelve-year old girl was forced to perform oral sex on her own father, in front of her mother and two brothers, until he - crying - reached orgasm. At this exact moment, the father was shot in the head, as were his two sons. The girl and her mother were subsequently raped hundreds of times over the course of a month, until the girl died from "internal injuries". The mother was later tied up and shat on by a dozen men. Three days later, the men had fled and she was discovered, covered in shit, bleeding from a month of rape - the only member of the family to survive. The men who did this were from the mother's village, and she knew each of them, but they had committed similar crimes many dozens, if not hundreds of times, over a wide area. The mother now lives in a neighbouring village, and occasionally encounters some of those who tortured and murdered her family, who raped and violated her in the most brutal ways - men who have all gone unpunished. How does she make it through each day, alone with those memories?

I'm against the death penalty myself, but if you think the only "real" pro-death penalty argument is the faulty "deterrent" one, then we disagree. Because I think that's a reasonably compelling one right there.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:09 AM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Because I think that's a reasonably compelling one right there.

That's awful yes, but I think MuffinMan's comment above is a good counter to your reasoning.

I guess it comes down to good killing and bad killing. I don't believe there is good killing but we all have our opinions.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:16 AM on July 2, 2010


Emotive video. I wouldn't class it as a good "argument", though. One aspect I can't identify anywhere is the question of what the "victims" did to get where they are. In many cases, it's victims all the way down.
My favourite argument against the death penalty is pure hubris, I suppose: If we as a society cannot afford to keep our violent psychopaths contained, separate from society, then it appears to me that we are spending our wealth on the wrong things. Lock them up and throw away the key, let them weave baskets or get a Ph.D. - I'm not bothered. Heck, the odd one might come up with something useful. Make sure they don't slit each other's throats, and keep them basically comfortable - like involuntary monks/nuns.
This argument also makes me consider my own motivations, because it's just about the most cold-hearted thing you can do to anyone - keep them alive, but kill their dreams.
posted by labberdasher at 4:18 AM on July 2, 2010


The deterrent argument is as valid for imprisonment, fines and other penalties as it is for the death penalty. More so, in fact, because if you survive the penalty, it'll hopefully deter you from reoffending, arguments about the actual efficacy of punishment aside.

A person committing an unspeakable crime hasn't really considered whether the penalty is worth the crime. They either don't rationally consider the penalty, even if it is death. Or, if the crime is premeditated, they believe there's hardly any risk of being held accountable, whether because of a breakdown of society or because they're being very clever.

Having a death penalty doesn't impact the rate of violent crime much in anything but the short term. Investing in programmes that identify mental illness early, or give offenders a way to integrate back into society after prison, or improve the lot of the lowest social classes, or make it easier to escape from abusive domestic situations, are all far more effective measures for reducing crime. But that presupposes that you think the criminal justice system is all about reducing the overall harm done to society, and not about collective acts of retribution. Also, it's cheaper to flip a switch or pull a trigger than it is to deal with the root causes of the problem.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:34 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm against the death penalty myself, but if you think the only "real" pro-death penalty argument is the faulty "deterrent" one, then we disagree. Because I think that's a reasonably compelling one right there.

Not trying to be snotty, but surely the biggest problem there is that the men were not punished. How is cynically not being punished by execution better than cynically not being punished by imprisonment?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:53 AM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


"We believe that killing people is wrong, so if you kill someone, we'll FUCKING KILL YOU."
posted by windbox at 4:55 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just wanted to pop in here and say that, message be damned, I love PLEIX.
posted by kaseijin at 4:59 AM on July 2, 2010


Iraq had the second-highest number of executions in 2009, after Iran. Do we have to invade them again?
posted by kirkaracha at 5:01 AM on July 2, 2010


This seems like a statement, not a case. How would it be a case? There was nothing to sway me except some BS bandwagon statement and is that really an argument?
posted by codswallop at 5:02 AM on July 2, 2010


This just makes me want to buy an Audi and sob into the pleather cushions.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:04 AM on July 2, 2010


I am against the death penalty because it's the worst kind of horror to inflict on the innocent, and it's far too merciful a punishment to the guilty.
posted by notsnot at 5:14 AM on July 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


On further reflect, if this is actually an argument, it's ad misericordiam.
posted by valkyryn at 5:31 AM on July 2, 2010


Not trying to be snotty, but surely the biggest problem there is that the men were not punished. How is cynically not being punished by execution better than cynically not being punished by imprisonment?

The point was actually that no "humane" punishment really comes close to serving justice when the crimes are this numerous and that atrocious. In fact, many victims of these sorts of crimes (sadly, I know several) are more outraged when the perpetrators *are* punished than when they roam free, as many of those punished serve only a handful of years for killing, raping and torturing large numbers of people. In other words, a relative slap on the wrist is demeaning to victims in a way that no punishment at all is not, as one can't rationalise the former as well. Perhaps you'd have to have been there to understand it that way, as I write it it seems odd, though I certainly see it that way myself.

Labberdasher's reasoning . . .

This argument also makes me consider my own motivations, because it's just about the most cold-hearted thing you can do to anyone - keep them alive, but kill their dreams.

. . . is interesting, because as "wrong" as the death penalty may be, there are those who'd rather be put to death than live locked up forever. To some, that's less humane.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:37 AM on July 2, 2010


A person committing an unspeakable crime hasn't really considered whether the penalty is worth the crime. They either don't rationally consider the penalty, even if it is death. Or, if the crime is premeditated, they believe there's hardly any risk of being held accountable, whether because of a breakdown of society or because they're being very clever.


I am sort of ambivalent about the death penalty there is a lot of evidence that it is an effective deterrent. It makes sense that it is an effective deterrent. Note I am not saying that it is an effective deterrent, I'm only saying that there is an inverse correlation between the number of people executed and the number of murders committed overtime in the united states. I am saying that it makes sense that as the costs of committing a crime go up the the amount of crime committed will fall. I am not saying that some other factor might trump this effect and I am not assuming that murderers are totally rational.

