Friday, September 24, 2010


A woman was killed last night in Virginia, killed by the State, killed for planning and perpetrating a heinous crime, the murder of her husband and stepson by killers she hired and apparently, had sexual relations with. She was apparently of a lower IQ, and her lawyers made the case that given her more limited mental capacity, her punishment was far too harsh. No one agreed with them; even the Supreme Court of the United States refused to stay the execution. It is interesting to note that she did not commit the murders herself, but the men she hired have received life sentences, and not the death penalty.

There is no reason to argue the merits of the case here. Justice in America is an imperfect system sometimes, and no matter what we may think of it, as long as the system operates as intended, we cannot argue with the result, having given our tacit approval to it by electing our representatives, who are responsible for the statutes enforced. The simplest way to change how justice works is to change the laws, and to do that, we must vote for the right representatives to do it.

What we must discuss, once and for all, is the need for retribution and vengeance in the name of the State. The idea is as old as humanity: an eye for an eye. You kill one of ours, we kill one of yours. You attack our tribe, we attack yours. Death is still, sadly, the ultimate currency of justice, and the belief has survived the millennia, that the murderer must die to make up for the life or lives they have taken, as some kind of appeasement of God or the universe.

Murder is the most heinous of crimes. To take a life, with malice and in violence, is to stain the soul, because once taken, it cannot be restored. Death is the ultimate doorway to whatever lies beyond, a door that only admits, never releases. Once the murderer commits the act, they are persona non grata in human society.

Then comes the hammer of justice, to strike them down. The murderer can expect little sympathy and faint mercy at the hands of a justice system that marks them as the worst of the worst. Even where there are mitigating circumstances, the fact of relieving another human being of life leads others to look down on the person whose hands are covered in innocent blood.

Herein lies the issue that vexes us even now: do we take from the murderer, the life that they so easily took from someone else? Does a murderer, by committing the act, forfeit their own life by fiat? Is there true justice in killing the killer? My mind always told me that those who found it so easy to take life, should realize that to do so, meant the forfeiture of their own. In this way, the idea would prove a natural deterrent to murder. Now, I am not so sure.

When you watch shows on television about cases of murder, what invariably strikes you is that, even in states where the death penalty is prevalent, murder still goes on, and goes on in a profusion of ways, from the simple murder by a robber surprised by a store clerk, to the cold, calculated murder of the serial killer, reeling off victims one-by-one or in droves, to the person who has become unhinged by circumstances, and seeks revenge for perceived injustices in their life by taking the lives of others, often in armed and brutal slaughter.

Murder is not the result of the higher, thinking brain; it is a relic of the primitive animal brain. Deep down, instincts from millions of years ago, the kill-or-be-killed, fight-or-flee kind, still lurk in the dark recesses of human consciousness. Triggered by childhood abuse, chemical imbalance, brain injury, drug abuse, psychological torture, or even conditioning, the murder of another is the ceding of control of the cerebral cortex to the primitive medullar regions. The instinct, the need for self-preservation, bubbles up from its hiding place, overwhelms reason and logic, and takes even the most decent of people to a place where taking the life of another is almost a requirement. In essence, the idea, the instinct, the drive to kill another being is a part of everyone of us, and only those of us with the strongest wills can overcome whatever urges it may flood our higher logic centers with.

Given that it is a hard-coded piece of our primitive past, and that the act can be triggered in so many fashions, is it any wonder we are still plagued by it, even in the calmest and quietest of communities? Some of the most peaceful nations on Earth still have murder, though perhaps not at the rate found in the United States. It is there, hiding in the bushes, waiting for its moment. For many of us, that moment never comes, and the instinct slowly dies, fading and wasting away to nothing, smothered by more reasoned and logical impulses.

So, from a rational standpoint, the idea that proclaiming that a murderer will be hoist upon their own petard, subject to the most singular and permanent punishment known, in order to deter further murders, is folly. The instinct to murder is welded too closely to us still, to be so easily stamped out by our commandments or laws. While our rational selves know inherently that taking another life is wrong and amoral, even that knowledge is sometimes not enough to overcome a deep-seated desire, biding its time in the darker parts of our primitive brains. To kill the killer is to place no greater stricture on murder than can be reasonably taught to any human being through parents, teachers, and clergy. For some, no matter the environment they are immersed in, the urge to kill will not be sated or starved. If we are to consider ourselves a civilized race of beings, then we must also live by the stricture we would have others live by. For the State, or even a citizen or citizens, to decide that murder is a justifiable punishment for murder, is to violate that tenet we hold so dear in our hearts: thou shall not kill.

No comments:

Post a Comment