Aaron Wilson wrote a post called Capital Punishment, where he discusses a video made by Garret Mirriam(SisyphusRedeemed), and his followup video, where Garret deals with some disagreements. I have issues with both his reasons for his agreement with Garret, his further statements, and Garret’s conclusions. I believe I can deal with all of the matters simply by addressing my issues with Garret’s original video.
What is Injustice?
My disagreements with Garret may hinge on the fact he makes a rather poor analogies in my opinion, and oversimplifies things to discussion of miscarriages of justice, as if they are all the same. Further, I think that some very important issues are overlooked by Garret that simply can’t be overlooked in good conscience if we are going to examine the argument seriously.
Garret makes a statement that I think is an extreme oversimplification.
A life sentence is for all intents and purposes a death sentence, oddly enough the reverse is also true. For all practical purposes, a death sentence is merely a life sentence.
I don’t for a moment think that he seriously doesn’t see any difference between the two. Instead I think he is talking about them being the same as far as being a miscarriage of justice. In order for him to compare the two, it seems he must find them significantly similar in terms of being on the same level of injustice though, otherwise there would be no need for such a statement.
Is the injustice the same because of the ultimate death? If so, we should also not let people go free, as they will also eventually die. I know that comes off as very strange, but let me expound a little.
If allowing someone to live behind bars and the death penalty are the at the same level in terms of injustice, why is allowing them to go free not just as much of an injustice? Is there no preferable difference between life inside prison and death?
Certainly, a person would not likely choose life in prison, but a person that lives in a country where there is famine and they are starving would never choose that life either. Would it not be a favor to put a person like that into a US prison where they can get three hot meals a day? Would it not be an injustice to exterminate people that are living what most of us in the west would consider to be hellish lives? If it would be an injustice to exterminate those people, why is it not the same kind of injustice to exterminate a person rather than have them serve a life sentence?
It would seem to me that putting someone to death is therefore more of an injustice, and outweighs a life sentence by some measure.
A Car Wreck of an Argument
Now, Garret also speaks of the chances of getting into a car accident, and tries to equate it to the injustice doled out by the death penalty in the sense that it is an injustice of human life to allow people to engage in an activity that will more likely end in their death. For example, he talks about how people are much more likely to die in accidents where the vehicles are going higher than 40 mph. Again, I think this an extremely flawed analogy.
There is a difference of point of view here. Dying in a car accident is a terrible thing, but there is a significant difference between the death penalty and preventing people from driving at a higher rate of speed that, if they get in an accident, would more likely cause death.
Garret rightly dismisses the argument that driving is a choice, but that argument doesn’t really hit at the heart of the matter here. Imposing the death penalty on a person is the intentional ending of their life experience. Getting into a car accident is not an intentional end to their life. A consequence of chance, no matter the ability to limit the number of those consequences, doesn’t equate to intent.
Let’s say that I invent a product to intensify the explosive power of any explosive, but by itself it is harmless and has uses for things like car wax and chewing gum. I then manufacture and sell that product. The intent is to make it so that people using explosives in things like mining, road building, building demolition etc. have the best tools available.
Unfortunately, the same product can be used by terrorists to improve the power of their roadside bombs. Does my manufacturing of this product equate to me intending that terrorists kill more people? Even if I knew that it was imminent that an unknown terrorist would eventually use it in that manner, is it the same thing as me making and detonating the bomb that killed people?
You see, if we equate these things, we should start putting the makers of baseball bats, knives, guns, and even hydrogen peroxide in jail for murder because they make products that they know will occasionally be used by bad people to kill people.
Even further, if accidental or unintended consequences can be conflated to intended consequences and are a reason for legislating things out of existence, like higher than 40mph speed limits, we should not produce any product that can possibly kill someone. We should legislate them out of existence.
Needless to say, there is a stark difference between someone being harmed unintentionally and intentionally harming them, therefore I don’t see how this analogy pertains to the life in prison vs. death penalty argument. People given life sentences don’t accidentally give themselves lethal injections.
So far, I have taken a couple of Garret’s arguments and dismantled them so we can understand how they are not as simplistic as he has put them forward. What does this have to do with whether or not the death penalty is appropriate for civilized peoples to use as punishment?
The original argument that Garret is trying to make is that saying that the death penalty is a huge injustice to those people that may be posthumously exonerated is not a good argument against the death penalty. I agree that he’s correct about an injustice being done to them either way, whether it be life in prison or death, but I don’t agree that it can in any way ever be better to put some of those people to death in order to ensure that fewer people are dealt a lifetime of injustice.
The injustices just aren’t equal. Just as we don’t exterminate starving people in order to keep them from suffering the injustice of their starvation, we should not exterminate people convicted of capital crimes in order that fewer innocent people should suffer the injustice of life in prison.
I think that Garret thinks that the argument is that we need to leave people in prison for life, just in case they are exonerated, when the real issue is not that they will be exonerated, but that if they aren’t exonerated, they should not be put to death.
The fact is, in a system with capital punishment, innocent people will be put to death. Innocent people should not be put to death. Putting someone to death is a greater injustice than allowing them to serve a life sentence. Therefore, if injustice must be done to innocent people, it should never rise to the level of putting them to death, and because of that, nobody should be put to death.
I understand that punishment happens to people all the time that are innocent, but the severity of the death penalty is too great an injustice to an innocent person to risk, just so we can kill off some bad guys.
My personal opinion on the death penalty is that I have no problem with it in principle. If it were able to be guaranteed to never harm an innocent person, I would be all for it. I like revenge just as much as the next guy. The fact is, it can’t give that guarantee though, and I would personally rather live my life as an innocent man in prison rather than gamble that my life may be spared and I be let out of prison or be put to death.