Those that oppose the death penalty (along with the question of torture) tend to try and have their cake and eat it too. They often believe the moral argument so strongly that it colors the rigor with which they test the practical argument. I really can't believe the argument listed above in italics. Pretty much every sentence assumes something about a murderer that is really hard to prove and unlikely. Rationality exists not as an off or on switch but on a continuum. They might weight the probabilities incorrectly or compute the future as a series of parallel narrative but I believe the vast majority of murders are concerned about getting caught and getting punished prior to their crime.
posted by I Foody at 5:56 AM on July 2, 2010


My question is why are the various states even having this debate?

Sorry, but capital punishment is expensive and flawed, and does little to deter violent crime, and is mostly used as a tool to oppress a particular socio-economic group. (Well, I suppose the entire incarceration business does that last part pretty well on its own.)

The state should not be in the killing business.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:59 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course if you're not willing to bet your life that the justice system where you are isn't 100% perfect then you should really be against the death penalty.

Not really - what you're betting your life on is whether you're more likely to be killed as a result of a faulty verdict or more likely to be killed by a murderer who would have been deterred or dead if the death penalty had been in place. And let's not forget that the deaths of victims are every bit as irrevocable as those of killers.
posted by Phanx at 6:23 AM on July 2, 2010


I am sort of ambivalent about the death penalty there is a lot of evidence that it is an effective deterrent. It makes sense that it is an effective deterrent. Note I am not saying that it is an effective deterrent,

What? I didn't really know when to cut that quote since every sentence muddies the water further leaving the whole paragraph a masterpiece of nonsense. What are you saying? Where is this evidence?
posted by ninebelow at 6:26 AM on July 2, 2010


what you're betting your life on is whether you're more likely to be killed as a result of a faulty verdict or more likely to be killed by a murderer who would have been deterred or dead if the death penalty had been in place.

Logically correct of course, although I don't think i_cola was advocating going out and murdering someone just to demonstrate faith in the justice system.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:31 AM on July 2, 2010


[...and the argument drifts away from discussion of the film and into the standard pro/anti debate...]
posted by pracowity at 6:32 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


And let's not forget that the deaths of victims are every bit as irrevocable as those of killers.

So that makes it okay that a person who did not kill anyone, but was convicted of doing so, is killed by the state?

(Data point: even if the system were perfect and we could 100% guarantee that no innocent people were ever put to death - or even tried - for capital murder, I would still be anti-death penalty.)
posted by rtha at 6:33 AM on July 2, 2010


Pleix's "Plaid Itsu" was a HUGE inspiration to me.
posted by fake at 6:40 AM on July 2, 2010


[...and the argument drifts away from discussion of the film and into the standard pro/anti debate...]

Thus proving the effectiveness of the film more effectively than a simple discussion of its technical or artistic merits.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:46 AM on July 2, 2010


>I am sort of ambivalent about the death penalty there is a lot of evidence that it is an effective deterrent. It makes sense that it is an effective deterrent. Note I am not saying that it is an effective deterrent, I'm only saying that there is an inverse correlation between the number of people executed and the number of murders committed overtime in the united states. I am saying that it makes sense that as the costs of committing a crime go up the the amount of crime committed will fall. I am not saying that some other factor might trump this effect and I am not assuming that murderers are totally rational.

Those that oppose the death penalty (along with the question of torture) tend to try and have their cake and eat it too. They often believe the moral argument so strongly that it colors the rigor with which they test the practical argument. I really can't believe the argument listed above in italics. Pretty much every sentence assumes something about a murderer that is really hard to prove and unlikely. Rationality exists not as an off or on switch but on a continuum. They might weight the probabilities incorrectly or compute the future as a series of parallel narrative but I believe the vast majority of murders are concerned about getting caught and getting punished prior to their crime.



I like it so much I have adapted to the grammar and what you can not help thinking, what they think, and other problems, but it is very important and I want to know, but your head is not right.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:01 AM on July 2, 2010


If the death penalty is so effective, why does the USA have such high incarceration rates? Surely people who commit violent crimes ought to be afraid of things going wrong, someone getting killed, and the participants being found guilty of murder. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:06 AM on July 2, 2010


I'm only saying that there is an inverse correlation between the number of people executed and the number of murders committed overtime in the united states.

Do you have a cite that backs up this... oh let's be generous... odd claim?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:06 AM on July 2, 2010


Thus proving the effectiveness of the film

Not really. You could post almost anything related to capital punishment -- it wouldn't take that film -- and someone would use it as an excuse to trundle out the general arguments for or against capital punishment, and soon you'd have the standard tennis game.
posted by pracowity at 7:15 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


>I'm only saying that there is an inverse correlation between the number of people executed and the number of murders committed overtime in the united states.

Do you have a cite that backs up this... oh let's be generous... odd claim?


It isn't all that odd, actually, but it isn't helpful either. The number of people murdered in the US has grown--though we're down from a peak in the early 1990s--but the number of people executed has fallen since about 2000.

I wouldn't get terribly excited about this though, as the murder rate doesn't follow the absolute number of murders very closely. The murder rate in 1966 and 2005 was the same--5.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants*--but there were 11,040 murdered in 1966 and 16,740 in 2005.

In short, population growth makes these numbers insignificant in the literal sense that they do not actually signify anything. The number of executions and the number of murders do seem to be very roughly related, but the murder rate, which is the more important number, doesn't appear to be related in any obvious way.

If you're worried about whether or not execution is an adequate deterrent, I think the numbers neither help nor hurt you.
posted by valkyryn at 7:20 AM on July 2, 2010


...and soon you'd have the standard tennis game

To be fair, the framing of the post, i.e. 'Pleix makes a great case against the death penalty' made it pretty much 'game, set and match' from the start.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:23 AM on July 2, 2010


If the death penalty is so effective, why does the USA have such high incarceration rates?

Probably because its use is almost entirely symbolic. The US incarcerated something like 2.5 million people in 2008. It executed thirty seven.
posted by valkyryn at 7:23 AM on July 2, 2010


The number of people murdered in the US has grown--though we're down from a peak in the early 1990s--but the number of people executed has fallen since about 2000.

