Given what happened this week on Broward County Florida (the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting), I wanted to get one topic that I haven’t taken up here before “out of the day”. That is, capital punishment, the death penalty.
Hillary Clinton had said during the 2016 campaign that she believed that capital punishment should be reserved for the most extreme cases, namely terrorism, and for where there is no chance of wrongful conviction. This event in Florida is domestic terrorism.
There is the Eight Amendment, and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. And the data keeps coming in, that a painless event is no sure thing for the condemned (and total painlessness may not be necessary). I won’t belabor the details, but here are three references, “Death Penalty Info”, the New York Times about a case in Oklahoma, and CNN. It is getting harder for states to get the drugs for lethal injection. Ironically, beheading, which was so horrific with ISIS, is probably more humane than any of the legal methods. I do remember the film “Dead Man Walking” by Tim Robbins (with Dean Penn) back in 1995. Timothy McVeigh was executed exactly three months before 9/11. John Allen Muhmmad was executed about seven years after his spree in Virginia, Maryland and DC. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death. After Jack Ruby got the death penalty in 1964, Texas DA Henry Wade bragged about justice – Ruby would die of cancer early – as if the public really was getting retribution indirectly for Kennedy’s assassination.
The end of life is difficult in many circumstances. When I was growing up, men often died of massive heart attacks. We know now that these can be excruciating. Furthermore, we don’t know how time itself behaves at the end of life. It may stretch out and prolong experience.
I won’t belabor what happened to the victims Valentines Day, but you can say that about all such incidents, including Las Vegas and Pulse.
The most obvious and glaring question is why, in Florida, as I understand it, you can buy an AR-15 at 18 but a handgun only at 21. And it’s obvious there are gaping holes in our background check systems.
It’s pretty obvious that a civilian doesn’t need a military-style (“nuclear”) weapon for legitimate self-defense at home. Well, the doomsday prepper crowd will disagree with that. One of the problems with the extreme positions taken on the extreme Right with the NRA is that they imply a lack of confidence that society as we know it, with technology, law and order, can continue. That itself is destabilizing. But there is a view, among a lot of combative people and with some enemies, that all civilians are potential soldiers (the whole draft and conscription mentality I grew up), and now this includes women. In that mindset, the obvious arguments for assault weapons bans (which Bill Clinton got passed [only to expire] and which I certainly supported in the 90s, even as I wrote about gays in the military) get weaker.
I need not dawdle over the damage done by an AR-15, but I do remember in the Army being told that the M-16 did a lot more physical damage than the M-14 that we were trained with in Basic.
Much of the civilized world is much less sympathetic to the existential right to self-defense than the US is, with moral implications for how personal risk-sharing is to happen. Vox, for example, writes this about Australia.
A lot is made of the Florida suspect’s social media posts. There is confusion as to whether he was an extreme Leftist or extreme Nazi-like radical, and whether he was sympathetic to ISIS. He seems to have had no consistent ideology but was disgruntled. (This the “horseshoe effect” in the ideology of political violence and authoritarianism). He reportedly admired both the Santa Barbara terrorists and Elliot Rodger.
I am concerned about the effect of social media on unstable people like the suspect, as a secondary trigger. The day before the attacks I had, as a normal course, posted about the “Unabomber manifesto” in a discussion of violent people writing manifestos to be heard first. That was linked by Blogger label to an earlier posting about Rodger. What if police find he had just looked at my postings before the rampage? Very unlikely, but possible or imaginable and chilling. Where does “personal responsibility” start? This feeds into the “gratuitous speech” problem (Jan. 30).
There are demands from students and one parent in particular for people to “take action”. A Vox editorial reduces this call (from one articulate student) to Congressional politics, removed from people. Truth-Out makes this sound much more personal. and seems to demand that introverted writers like me join up.
Here’s a piece by French Canadian Umarie Haque, “Why is America the Rich World’s Most Ultraviolent Society?” He describes a personal value system based on “stoicism”. I would call it existentialism. I recognize that this attitude, if not addressed at some very personal levels within every community, can invite or justify political authoritarianism in time, which may be one reason for the political problems we have had since 2016. After a tragedy life goes on for the remaining (maybe “The Leftovers”). I don’t like to personalize or honor victimhood, and I would not want this done for me if my end came in a violent act, all the more if even partially politically motivated. I do give to a victim’s fund through a trust, but I let the fund decide who to help, and privately, rather than make a (possible public on social media) choice myself of whom to “remember”.
(Posted: Friday, February 16, 2018 at 2:30 PM)