Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Unexpected Abortion Exchange

I wrote, speaking of anti-abortion zealots who murder and terrorize abortion-providers: No words to describe these evil fuckers. Catch him and throw him in jail forever.

"JM Inc." commented: And yet "evil fuckers" seemed to fit the bill so well. Although "catch him and throw him in jail forever" seems a bit vindictive. I'd be happy knowing it wasn't going to happen again (which it will, you know, that's how the culture of life works).

I responded: Putting a murderer in jail seems vindictive?

"JM Inc." clarified: "Forever" certainly does.

I elaborated: "Forever" means life in prison, obviously, and I don't agree that it is vindictive to think murderers should spend the rest of their lives in prison. I disapprove of capital punishment, even when a horrible crime like the murder of Dr. Tiller really incenses me, as was evidenced in this post written at the height of my horror and anger about it, which makes your reaction to the post especially perplexing to me. Capital punishment does seem to me always wrong and usually vindictive, certainly prone to unacceptable miscarriages of justice, and also damaging to the public world, the res-publica by eliminating the possibility that both victims and perpetrators of the worst crimes might be allowed world-building acts of forgiveness in the fullness of time. Life in prison, on the contrary, seems to me a very reasonable registration of the magnitude of the crime involved when a competent adult intentionally takes a fellow citizen's life when it is not a matter of self-defense. You can disagree with that, but calling it vindictive makes no sense

I'm curious about others' impressions of this exchange. The topic often yields befuddling but ultimately illuminating discursive twists and turns.


Antonin said...

At the height of the event's emotional impact, you called for the maximum humane legal sanction for cold-blooded murder, and that's vindictive?

I say JM is nit-picking for the fun of it, or haven't read many Right-wing blogs.

Kate said...

I think life in prison is a fair sentence, particularly since Tiller's murder was clearly thoroughly premeditated.

I agree, I don't understand why JM would think lifetime in jail for a murder as shameless and cruel as Dr. Tiller's is vindictive. I'm waiting for someone to publicly call the anti-choice organizations out on the circular logic they're using when it comes to Dr. Tiller's death.

barry gillis said...

But i suppose if you would argue that putting them away forever would make us safer by seperating them in a secure place for the good of all of mankind, technically it wouldnt be revenge.

Go Democrats said...

Now granted, my familiarity with the issue is based on a week of having studied in it a philosophy class, but many philosophers, from Kantians to Utilitarians, seem to believe one can find moral justification for the death penalty. Some argue that we should be "better than that," that there are punishments that we should not stoop to--in which case a murder should be punished by whatever our socially acceptable GRAVEST punishment might be.

That being the case, I have no problem whatsoever with life imprisonment for murderers.

barry gillis said...

I guess something went wrong when i sent the first of my 2 replies.

It said something like- To me it sounds like vindication when you want to put people away forever, i believe punishment should aim at rehabilitation instead of isolating.

For me being put away forever would be as bad or worse than death, without ever hoping to be free time would become a instrument of torture.

Dale Carrico said...

I see an act of premeditated non-defensive murder by a competent adult citizen less a matter of a cry for help provoking therapeutic redress than as an act of self-sequestration from the polity. I don't disapprove of rehabilitation, certainly, indeed I strongly approve of it, just as I think it is important to ensure that no criminals are mistreated in their sequestration, but I do think we should all be working on emptying our prisons of nonviolent criminals and participants in consensual acts like drug use and sex work before we give the least thought to the tortures we might be inflicting on murderers simply by imprisoning them for life after committing the ultimate antisocial act. The fact of imprisonment itself cannot be identified with the mistreatment of prisoners, surely, else you risk the far worse injustice of failing to register the substance and salience of the ultimate criminal violation itself. I really do believe that the proscription of murder is absolute and foundational to the polity (more primordial than the scene of consent on which the democratic polity more specifically is founded and substantiated), and that society cannot justify engaging in murder itself if it is to prosecute it -- self-defense and the repulsion of offensive invasion excepted, but only just and with the strictest delimitation. Of course, if a murderer wants to commit suicide rather than suffer the rigors of life imprisonment that's his business, as far as I'm concerned. Self-sequestration doesn't trump self-determination in my view -- imprisonment as a consequence of the self-sequestration of murderous criminality seems to me an expression of self-determination rather than its violation, just as reckoning with consequences always is a part of such self-determination.

JM Inc. said...

Ok, so I basically agree with what Dale just said, if not in all details, then in general outlines, but I.... hmmm, let's see, I suppose the charge that I'm nit picking might be a valid one, but if so it's merely because I am a nit-picker by nature. To me, any attempt to say "well it must carry consequence 'xyz'" without serious consideration on a case-by-case basis sounds vindictive. So do the phrases "maximum applicable" and "maximum humane legal sanction".

I agree with Dale that imprisonment for a crime such as murder is self-sequestration in the truest sense, but as I said, what I'm primarily concerned about is not whether Mr. Roeder, in a sense, 'gets what he deserves', although neither am I necessarily saying I suspect that is what anybody else here is concerned with.

My perspective is that the repercussions brought to bear in cases of profoundly anti-social behaviour on the part of an individual should be the minimum necessary to reduce to relative negligibility the likelihood of recidivism. That's all I'm concerned about - is Mr. Roeder going to do it again? Is he going to do something else equally anti-social in the future as a consequence of our not bringing consequence 'xyz' to bear against him?

It may very well be that if he is not imprisoned for an extensive duration of time, that he will do something similar, or will be likely to be involved in facilitating something similar. That may well be the case, and if it is, then by all means, life in prison it shall be. However, to me.... I just get really suspicious when I hear things like "consequence 'xyz'" unless it arrives at the end of a lengthy evaluation of the case in question.

We may say, that sequestration as a consequence of murder is socially necessary in an inescapable way, but it is important to interrogate the subject of murder itself. Let's not say "murder is sequestration", let's ask "what is the sequestration? What is its nature?" Is the person in question inherently antisocial for some reason? Is there a strong likelihood of recidivism, if we choose to treat this social pathology as an isolatable social object or event?

This is what we mean when we talk about rehabilitation, as well - what can be done to make any negative repercussions brought to bear no longer necessary? Kate talks about the "shameless and cruel" nature of the murder. That may be so, and that's a very important factor, that's an important element that we must interrogate in coming to a prudent conclusion about this situation.

Certainly we can say, tentatively, that a shameless and cruel 'murder event' increases the likelihood of recidivism, for obvious reasons. So maybe life in prison should definitely be in the cards. But none of this is for us to decide. All I'm saying is, I'm deeply suspicious of indications that a conclusion about the appropriate consequences to this even has been reached "at the height of the event's emotional impact", and without indication of a prior discussion of the case in question as it pertains to the appropriate consequences to be brought to bear. As I said originally, I'd be quite happy, frankly, to let him go essentially scot-free if it could be reliably determined that neither was there a substantial likelihood of recidivism, nor a substantial chance that he might serve in the future to facilitate some equally egregious violation of the social realities we all live by. Of course, at the very beginning I also expressed extreme scepticism about the possibility of either of these findings. As I said, this is just how the so-called culture of life works.

Giulio Prisco said...

I think this murderer should be locked in jail and given a life sentence.

It is not (only) about punishment, more about protecting others. In view of the nature of his crime I don't think rehabilitation is a practical option and I am pretty sure he would commit other crimes of a similar nature.