Which is kind of the exact opposite of what he was saying.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:23 AM on July 2, 2010


Apparently it is difficult to articulate reasons for being ambivalent.
posted by I Foody at 7:38 AM on July 2, 2010


And I'm against the death penalty because I think it is wrong. I am just unconvinced that it isn't also an effective deterrent. I am also against chopping off people's hands if they are caught stealing even though I think it would likely lead to less theft.
posted by I Foody at 7:40 AM on July 2, 2010


Here's some research that suggests deterrence is effective - each execution results, on average, in 18 fewer murders - with a margin of error of plus or minus 10.

There are other papers along similar lines. The chief problem with them is that there really aren't that many executions, so the data may be too thin for such robust conclusions. But it's not odd to think that a risk of death affects behaviour.
posted by Phanx at 8:03 AM on July 2, 2010


valkyryn: Probably because its use is almost entirely symbolic. The US incarcerated something like 2.5 million people in 2008. It executed thirty seven.

Exactly, one argument I've read against the death penalty in the United States is that it's rarely and inconsistently applied, violating the principle of cruel and usual punishment. This came from a death penalty lawyer who pointed out that even when his clients are guilty of murder, more violent homicides routinely get incarceration. Since the death penalty is hardly routine, it's usually the product of some form of bias or incompetence on the part of professionals involved in the case.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:13 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Investing in programmes that identify mental illness early

I'd be totally behind that for humanitarian reasons, because nobody deserves the terrible suffering that goes with being mentally ill, but can I ask, do you have evidence that mentally ill people commit a disproportionately high degree of capital crimes?

Sociopathy, for instance, is not what most people would understand by the term 'mental illness'. It's a personality disorder. At least as I've heard the terms defined, a mental illness is a disease that afflicts a normal personality in a way that's experienced as a damaging imposition by the sufferer - most commonly, the affect disorders such as depression, bipolar and anxiety, and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

There are millions of perfectly nice, law-abiding people suffering from affect and psychotic disorders, and most of them also suffer from a lot of prejudice because the level of general understanding when it comes to mental illness is horribly inadequate. One of the reasons for the prejudice is precisely that a lot of people don't make much of a distinction between a 'violent psycho' and someone who's just ill and miserable. Innocent people don't get the support they need because people are scared of them.

Mental illness is a serious problem in its own right, and one that any society would benefit from devoting a lot of resources to. But I don't think the avoidance of crime is the primary reason, and it's generally best if we can be sure not to blur the line between 'mentally ill person' and 'criminal', because people with mental illnesses have enough to deal with already.


On the subject of the death penalty, I just think we shouldn't execute people because it's wrong to kill people, and it seems really unwise to let people's evil deeds corrupt us out of remembering that. We can't let them decide for us who we're going to be. If we start making exceptions for this person or for that one, we've allocated to ourselves the right to decide who gets to live and die. A citizen who does that is a criminal; a state that does that is tyrannous. It's not about what kind of person is on the gallows, it's about whether we want to be a society of gallows-builders.
posted by Kit W at 8:15 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is an issue I feel very strongly about. In my opinion the burden of proof rests completely on the shoulders of death penalty supporters. But in many countries (like the US), those who oppose the death penalty are in the minority.

Why is this? It doesn't make any sense.

Leaving aside any specific moral structures (i.e. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc...), can anyone provide a universally moral justification for state-sanctioned murder? How is this justice?

You can trot out absolutely horrifying stories about murderers and rapists and molesters and genocides; I'll freely admit that if I was near enough to one of those atrocities I would probably demand blood too. But that does not make it right. It's the same reason we have a jury selection process. Impartiality is a cornerstone of justice. It should also be a component of punishment.

What good does it do to kill a murderer as opposed to locking him up?
posted by jnrussell at 8:54 AM on July 2, 2010


I'll freely admit that if I was near enough to one of those atrocities I would probably demand blood too. But that does not make it right.

I quite agree. Yes, I hear stories that make me angry, and sometimes I wish someone dead for their crimes. But you know, that part of my brain? The angry, vengeful, violent part? That's the part that the law exists to rein in, not to indulge.
posted by Kit W at 9:05 AM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


valkyryn: Which is why most principled arguments in favor of the death penalty only make reference to deterrent effects in passing. The core of the argument is that it's the right thing to do.

That is not an argument; it is an assertion. It's Wilford Brimley's reason for eating oatmeal. There is nothing to engage with in it. It is a statement that arguments could be mounted to defend, but I haven't seen anyone do a good job of it.

belvidere: I empathize with the idea that the death penalty is barbaric, but I also believe that an encounter with a real sociopath could persuade one to question his or her stance. And I understand those people too.

That's the argument from boogyman. I am against that horrible thing, except in the case that OMG EXCEPTION. There are mean people with knives and bullets and bombs and mohawks out there, so *bzzt FEAR FEAR FEAR bzzt* we should do this thing that runs counter to all our principles. The Jack Ryan corollary.

pracowity: Not really. You could post almost anything related to capital punishment -- it wouldn't take that film -- and someone would use it as an excuse to trundle out the general arguments for or against capital punishment, and soon you'd have the standard tennis game.

The tennis game is not the problem. The problem is that no one seems to be thinking enough about the game to consider changing their point of view because of it. Everyone is secure enough in his opinion that no one ever seeks to change it.

[...and the argument drifts away from discussion of the film and into the standard pro/anti debate...]

The film makes a point against the death penalty, right? Doesn't that necessarily mean the pro/anti debate is an inescapable fact of it? To ignore that seems somehow elephant-skirting.

Dee Xtrovert: A true story: --excised because of sadness-- I'm against the death penalty myself, but if you think the only "real" pro-death penalty argument is the faulty "deterrent" one, then we disagree. Because I think that's a reasonably compelling one right there.

Again, respectfully, that is no argument. It is just an excuse to satisfy the urge to punch someone when something bad happens. There is no purpose that is served by killing the perpetrators that wouldn't be served by locking them up the rest of their lives. To discard a principle, however deeply you say you hold it, in the face of anecdotal evidence reveals you never held it as a principle to begin with. Instead, might I suggest directing that HULK SMASH energy towards remedying the systemic issues that make those situations possible, to understanding how the perpetrators could do such a horrible thing, towards erecting a system of justice to criminalize, apprehend and judge the offenders, and honest law enforcement to enforce the decision?

(It is also such a convenient story that it almost sounds like HAMBURGER. Do you read horror story websites on a regular basis? Might I suggest reading Lovecraft instead, he's a lot more fun?)

The reasons to abolish the death penalty are:
* It says that the government is big and important enough to decide who lives and who dies (it's amazing how many people who consider themselves hardcore libertarians are in favor of it when it effectively grants the government the Final Power).

* It poses that our justice system is infallible enough to decide for absolute certain when someone is guilty and when someone isn't and death is irreversible.

* It has this weird tinge, what with the hoods, the multiple switches so no one really knows who pulled the real one, the magic apparatus (you know, the FATAL CHAIR), the last meal, in short the whole dance around it, that almost lends it the air of ritual magic, and anything that could inspire supposedly sane people to engage in such rigmarole should give us pause.

Oh, and also there is that whole "life is precious and to see it end callously is to witness an incalculable loss" thing. But who believes that anymore, right?
posted by JHarris at 9:18 AM on July 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Kit W: I agree. Usually, arguments for the death penalty involve a blatant emotional appeal regarding an atrocity picked from the newspapers, but the extremely infamous crimes often don't get the death penalty in the United States because everyone plays by the book.

For every Timmoth McVeigh there's a dozen cases of anonymous and more mundane murderers who had the dumb luck of getting arbitrarily tracked into a death penalty case by a combination of bias, political agendas, and/or incompetence. It's not about the infamy of individual crimes, it's about how much we trust the government to make the right decision with a basic human right is on the line.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm. It's a pretty commercial, but is it really a "great case?"

Regardless, i'm sure neither of us could hold a candle to it...
posted by samsara at 9:33 AM on July 2, 2010


The core of the argument is that it's the right thing to do.

As JHarris said, that's an assertion, not an argument. Can you (or anyone) explain why it's the right thing to do?
posted by jnrussell at 9:45 AM on July 2, 2010


Regardless, i'm sure neither of us could hold a candle to it...

But you can certainly comment on it, on the maker of it, on the subject of it, or the plate of beans on the table.
posted by WalterMitty at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2010


JHarris on a story by Dee Xtrovert: (It is also such a convenient story that it almost sounds like HAMBURGER. Do you read horror story websites on a regular basis? Might I suggest reading Lovecraft instead, he's a lot more fun?)

JHarris: While the story may seem a little far-fetched, Dee has established her cred w/r/t her knowledge of the horrors of war, both in her own experience (siege in Sarajevo) and her knowledge of other wartime abominations. Look thorough her comments.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:52 AM on July 2, 2010


JHarris, you're consequentialist in your ethics.

I'm not.

Ergo, no argument I can make about this or any other ethical issue will convince you. Though I'd like to think I could at least get you to admit the internal coherence of my position, that isn't really something I've the time for here, as it'd constitute a significant derail.

Similarly, no argument you make about this subject could possibly convince me, because the consequences of an action are not the biggest part of my ethical analysis, and indeed, they aren't always even relevant.

In short, my responses to your points:

- I don't mind this at all.

- No it doesn't. Or at least I don't need it to.

- I don't care. If anything, the ritual adds to the perceived seriousness of the event; I'm okay with that.

See what I mean?
posted by valkyryn at 11:20 AM on July 2, 2010


The core of the argument is that it's the right thing to do.

Right for who? Under what circumstances?
posted by rtha at 11:35 AM on July 2, 2010


I was deliberate in the controversial wording of the post. I was hoping to ensure that there would be discussion of the video itself, along with the standard arguments for and against the death penalty. Advertising exists entirely to convince you of something. It almost never takes the form of logical argument. Is showing something more or less convincing than telling it?

I personally found this particular advertisement to be compelling. It is gorgeous, heartbreaking, and hopeful. It shows you the horror of execution. It shows the hope of abolishing it. It shows progress made, and challenges you to make more. Pleix's ability to get directly from inspiration to moving image is astounding. I am happy to see that ability focused keenly on this subject. This minute of animation may not have changed your mind, but it will change someone's. For that, I am glad.
posted by iloveit at 11:42 AM on July 2, 2010


>The core of the argument is that it's the right thing to do.

As JHarris said, that's an assertion, not an argument. Can you (or anyone) explain why it's the right thing to do?


It's predicated on the concept that there are some things which merit death. I.e. "You do this, you deserve to die." The concept that there are some things which are so heinous that the only ethical response is to kill the perpetrator.

This, in turn, is based on an ethical framework which I haven't the time to get into here. But it derives from Christian ethics--even the Catholic Church, believe it or not, supports the death penalty in principle, even if they tend to oppose it in practice. In short, we punish murder not because life is sacred (it isn't) or because it's bad for society (it is, but so are a lot of other things we don't punish) but because--and here's where the majority of MeFites get off the train--it is just as much an offense against God to fail to punish the wicked as it is to oppress the innocent. Indeed, failing to punish the wicked is oppression of the innocent.

I don't expect you or more than 90% of the people on here to think that makes any sense at all, but that's been the majority Christian position on the punishment of criminals for most of the past 2000 years. It's a complex and nuanced ethical system which I'm not going to even pretend to explain or justify. Haven't the time, and I know better.

*Sticking mostly with "cruel", because if punishment is not "unusual" it ceases to be punishment and just becomes oppression, c.f. the US incarceration rate of black males.
posted by valkyryn at 11:54 AM on July 2, 2010


I think the death penalty can reasonably be applied in only one case: sane, repeat murderers who continue to commit premeditated murder in prison. I think that in such cases there is no better option. Keeping them in the general population unjustly endangers the other inmates. Permanent solitary confinement is torture. So I think there are (or at least could be) a very, very few cases where there is no better alternative to execution. There would, of course, need to be all the existing procedural safeguards and maybe even more.

Note that the point is neither deterrence nor retribution. It's a purely pragmatic argument about minimizing harm, both to the other inmates and to the criminal in question.
posted by jedicus at 12:01 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the death penalty can reasonably be applied in only one case: sane, repeat murderers who continue to commit premeditated murder in prison.

Is there any evidence that such a person ever existed? What definition of 'sane' are we using here - does it exclude personality disorders or not?
posted by Kit W at 12:07 PM on July 2, 2010


I think that if we as a society are willing to kill some of our own in cold blood, then we are cut-off from each other in a way similar to severing the head from the spinal column and rendered unable to connect with each other in a human way. We who sanction such killing, whether doing it ourselves or through proxies, perhaps should be put out of our misery, offered some sort of painless suicide as a mercy. If you are not actively working to end this barbarism, please consider this alternative.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:29 PM on July 2, 2010


@valkyryn

Thank you, I appreciate the explanation. I'm not Catholic and I wasn't familiar with this aspect of the Catechism. It's very enlightening. I was raised with Christian beliefs (and still have them too) and I find it interesting that my reading of scripture leads me to a conclusion completely opposite of the Catechism's. But then, you said that the Catholic church doesn't necessarily support capital punishment in practice so maybe the Catechism needs to be reformed.

I definitely don't want to derail this discussion with religious furor, and I'm not going to debate the theological merits of the Catechism. Instead I'll refer to my original question:

Leaving aside any specific moral structures (i.e. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc...), can anyone provide a universally moral justification for state-sanctioned murder? How is this justice

So we know how Catholics may feel about this, and they're a large group among Christians, but they are not a large group among the human race. What I want to know is if there is a non-religious (humanist if you must), ethical reason for capital punishment being "the right thing to do."

For example. Pretty much everyone agrees that the rights to life and liberty are natural, or "unalienable" rights. I can't think of a single religion's teachings that reject that claim. And since the US (as an example) is not a Catholic theocracy, there should be a universally, non-religion-specific justification for state enforced killing. And that justification has to satisfy the demands of our natural rights.

It can't just be the will of the people. That's mob rule. It's one of the reasons why most nations have constitutions and high courts.

I think I could make a pretty good argument against the death penalty based on the concept of natural rights to life and liberty. I don't know if there exists such an argument in the reverse, but I would love to hear it.
posted by jnrussell at 12:31 PM on July 2, 2010


...it is just as much an offense against God to fail to punish the wicked as it is to oppress the innocent.

This does not rationalize capital punishment, only punishment in general. The whole "you deserve to die" thing is not an outgrowth of any well reasoned philosophical position, but rather born of our innate desire for revenge, you know, that "eye for an eye" thing the founder, J. C., inveighed against, viz.,
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
The process of civilization is intended to mediate such primitive impulses in favor of a more just society, not encode them into law.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:40 PM on July 2, 2010


What definition of 'sane' are we using here - does it exclude personality disorders or not?

I mean sane in the legal sense. That is, that the murderer is legally culpable for the acts. There's a very large body of law establishing the details. Another way of looking at it is that criminal liability rather than medical treatment is the appropriate response. Clearly if the murders were occurring because of an untreated mental illness then execution would not be appropriate.

Is there any evidence that such a person ever existed?

Well, a lot of murders occur in prison. No doubt sometimes they are committed repeatedly by the same person. But no, I don't know if anyone has ever fit that particular profile. My point was that there is at least a theoretical case to be made for execution. I fully expect that it would be rare in practice, perhaps even nonexistent. And that's probably a good thing if you're the sort of person who opposes the death penalty.
posted by jedicus at 12:43 PM on July 2, 2010


I read some more from the Catechism, and found this tidbit:

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

So unless I'm reading this wrong even the Catholic church is saying "in modern time, capital punishment should be the absolute last resort," which is very reasonable to me, and definitely more in line with my understanding of New Testament doctrines.
posted by jnrussell at 12:43 PM on July 2, 2010


A twelve-year old girl was forced to perform oral sex on her own father, in front of her mother and two brothers, until he - crying - reached orgasm. At this exact moment, the father was shot in the head, as were his two sons. The girl and her mother were subsequently raped hundreds of times over the course of a month, until the girl died from "internal injuries". The mother was later tied up and shat on by a dozen men. Three days later, the men had fled and she was discovered, covered in shit, bleeding from a month of rape - the only member of the family to survive. The men who did this were from the mother's village, and she knew each of them, but they had committed similar crimes many dozens, if not hundreds of times, over a wide area.

The Aristocrats!
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:46 PM on July 2, 2010


I think I could make a pretty good argument against the death penalty based on the concept of natural rights to life and liberty. I don't know if there exists such an argument in the reverse, but I would love to hear it.

That's what I was trying to get at, actually. At least in theory, at some point a person can force society to choose between endangering others (i.e., the other inmates the repeat murderer is all but certain to kill), torturing the person (i.e., keeping them in permanent solitary confinement), or executing them. I believe that in certain circumstances, execution might actually be the lesser of those evils. It would be, as you say, "the absolute last resort."
posted by jedicus at 12:48 PM on July 2, 2010


I mean sane in the legal sense. That is, that the murderer is legally culpable for the acts. There's a very large body of law establishing the details.

Hm. Two problems there:

1. Definitions of legal sanity vary from place to place and time to time. Seems a bit of a wobbly peg to hang a person from.

2. Human error again. Juries can make mistakes about who's guilty and innocent, and people can make mistakes about who is and isn't legally sane. It's not the kind of thing one can take a blood test for; it depends on rulings.

But my main problem with the argument is that, while I can quite see the case you're making, 'last resorts' do not stay last resorts under corrupt authorities - and there are always going to be corrupt authorities. They go in and out in democracies; they come in and stay there in tyrannies. Authorities have a pretty good history of abusing last-resort contingencies. I simply think it's too much power to grant to the state to decide whether a human being should live or die - and if we make exceptions for any circumstances, we undermine the whole principle. I don't think it's the kind of power a state can be entrusted with.
posted by Kit W at 1:03 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's the kind of power a state can be entrusted with.

That's a fair counterargument (i.e., that as a practical matter the potential for and likelihood of abuse are too great). I mainly wanted to express my argument as a theory because I find it a lot more satisfying than the line-drawing problem of deciding that some crimes are heinous enough to warrant death and others are not, whether out of a desire for deterrence or retribution. I definitely agree that the legal definition of sanity is less than ideal, often because our understanding of mental illness is so poor, and I also agree that human error would remain a factor. Were my idea ever implemented, I would definitely want to see even more procedural safeguards than we have now.
posted by jedicus at 2:50 PM on July 2, 2010


I get the impression that a whole lot of the crowd that doesn't trust their government to run a health care system, seem to think that this same government can be trusted to figure out exactly which citizens deserve to die.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:24 PM on July 2, 2010


A true story:

A twelve-year old girl


The main reason I don't believe in the death penalty is because of the possibly of executing an innocent person. However, there are certain instances of massive, almost unspeakable evil done such as that described in this story which needs to be eradicated with an equally massive display of force and power. So, I wouldn't bother with trials, imprisonment, or executions in such a situation, I'd follow Ripley's advice: "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. "
posted by fuse theorem at 6:15 PM on July 2, 2010


exlotuseater: While the story may seem a little far-fetched, Dee has established her cred w/r/t her knowledge of the horrors of war, both in her own experience (siege in Sarajevo) and her knowledge of other wartime abominations. Look thorough her comments.

Thanks for clarifying. I did not so much doubt such a thing had ever happened, was seeking more to remark on its extreme nature. Sorry to express myself less clearly than I should have.

valkyryn: It's predicated on the concept that there are some things which merit death. I.e. "You do this, you deserve to die." The concept that there are some things which are so heinous that the only ethical response is to kill the perpetrator.

Then that is your argument; we can engage with that in a way other than mere negation. 'You're wrong/ no you're wrong' is terribly annoying.

valkyryn: JHarris, you're consequentialist in your ethics. I'm not.

I don't care whatever label one might apply to my statements. Reading the page you link to does not make it clear to me that my thinking can be so baldly classified. Particularly, the examples given do not all appeal to me, so I suspect that I am not completely "consequentialist" after all. (But then that page on the PEDE has multiple editing problems.) I don't actually get your summation, actually. My stance seems more allied with the opposite position, that a given act (killing someone) is always wrong.

Particularly, I am not certain I am impossible to convince if the right argument were presented. I cannot put to a name as to what argument could be, but if I could I'd have already engaged with it. I feel what I said very strongly, based on the various things I've read and learned, which is why I was able to speak strongly. One thing that will not convince me, however, is horror stories. That's appeal to emotion.

valkyryn: Ergo, no argument I can make about this or any other ethical issue will convince you. Though I'd like to think I could at least get you to admit the internal coherence of my position, that isn't really something I've the time for here, as it'd constitute a significant derail.

Feel free to MeMail me on the issue.

Similarly, no argument you make about this subject could possibly convince me, because the consequences of an action are not the biggest part of my ethical analysis, and indeed, they aren't always even relevant.

Now that I have a problem with. "'The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind." I got to quote William Blake! I got to quote William Blake!

A big problem with "debate" these days is just this, people who are so utterly confident in their perspectives that they admit no chance of error. We are all more than mere principles of logic.

[...]even the Catholic Church, believe it or not, supports the death penalty in principle, [...]

Oh, the irony.
posted by JHarris at 6:16 PM on July 2, 2010


Again, respectfully, that is no argument. It is just an excuse to satisfy the urge to punch someone when something bad happens. There is no purpose that is served by killing the perpetrators that wouldn't be served by locking them up the rest of their lives. To discard a principle, however deeply you say you hold it, in the face of anecdotal evidence reveals you never held it as a principle to begin with.

I never discarded any principle. I only stated that there are reasons to support the death penalty beyond the one previously mentioned: deterrence. Just because there are fairly legitimate reasons for supporting the death penalty, that doesn't mean that one can't still be against the death penalty, as I am. An intelligent person can hold contradictory information in his or her head and still make a choice between the contradictions.

Instead, might I suggest directing that HULK SMASH energy towards remedying the systemic issues that make those situations possible, to understanding how the perpetrators could do such a horrible thing, towards erecting a system of justice to criminalize, apprehend and judge the offenders, and honest law enforcement to enforce the decision?

(It is also such a convenient story that it almost sounds like HAMBURGER. Do you read horror story websites on a regular basis? Might I suggest reading Lovecraft instead, he's a lot more fun?)


Not only have I read Lovecraft, but I've spent thousands of hours working on the various issues you mention, both personally and as a working member of various organizations. I've testified before international tribunals, I've written thousands of pages of criticism, debate and personal testimony in support of better laws, better enforcement and more effective justice. Even when I could barely support myself and when my English was rather weak, I've worked to obtain war crimes testimony from victims, have them officially translated into relevant languages, seen that they were properly notarized and entered into the "right" record, wherever that might have been. I've even paid out of my own pocket countless times to get all this done properly.

A couple of things I've learned:

1) Those who would diminish the relevant telling of the horrific experiences of others as "convenient" or "HAMBURGER" are only displaying a quite sheltered mindset, divorced from the actual realities many people have faced.

2) Genuine human rights issues, including the death penalty, are inherently "extreme." To write, "I did not so much doubt such a thing had ever happened, was seeking more to remark on its extreme nature" is to rather miss the point.

exlotuseater wrote: While the story may seem a little far-fetched (. . . )

It's extreme, but I know too many like it; I wish it were far-fetched.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:50 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm. There are some interesting threads of debate here, but honestly I don't think I can side with either of the two more distinct sides I can make out. The argument seems to be concerned how far punishment should go; that is, are there certain things for which people simply deserve to die? Or is that a silly thing to say, and is there some sort of inherent spark within human beings which never deserves to die? As I say, I don't think I can support either opinion.

My problem with this debate is that it seems to be grounded on a misunderstanding of the purpose of punishment. The purpose of punishment is and ought to be to do good to the person being punished. If the purpose of punishment were deterrent, then we would just lock offenders in prison camps, without much care for justice or for fitting the punishment to the crime. (Unfortunately, we seem to be pretty convinced of this deterrent thing as a society today. But that's entirely beside the point; our society is wrong on a lot of things.) For reasons that are a little more complex, but, I think, ultimately just as real, I'm fairly certain that it doesn't make sense to treat punishment as some necessary balancing of the cosmic scales of justice. For one thing, cosmic scales of justice seem pretty airy and abstract to me; if they exist, they're the province of God, not man. What's left is that in almost all cases punishment as an evening of scores nearly always manifests itself as revenge killing.

And yet I believe – yes, I really do believe this – that the position which sees mortal punishment as in all cases flatly wrong is in some ways just as cruel as the position which seeks to use it to even some score. JHarris put it gracefully and succinctly above when he described the anti-mortal punishment side as believing that "life is precious and to see it end callously is to witness an incalculable loss." I agree with this statement, but there's a necessary addition to it, I think: death is not the worst thing, and prolonging life is not the highest good.

If I were in a terrible accident, and if, as a result, I were confined to a bed for the rest of my "life," unable to attain full consciousness or communicate in any way with other human beings – my family and friends know that I'd rather not be resuscitated. Many of us now accept this – that there are certain conditions through which prolonging life is a violation of dignity, of happiness, and of all the things that we hold most dear. Of course life is precious, but it's precisely because of its preciousness that we insist that, when the preciousness has been sucked out of it entirely, it sometimes ought to end.

If this is the case when the body becomes so maimed as to lack any functionality, I have a hard time seeing why it's not the case when this happens to the soul. And there have existed human beings for whom that most essential of things, actual, dignified, natural human interaction, is utterly impossible. To be clear, I think this is an exceedingly rare thing; it takes a lot of brutality to nullify one's ability to live in human society completely. But I believe it's possible. And in those cases, mortal punishment is the most just solution, because it is undertaken for the benefit of the criminal.

I know that lots of people will say that I have no right to decide this for another human being; and I agree that I don't generally have that right. But I think society must make this decision; we can't just pretend that we're not allowed. When someone is in an accident and is rendered a breathing vegetable, we have to make this decision, don't we? And sometimes, even when that person hasn't left behind instructions to this effect, it's clear that the life they're living is not actually a life at all, but just a living death. Again, these cases are, I think, exceedingly rare; but I believe that there are situations in which it would be better for a person who have done truly terrible things to die than for them to live, because at least in death the future years of their lives, which cannot hold anything but pain, are cut off, and the prior years, which must have some good in them, can be remembered. No, I don't believe I can make that decision; but I think true and careful judges can and must.
posted by koeselitz at 8:07 PM on July 2, 2010


Dee Xtrovert's chilling comment above rings all too true. Also, I have to say that I found this comment by JHarris

(It is also such a convenient story that it almost sounds like HAMBURGER. Do you read horror story websites on a regular basis? Might I suggest reading Lovecraft instead, he's a lot more fun?)

really rather glib and offensive. Dee Xtrovert, whether you agree or disagree with her on this, has been personally affected by the worst kind of violence in a way that most of us can only imagine. Anyone who has the slightest interest in genocide will hear the horrific ring of truth in her story. In fact, it reminded me of the following story, told at page 186 of this book on the Rwanda genocide:

Jean de Dieu, eleven, was curled up, a ball of flesh and blood, the look in his eye was a glance from nowhere…without vision; Marie-Ange, aged nine, was propped up against a tree trunk…her legs apart, and she was covered in excrement, sperm and blood… In her mouth was a penis, cut with a machete, that of her father… [Nearby] in a ditch with stinking water were four bodies, cut up, piled up, their parents and older brothers… [One day] another word will have to be coined more terrible than the word horror, in order to describe this sort of thing….

I think that anyone who doesn't want, on some level, to kill the people responsible for these sorts of crimes is lacking something important in their moral intuitions. We should want to kill people who do this. But our passions should be tempered by our reason; we should know, as i_cola said, that our justice systems will always be imperfect, and will end up executing innocent people. In fact, Rwanda provides an example of an international war crimes tribunal that may be overseeing serious miscarriages of justice. But I have to admit that when it comes to cases like what Dee recounts, it's purely procedural uncertainties that prevent me from endorsing the death penalty. And in the cases of the top-level leaders - people like Milosevic, Karadic and Mladic, where there is no doubt about their responsibility for genocide, I would have no difficulty supporting their execution. (Yeah, yeah, where do you draw the line? I don't know, but they deserve to hang too much, and their responsibility is not for just one murder, but tens of thousands. I had no problem with Saddam hanging for the same reason.)
posted by Dasein at 12:18 AM on July 3, 2010


The Aristocrats!

That may well be the most offensive thing I have ever seen on MetaFilter.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:12 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that anyone who doesn't want, on some level, to kill the people responsible for these sorts of crimes is lacking something important in their moral intuitions. We should want to kill people who do this.

No, we should not. Our highest spiritual state is compassion, not revenge. Our instincts are not our highest state, particularly not those coming from our reflexes, our lizard brain. Survival is indeed a strong motivator, but it is not the only imperative.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:26 AM on July 3, 2010


Dee Xtrovert, you know, when you tell a story as harrowing and unbelievable as the one you anecdotally relayed, a link to supporting evidence is only fair.
posted by jdurlowe at 2:35 AM on July 3, 2010


Are we so cozy and insulated that we can't believe stories like Dee Xtrovert's are true?


That is jacked up shitty shitty sad, oh fellow 'fites. I guess the Internets don't connect us to the world after all.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:52 AM on July 3, 2010


Why should I believe a story that reads like sick fuck torture porn without some kind of link to an independent news source or police report? It's not even that I don't believe it... it's just that f you're going to use real life stories to support your argument that it's okay to kill people, I want to make sure they ARE real life stories before I consider your point.
posted by jdurlowe at 5:51 AM on July 3, 2010


Dee Xtrovert's credibility has already been established on MeFi, jdurlowe.

And she really doesn't owe you anything.

