Should Death Penalty exist in a civilized and rational society?

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Should Death Penalty exist in a civilized and rational society?

Post by Satyam on Mon Jul 27, 2015 8:30 pm

As Yakub Menon waits for the hangman's noose, we as a society face a rather difficult question of whether Death Penalty should exist in a civilized society of rational people.

First of all, when we talk about the death penalty, which alternatively could very well be called as the practice of human sacrificing, something which I believe would be very clear by the end of my arguments, we are essentially talking about a punishment for committing the most heinous of crimes.

Now before going into the debate, I would like to make it clear that we will be contemplating death penalty in the backdrop of an ideal civilized society of  rational people, and therefore we won't be discussing the arguments like death penalty is often discriminatory, an argument underlined by fact that 94% of people on death row are muslims or dalits, or that it costs more to execute people. This is an ideological debate where we will be talking about death penalty on moral and ethical grounds.

Throughout the course of human history, different societies have been known to execute its criminals in various ways from burning at stake, sawing them in half,   to boiling them alive. In fact, the nature of execution being practiced in a society could have been a very efficient scale to tell how barbaric a civilization was.

This is where I will present my first argument against the notion of having Death Penalty.
What is it exactly that differs between the two actions of executing people, wherein one involves boiling them to death, and another involves electric chair or hangman's noose.
How do we decide which one is more barbaric?
When the end result is same, what factors determine which action is more barbaric than the other?
I believe its not the way in which we execute someone that makes a particular action, barbaric, the very idea behind that action, that we as a society are killing or sacrificing a human being, in my opinion  is however, barbaric.

When we are talking about executing someone, what we often overlook is that when a particular person commits a crime, say a murder, he is making a choice to kill someone, which, in  cases eligible for the death penalty, can be called as a heinous and barbaric choice, a choice which we as a society believe to be harmful for the society as a whole. Now when we choose to execute that individual for committing a crime, what we are essentially doing is, we as a society are making the same barbaric choice of sacrificing a human being.
Therefore, we can say, that as a society, our choice of actions is similar to that of the most despicable members of our society, a far as the consequences of those actions are considered.

My second set of arguments requires us to understand the motive of punishment. In respect to the purposes served by them, we have 4 theories of punishment as:
1. Deterrent
2. Preventive
3. Reformative
4. Retributive

I believe we must talk about Death Penalty in light of these theories if we are to conclusively reach to a decision regarding its status in our society.

1. The deterrent theory of punishment, believes in the fact that if severe punishments were inflicted on the offender, it would deter him from repeating that crime. Those who commit a crime, it is assumed, derive a mental satisfaction or a feeling of enjoyment in the act. To neutralize this inclination of the mind, punishment inflicts equal quantum of suffering on the offender so that it is no longer attractive for him to carry out such committal of crimes.

When we are executing someone, the punishment loses its deterrent effect, as there is no going back for the offender. He is being removed from the society and we as a society believe that no amount of punishment will ever deter him from committing the crime again.

2. The Preventive theory looks at the punishments from a more humane perspective. It rests on the fact that the need of a punishment for a crime arises out of mere social needs i.e. while sending the criminals to the prisons the society is in turn trying to prevent the offender from doing any other crime and thus protecting the society from any anti-social elements.

Various studies have shown us that there is no relation between capital punishment and crime rates. The fact that determines the likelihood of a criminal incident in a state is not the harshness of punishment, but the ability of the police or the executive body to catch the criminal. When an offender breaks the law, he rarely thinks about the kind of punishment he will be subjected to, but instead thinks how he would get away with the offence.

3. The reformative theory suggests that every offender deserves a chance to recognize his guilt and wish to change himself.

Again when someone is being executed, he loses his chance to reform, and therefore the reason to punish that individual is also lost.
When we sacrifice an offender, we are doing so in the belief that at no point in future will he ever recognize his guilt and harbour a desire to change himself and become a useful member of the society.

4. Retributive theory underlines the idea of vengeance and revenge rather than that of social welfare and security. Punishment of the offender provides some kind solace to the victim or to the family members of the victim of the crime, who has suffered out of the action of the offender and prevents reprisals from them to the offender or his family.

Now this is the part where we must as a society ask ourselves a rather difficult question.

If someone is guilty of committing a horrible crime, and the family of the victim wants the offender, executed, should we be the kind of society that gives them that?


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