Posts Tagged ‘capital punishment’

Can There Be Capital Punishment In A Just and Moral Society?

April 10, 2011

Can There Be Capital Punishment In A Just and Moral Society?

A review of the literature on the deterrent effects of capital punishment is not supportive of those in favor of capital punishment, even for the most ghastly crimes (rape, torture and murder of women and children, etc.). Such a review will show a small number of studies that report a slight deterrent effect and the greater proportion of studies reporting no effect, and in some cases, even an increase of capitol crimes associated with capital punishment.

The facts are, that at this time and under present cultural conditions, it is very hard to demonstrate any particular effects at all. Therefore, on the basis of the data alone, the most appropriate scientific conclusion is the null hypothesis.

The methodology of all of the studies involved are flawed in some arguable way and proponents of each side of this issue will debate on and on, with no way to prove their thesis. It is fair to say that those against capital punishment have a greater pile of flawed evidence on their side than do those who have flawed data on their pro side of the argument.

It is doubtful, that any time soon, science will be able to clarify this emotional topic. The social sciences frequently move at a snail’s wandering pace while sociocultures demand answers in order to survive the here and now.  The question remains, what is the better part of wisdom to do about the matter of the rape, torture, and murder of our women and children, as well as other lethal crimes.

Of course, there are religious and ethical arguments pro and con. Depending upon which religion and which religious document you prefer you may, or may not, find scriptural support for either position.

For the pragmatic minded individual, the cost factor can become pivotal. Here the evidence is also in favor of the life-time sentence without parole. Some reports suggest a three million dollar cost per execution and a one million dollar cost to maintain an individual in prison for the rest of their lives, with no chance of parole.

Others argue that there is no good and essential reason for such costs associated with execution and that it is our own ambivalence about executions that drives their costs so high.

Cultural complicity arguments begin with the premise that infants are not born sadistic, rapist killers,. Instead, various sociocultural events (sex abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, drugs, or genetic determinants, etc.,) that reflect the quality of the socioculure itself  have caused these horrific behavior patterns to emerge.

On the basis of my studies and professional experiences, I could not agree more.

However, it is then logical to conclude that if a socioculture produces such massively destructive  behavior patterns (because of its own negligence or incompetence) it should then rush to engage in self-management strategies that reduce or deter its own maladaptive features in the future.

To that end, then, the additional cost of capital punishment should be born by the incompetent socioculture as a form of response cost punishment, capable of motivating the search for cultural redesigns to primarily prevent such sad losses and outcomes for both the victims and criminals alike.

From the perspective of cultural complicity, the socioculture that admits that it is significantly responsible for increased sex abuse, rape, and murder rates within its population and then argues for the least expensive and taxing route to preventing more such events compounds it irresponsibility. This is like the alcoholic who finds a way to avoid the painful hang-over and is less likely to ever change its own bad behavior as a result.

Fear of executing the innocent is a very rational fear and I share this fear. As horrific as it is true, it should come a no surprise that America has sometimes executed the innocent. One unpopular counter- argument is that mistakes are inevitable, and no one ever said life is fair. “Justice will do its best, and though a minority of mistakes will occur, the greater good for society justifies the sacrifice”.

This argument may inflame the reader, but it is the same argument that is made in favor of almost all of the freedoms we enjoy (including the personal freedoms involved in the ways that our socioculture turns our precious infants into rapists and murderers at the hands of abusive and incompetent people). And of course, this mode of thinking is what we do all of the time when we decided that it is “in our own best interests” (or those of important others) to go to war and hundreds of thousands of our wonderful best young people are killed and maimed—Often without clear gain.  These deaths and injuries of the innocent are unfair, as will be my death and yours, at a time before we are “ready to go”.

Fortunately, given today’s new technology, concerns about executing the innocent need not apply to the question of capital punishment. DNA testing has virtually eliminated the innocent victim argument . Restricting capital punishment to only those crimes that are most damaging to the well-fare of our socioculture and citizens and only to those cases of absolutely certain guilt obviates this argument.

Therefore, I recommend that following:

1. Execute only those who, with absolute certainty, have perpetrated a capital offence. DNA evidence makes this possible, as does many unquestionably public and certain acts of murder, mayhem and terror.

2. Terminate appeals for most certain capital cases. The absolute certainty rule, negates the need for costly endless appeals that require decades of time and millions of dollars to complete.

3. The absolute certainty rule will allow for much more immediate and consistent observational punishment effects most likely to reduce the of rate of occurrence of capital offences within the population).

Note that terminating an individual’s gene pool is not to be considered punishment of that individual perpetrator, even though they will never do that illegal deed again. Punishment refers to a reduction in the rate of a  behavior following a contingent consequence, in living individuals.  However, terminating someone’ gene pool will certainly reduce the future frequency of that gene pool replicating itself  within a general population. So, to whatever extent a perpetrator’s genetic structure has contributed to rape and murder, that genetic structure is unable to make further such contributions.