Have a little respect.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:31 AM on July 3, 2010


If her credibility is so well established, it should be inconsequential for her to provide a link then. Right?
posted by jdurlowe at 8:36 AM on July 3, 2010


For fuck's sake, jdurlowe, she's telling a story from a genocide she lived through. I'd like to see you go around demanding links the next time a soldier tells you a horrific story from a war he fought in. Real life doesn't come with links.

Four years you've been a member, and the first contribution you make is to challenge the credibility of an established member who lived through the Balkan wars and wants to tell us a story about them? Words fail me.
posted by Dasein at 9:00 AM on July 3, 2010


If this was from her time in the Balkan Genocide maybe she should have actually introduced her comment with that, as opposed to assuming that the entire population of people who read MiFi were acquainted with her complete history?

Either way, I'm pretty stunned by what self-righteous prima donnas you guys are acting like. "How dare someone with NO COMMENTS ask for a SHRED OF SUPPORTING EVIDENCE from one of our TRUE AND PROVEN members who didn't bother to provide ANY CONTEXT? Oh, heavens, I think I have the vapors!"

Jesus. See you in the funny papers.
posted by jdurlowe at 9:07 AM on July 3, 2010


Well, look. I think this is kind of beside the point, honestly.

This might seem presumptuous, but I have a feeling jdurlowe's objection isn't really so much the lack of supporting evidence for Dee Xtrovert's comment. Evidence isn't the objection I have to it, anyway. Moreover, some have used the phrase "torture porn," but that's clearly unfair, too; nobody, least of all Dee, has taken any kind of pleasure or delight in the terrible things she described. And I respect Dee Xtrovert, and actually admire her for a lot of reasons; so I'm hesitant to say it, but I don't believe that comment was a fair way to make a point.

There are all kinds of terrifying and terrible things in the world. I think all of us know that, whether we've been through the worst of them or not. There may be situations where it's fair to say many don't understand because they're being naive, or because they don't appreciate the true depth of what's going on; but in the modern world, unless someone is so cloistered that they haven't heard of Rwanda, I don't think it's fair to assume that people are against the death penalty simply because they don't fully appreciate the evils that other humans are capable of.

None of us are that cut off from the world. We know the terrible things that happen in it, though not first-hand. The comment Dee Xtrovert made would've been just as effective if she'd merely said: "I've seen some terrible, terrible things, things which are so horrific they convinced me that some people ought to die because of what they've done." That would've added just as much to the conversation.

The main thing here is that I don't think the "shock and awe" approach to discussion is a very nice one. When people hold up signs with pictures of aborted fetuses as though that's an argument, it offends me on a very deep level, because I feel as though nothing as important as justice or legal morality should be decided on the basis of disgust or revulsion. I know Dee Xtrovert is a hell of a lot more intelligent than some damned pro-life bigot, and I want to strenuously emphasize that I don't think she's even remotely on that level. But her comment there seemed to rely on shocking the reader into assenting with its premise, and that disturbs me. It's not something I like to see in reasoned debate.
posted by koeselitz at 11:38 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, I think you make a good point. But this

some damned pro-life bigot

doesn't sit well with me. People who are pro-life (I'm not one of them), usually act out of a sincere desire to protect what they see as human life. Calling them bigots, of all things, is no better as a method of argument than the shock tactics you're arguing against. Not a big deal in the context of this thread, I'm just saying, calling people you disagree with bigoted and stupid doesn't exactly show you to be some paragon of cool-headed reason.
posted by Dasein at 11:47 AM on July 3, 2010


Dasein: “People who are pro-life (I'm not one of them), usually act out of a sincere desire to protect what they see as human life. Calling them bigots, of all things, is no better as a method of argument than the shock tactics you're arguing against. Not a big deal in the context of this thread, I'm just saying, calling people you disagree with bigoted and stupid doesn't exactly show you to be some paragon of cool-headed reason.”

No. I agree completely. It's entirely possible to be against abortion and not be a bigot. The comment I made there was about the sort of people who stand outside clinics holding gruesome signs; sorry for the confusion.
posted by koeselitz at 11:59 AM on July 3, 2010


It is also such a convenient story that it almost sounds like HAMBURGER. Do you read horror story websites on a regular basis? Might I suggest reading Lovecraft instead, he's a lot more fun?

Actually, rape in the context of war, has been recently recognized as a conscious military tactic. It certainly seemed to be employed as such by Serbian paramilitary gangs in the 90's. There are many documented cases of organized rape, where for example, a school is converted into a giant holding area for women who are then systematically raped over months. Or men entering a household and raping the women specifically in front of the male members of the household etc. This is not in dispute. There were too many reports to count. People want to deny that reality, because they don't want to face the fact that human beings are capable of doing this.

In the early 90's I was one of the many Westerners living in the Chech republic, working on indie movies, and I mingled with a ton of filmmakers from all over. I had many encounters with Serbian nationals in the film industry. These were generally quite liberal, educated and worldly people, but they'd go stark bonkers when the subject of the war came up. It was uncanny. Example: a Serbian documentary maker, very talented, in her late 20's. I quite liked her. She was a compassionate person (made a great documentary about abuses in state mental institutions etc.). And she constantly raved at the TV when there were news reports about the war. She'd claim that the whole world is conspiring against the Serbs, that these are lies, that the other side of the story is not being told etc. Once I made the mistake of calling her on it, I asked her, how she, a woman, and educated to the dangers of unexamined nationalism, could maintain such an obvious disconnection from reality that's clear to everyone else - and she, a woman, in a war where women were particular victims. She practically physically attacked me. It was crazy and incoherent. It was as if she could not admit to herself, that some people in her culture were capable of such monstrosity - even with the example of the Germans from just a few decades ago.

At that point I concluded that there are some things so visceral that they can overcome all the veneer of education and broadmindedness and tolerance. It's quite sobering, and you hope you are not one to be vulnerable to it. I flatter myself that I'd be immune to that, but really I haven't been put to the test either. I can say that I'm a genuine atheist, as when I had a near death experience (motorcycle accident + 6 months in the hospital), I never once even thought of "god" :)
posted by VikingSword at 2:36 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


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