In a world without consequence, the utterly unreasonable, untenable, and unconscionable become utterly viable. This is precisely the world those who violate others in the extreme come to inhabit, if only for the fleeting few moments it takes them to commit their atrocities. At this point a world with consequence takes precedence, and a punishment ostensibly consistent with the most just of human values is meted out.
It is here hidden within these values where, under the guise of legal sanction, one can rationalize as appropriate something that might otherwise be considered unthinkable. Though not absolute, the value of a life is apparently worth satisfying our lust for vengeance. To suggest it can satisfy the demands of justice is to ignore that justice is what we decide it is and nothing more.
Sanitizing the act of killing by doing it in an orderly, legal and "non-violent" manner does not hide the fact that we are acceding to the very same vulgar instincts which motivated whatever despicable crime was committed in the first place. By engaging in a reckless display of retribution, we explicitly repudiate what is arguably the most inviolable of human values—the preservation of life itself.
We have graduated, of course, from the crude practices of setting aflame, electrocuting, beheading and otherwise administering the 'less enlightened' methods of capital punishment. But is putting someone to death by lethal injection truly any less civilized? Or are we, by executing people with calmness and sterility, merely convincing ourselves we are being civilized and that we can indeed kill with honor and compassion? It may also be that our willingness to legalize killing has the unintended consequence of providing the criminal mind with the very rationale it needs to carry out its own ugly deeds.
Perhaps preserving life is not always the nobler value. Maybe life isn't worthy of being defended under all circumstances. But until we recognize that within each of us exists the whole of humanity's potential—both good and evil—justice will sometimes take the form of the obscene.
3 years ago