The punishing effects, if they exist, will be seen in the rate of such future behavior in the general population. Psychology’s Law of Effect, and social psychological principles of modeling and imitation, and vicarious learning are invariably weakened by the existence of non-salient, grossly inconsistent and delayed consequences. Non-salient, grossly inconsistent and delayed consequences defines our judicial system. This alone can account for these most prevalent destructive behavior problems under discussion, as well as our inability to detect any deterrent effects associated with capital punishment.

4. America has increasingly failed to teach rules of behavior to its population. The following   clear and enforceable rules are essential to our collective welfare.

The following appropriate rules for vicarious punishment will most likely reveal any deterrent effects of capital punishment upon a population. By vicarious punishment I mean: “ it happened to someone else for doing X and I am certain it will happen to me if I do X.  That is a huge and certain consequence that I would hate and I want no part of it!”

Use the Absolute Certainty Rule (if you do it, you will suffer the ultimate consequence). This rule implies yet another essential rule. Use the Consistency Rule (everyone who does it will suffer the same ultimate consequence–there will be no exceptions). Also, use the Immediacy Rule (With proof- positive, you will suffer the ultimate consequence very swiftly). Changes within our legal system can eliminate appeals for proof-positive cases. Capital punishment can then be administered within a matter of weeks……not self-defeating decades! 
Other considerations

I judge a person by his or her actions. Yes, I said the word Judge. I judge whether their actions are helpful or harmful to themselves and others. You do the same all of the time, whether you wish to admit it or not.

I also judge sociocultures in the same way. A culture that values the life of a child-molester, torturer, and killer as much as it values the life of an innocent dead woman or child is a culture that will suffer more innocent dead women and children not less.

You may wish to argue that we value the life of the child more than the life of the murderer. But word value (though it can be defined negatively)  is an abstraction that needs a behavioral definition. If a value is defined behaviorally, I think you are wrong.

A value is best defined as what an individual or society will do to work,  or pay positive reinforcers,  to achieve a goal. If we work to preserve and sustain the life of a predatory murderer harder ( with our effort and money) than we did to preserve the lives of those who have been raped, tortured, and murdered, we demonstrably value the lives of the perpetrators more than the victims: Our collective behavior tells an empirical  truth about our value system that words cannot obscure. 

I believe that well-defined, universally understood,  swift and certain capital punishment will most likely show deterrent effects.

If it does not, from a philosophical and ethical perspective, I would probably still have to support capital punishment for the murderous crimes that I have described.

You could call that vengeance, if you wish.  But vengance appears to poison the vengeful and I want none of that.

I would simply call it justice.

I would do this very sadly, of course.

I really did wish to live my life in a different kind of world.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.

Another Dead Girl II

March 6, 2010

Another Dead Girl II

Where is the outrage?! The TV talking heads sadly report that another girl has been raped and killed by a sexual predator. No one I know says anything about it. For a day or two, some radio talking mouths say angry impotent things about the “animals” that rape and murder America’s little girls and young women. And then it all fades until the next sexual slaughter occurs.

I am incredulous as I hear: “We should put them away so they can’t hurt others any more”. “They must be given longer sentences”. “We should lock them up and throw the key away”.

Where is the public rage? Where is the out-roar of hot anger? What’s with feeble refrain: “we need to isolate them from the rest of us, so they can never hurt anyone again?

Dear people! We have become too “civilized” to survive.  Aspects of  Life are brutal and they always have been and they always will be. We hide from that fact behind our imagined veneers of artificial civility, more accurately described as delusions.

 We eat our popcorn in the evenings and watch our big screen TV’s while cops are being shot dead  in our communities and our children are being raped and killed. 

I guess that in Post-Modern America it is politically incorrect to say “Kill the killers of our children, and young women.  As I write this I know that I will upset some of my readers. Good!

If you are upset by the fact that I want the rapist killer’s gene pools terminated (yes I mean killed–executed), ask yourself: where is your upset about our wonderful citizens who are being raped and killed by those that you would like to house, feed, care-for and entertain for the rest of their natural lives. Also, ask yourself why you should work the rest of your life to maintain their useless lives in our penthouse prisons (compared to many in the world in living in dirt huts), where sex, drugs, and happiness is theirs for the taking.

Beyond all of those pragmatics is a final blaring fact. By struggling and sacrificing to preserve the lives of killer rapists, and by giving only a brief and  slight cultural whimper over the loss of our precious ones, we reveal our bizarre, neurotic and self-destructive value system:

We value the lives of killer rapists more than we do our raped and killed children and youth–and also our heroic police officers.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, 3/5/10


1. Some will argue that society has created the rapist killers, so it is our fault that they are what they are. I agree. We should therefore kill them with sadness and do better for our children in the future.

2. Some will argue that it costs more money to execute them than to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives. I agree. So change the law and kill them quickly and efficiently.

3. Some will argue that capital punishment does not deter such crimes. I agree that as it now exists, it does not. For punishment to work effectively it must be immediate and certain. But technically speaking, execution is not punishment. It is the termination of life. It ends all possibility of future behavior. It is a loud affirmation of our love and respect for innocent life and our hatred of those who rape and slaughter innocent life. It is a strong message that is capable of deterrence at many levels. But only if #2 above is achieved.

4. I am aware of other false objections to capital punishment for killer rapists, but I will not deal with them in this venue.


%d bloggers like this: