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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

The death penalty and other conspiracies.

Ev­ery once in a while, some­thing aw­ful hap­pen­s. And then some­one will say "the peo­ple who do that should get the death penal­ty". In­vari­ably, that is a stupid ar­gu­men­t.

Let's start by dis­pos­ing of the ob­vi­ous low blow: "if it hap­pened to your son, you would ask for their death too". To which the ob­vi­ous an­swer is, of course I would. And I would be push­ing for a stupid so­lu­tion to the prob­lem.

If some­thing re­al­ly, re­al­ly bad hap­pened to my son, I would be suf­fer­ing, and in a state of vi­o­lent emo­tion and dis­tress. If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you? I guess not, be­cause you would no­tice I am at the edge of mad­ness and just told you that be­cause I am feel­ing that way.

Well, the same is true about a vic­tim's rel­a­tives (or the vic­tim him­self) ask­ing for a spe­cif­ic pun­ish­men­t: it's a re­quest born from pain and suf­fer­ing. And as a so­ci­ety, we should not de­cide our ac­tions based on te pro­pos­als of the ones al­most in­sane with grief. Be­cause we want to take the ac­tion that is bet­ter for so­ci­ety, not for a spe­cif­ic mem­ber of it. So, for­get about that ap­peal to sen­ti­men­t, be­cause while com­plete­ly un­der­stand­able, it is stupid, be­cause those griev­ing are al­lowed to be stupid.

An­oth­er failed ar­gu­ment for the death penal­ty is that it dis­cour­ages fu­ture crime. This has been shown not to be the case, be­cause sim­i­lar coun­tries or states with and with­out death penal­ty show no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence on crime rates.

I sus­pect this is be­cause in many cas­es the crim­i­nal does­n't in­tend to ac­tu­al­ly com­mit the part of the crime that brings the death sen­tence (mur­der when rob­bing? The crim­i­nal want­ed to rob, not to mur­der) or he just would do it any­way (it's not as if child rapists ex­pect to have a nice time when cap­tured. They just do it as­sum­ing they won't get caugh­t, or de­cide it's worth it any­way).

And of course, the main rea­son why the death penal­ty is a bad idea is that it would be ap­plied by pub­lic em­ploy­ees. Do you trust the gov­ern­ment to de­cide how much to charge you in tax­es? No, you do it your­self, with an ac­coun­tan­t, and tell them how much to take. Do you ex­pect the po­lice to find a wal­let you dropped on the street? Do you trust the gov­ern­men­t's mail with re­al­ly im­por­tant pack­ages? Are you con­fi­dent about the gov­ern­ment fig­ur­ing out all en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues? Well, then why would you trust them to kill any­one they de­cide is a re­al­ly, re­al­ly bad guy?

The gov­ern­ment is a great idea for things noone else wants to do (high­ways), or things noone else should be do­ing (law en­force­men­t) but even in those cas­es you must al­low for them pro­vid­ing a crap­py ser­vice, and care­ful­ly use your in­put to lim­it what they can do.

The al­ter­na­tive is to as­sume that the gov­ern­ment has a huge ca­pa­bil­i­ty and com­pe­tence but has just de­cid­ed not to show it, which is per­haps the most amaz­ing part of most con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries.

The US gov­ern­ment can't kill Cas­tro, but can kill Kennedy. A gov­ern­ment can't keep the trains run­ning, but can fake a moon land­ing. And so on, and so forth.

I once read a book where they de­scribed an in­ter­est­ing sci­ence: Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry The­o­ry. It's the sci­ence of study­ing what con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries peo­ple be­lieve in, to get in­sight in­to what they ac­tu­al­ly be­lieve. If you are in favour of the death penal­ty, then you be­lieve law en­force­ment does­n't make mis­takes, or that killing a few ran­dom peo­ple ev­ery now and then (be­cause they make mis­takes) is not a prob­lem. If the first, you are stupid, if the sec­ond, you are evil.

SebastianBassi / 2012-01-04 18:33:

La pena de muerte no dependeria solo de la policia, sino del poder judicial en su conjunto (que tampoco me da mucha confianza, pero un poco mas que solo la policia).
Otra opción es aplicar pena de muerte cuando no exista ningún tipo de duda de la culpabilidad del acusado, por ejemplo por confesión y multiples testigos como el caso del loco de Noruega. Asi que la premisa que creer en la pena de muerte implica confiar en la policia para mi no es válida.
Por otra parte, el argumento que no bajan los delitos por pena de muerte, es porque en general se la aplica a casos muy extremos, de personas que están tan mal de la cabeza que ciertamente la posibilidad de pena de muerte no los reprime (por ej. el caso del noruego no se hubiese prevenido con pena de muerte, ese hizo la matanza pese a que podia morir en el intento).

Roberto Alsina / 2012-01-04 18:45:

Es el estado. La diferencia entre la policía y el poder judicial es bastante vaga.

Por otro lado, el argumento de que la pena de muerte no disuade porque no matan suficiente gente es un poco fuerte para esta hora.