17 May 2001

Sometimes Easy Cases Make For Bad Ethics

This post was on FrameGame. Like so many of my C/Ps from those days, I didn't catch a URL. The post that follows it, I think was in response. God, I hope so:

Subject: Sometimes Easy Cases Make For Bad Ethics
From: Devil's Advocate
Date: May 17 2001 4:38 PM

The McVeigh case represents the worst possible argument against the death penalty. If anybody deserves the death penalty, it has to be a McVeigh (or a Bundy, or a Gacy ...) He is an unrepentant, self-confessed mass murderer, and the recent FBI snafu does nothing to change that.

Morally, this is all beside the point. The death penalty is wrong, because it's wrong to kill a person -- even an unrepentant, self-confessed mass murderer -- if a more humane alternative exists. Killing in war, or in self-defense, may be justified; but strapping a prisoner to a gurney for a lethal injection, in this society, is a moral abomination.

Killing McVeigh is wrong, but not because he might be innocent -- God knows, and we know, he is not. Not because his crimes are insufficiently ghastly -- they surely are. And certainly not because the FBI does some bureaucratic bungling -- what else do we expect?

Killing McVeigh is wrong because of what it does to each of us. Ethically, it turns every American citizen -- every man, woman and child -- into McVeigh's executioner. If we have a decent respect for human life, we should be ashamed of taking it -- even if the human life is McVeigh's.

Subject: Killing is not always morally wrong....
From: John McPherson
Date: May 18 2001 3:03 AM

...or even undesirable. I can think of a number of people right now I would kill without a hesitation. Just because we are civilized, that is we live in an organized society that has some shared values, does not mean that killing must always be wrong. We kill to eat, we kill to defend, on a national level we kill to protect assets. The world is basically anarchic. Killing someone like McVeigh is justice - if you spare McVeigh out of some strange sense of occupying a higher moral plain you deny others (the victims of his bombing) justice. It's as simple as that. Revenge is no more base a motive than love. Organized societies kill for a variety of reasons and certainly justice and vengeance are two very good ones - contrary to popular media opinion. Certainly there are many Americans that embrace this notion, that killing must neccessarily be a bad thing. But they are not in the majority, or even close to it. And since we live in a democracy those minority opinions are simply not in a position to affect the outcome of this debate.

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