peace without revenge
In my recent post about the death penalty, a couple of comments suggested a logical reason for killing bad people is that it can help the families of victims of violence come to terms with their loss, and feel justice has been served. This struck me as odd. My instant reactions were:
- Is base, instinctive revenge the only way to make families feel at peace?
- Do all families feel this way?
- Is this only a projected feeling that we imagine we would have if one of our loves ones was killed?
I’m not doubting for one minute that many families do feel this way. Every article I’ve found about the assassination of Osama Bin Ladin quotes relatives’ groups as feeling relieved he is dead and believing the world is a safer place.
But there is another side to this. The organisation Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights presents many stories from the relatives of victims who don’t feel the urge to wipe out the existence of the person who has harmed their loved one, but look for more thoughtful and logical routes to improving the outcomes of their grim situations.
- Jo Berry actually works with the former terrorist responsible for her father’s death to promote peace and end the mindless cycles of revenge and violence. She believes the death penalty “does not assist the healing of the victim, but actually creates more pain and violence and delays the healing”.
- Terry Green‘s brother was killed in the September 11th 2001 attacks. He says the death penalty “only promotes the acceptability of taking lives, a cycle which must instead be broken. We should not dishonor my brother by adopting the philosophy and means of his murderers”.
- Marietta Jaeger’s 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped and murdered. She asked for the murderer not to receive the death sentence, and he later confessed to killing three other young people. She argues that the death penalty “make us become that which we deplore — people who kill people — a horrendous insult to the memory of all our beloved victims”.
This is just a very small selection of the stories available. Have a browse around at the link to the organisation above. There are lots of interesting stories, thoughtful ideas and insightful perspectives from people who have been through very traumatic experiences and have found peace without revenge.
You are really arguing a point I don’t remember anyone ever making. The death penalty is not about revenge or punishment. The only rationale for the death penalty is: 1) a deterrent to others, 2) to keep the offender from repeating the crime on someone else, and 3) because it could actually be considered more humane than life in prison.
Revenge would be taking the life of someone the criminal loved. Punishment would actually be making the prisoner serve life in prison rather than escape through death.
When people talk about the victim’s family, most do not want to cause the family more pain and suffering. I do believe that if the guy relaxing on that deck in Norway killed someone, then it is a form of mental abuse that the family of the victim would have to see that. There certainly is no justice in that.
I disagree with your justification for capital punishment as a deterrent. If it were then it should be observable in society.
To say that by killing we stop him or her from killing someone else, is this the best we can do to protect ourselves?
It’s still revenge to kill him because he killed.
By killing them we become what we deplore and in as much the guy resting on a hammock in Norway would disturb our sensibilities if he had killed, it would be a great departure from the cycle of death and I hope societies can develop ways to rehabilitate offenders.
I am not saying that the death penalty is a deterrent. I am arguing that punishment and revenge are what the side against the death penalty like to foist upon it. Using logic, it is NEVER about revenge or punishment.
Revenge hurts the person at which the revenge is aimed. Death is an instant moment in time. You are here and then you are gone. To kill the person is not to get revenge as they never recognize the pain as they are not here. Punishment is used to keep the person from repeating the crime (i.e., to change behavior) or to make them sorry that they did it. Neither of these can take place with the death penalty. Yes, you will definitely keep the person from repeating the crime, but you will not be a) making them sorry for what they did (they aren’t around to feel sorry) or b) making them stop from repeating the crime through changed behavior (there is no behavior in death).
What I was arguing is that the ONLY logical POTENTIAL reasons for the death penalty are the ones I gave. Those have to be weighed against all the “logical” reasons for not having a death penalty.
It is through logic that we come to the conclusion it is about revenge. Punishment is about revenge, you may call it justice, i will call it revenge. And i see no reason to justify death penalty, on the contrary, you really have to convince me that the reasons you give justify the death penalty.
I believe there have to be consequences for breaking the law. I also believe that a “life for a life” places value upon life. My main problem with capital punishment is that it is impossible to never get a wrongful conviction. We have many cases that have been overturned. Innocents have been condemned.
And then there are circumstances and what not to look into. Was it self defense? was it an accident? etc…
I believe some things (as of yet) also have zero rehabilitation success, such as child predators.
If rehabilitation appears to have no affect…what then?
Thanks for the commenting Cindy. I agree with what Maka says but want to comment further on the potential rationale you give.
1) “a deterrent to others” – as I stated (and linked to) in the last post, this does not happen. Where have you seen it demonstrated as a deterrent? This is a dangerous red herring. No-one who may commit murder has a change of heart when they realise that instead of life imprisonment they might face the death sentence if they’re caught. Murder is the action of desperate, confused, impulsive or damaged people who would typically be unmoved by consideration of consequences.
2) “to keep the offender from repeating the crime on someone else” – as we discussed before, at what point do you kill them? The examples you gave me before were escalating crimes. The earlier crimes may look like clear indications in retrospect, but they would never merit a death penalty until the point where their crimes were so horrendous that clearly they are imprisoned for life. Life imprisonment is a less expensive way to keep them from repeating crimes, that allows for the dangerously high error levels in conviction rates to be addressed.
3) “because it could actually be considered more humane than life in prison” – only if your prisons are built for punishment and revenge. A humane prison that seeks to treat and reform damaged individuals, like the Norway example, is clearly more humane than death.
I’ve provided a link to a website with a huge list of relatives of victims who demonstrate that your suggestion of ‘mental abuse’ suffered by victims is not necessarily the case. I would suggest that family members who feel disappointed that someone who hurt a member of their family has been successfully rehabilitated without having to murder them, are basically seeking revenge and punishment.
You’ve said on several occasions that the US couldn’t possibly follow the model of Norway. Why do you think this is? It’s nothing to do with money. It’s because your entire criminal justice system and the mindset of the population is focused on revenge and punishment when it comes to criminal behaviour. Until your country becomes serious about wanting to address the causes of the crime and look at successful rehabilitation models, your prison population will continue to grow.
Violet, this is a difficult question we are trying to deal with. How far do you think our societies are willing to go in 1) protecting itself 2) rehabilitate offenders 3) create a healthy society
Not very far. Our politicians are more concerned with pleasing the populist “punish the criminal” mindset. There’s no sense of looking towards models that work and trying to help people out of crime, while protecting the rest of society when this isn’t yet possible. It takes brave politicians to approach this emotional subject from alternative angles, and any slip ups along the way wouldn’t be judged as necessary learning opportunities that inform future direction, but proof that ‘soft on crime’ doesn’t work; whereas the slips up under the current revenge and punishment model only lead to harder-line punishment models. It’s ridiculous. What do you think?
Marian Partington is an articulate advocate for forgiveness, whose sister was murdered. Worth a google.
I tend to think life in prison is better than death, and so that if we kill the murderer we become what we condemn (as Makagutu says). Keeping him alive is a sign of hope.
I agree. Even in the cases when rehabilitation is not yet possible, there is always something to learn from people who commit criminal acts that can help us understand how to help other people avoid committing crimes. And of course, if errors are made, there is the possibility of the unjustly convicted criminals of being released.
I think MVFHR is the only right way forward for our species. The problem in arriving at this enlightened stage will be the bits in-between when many will still err on the side of revenge. First step, though, is going on above: change the language from “justice” to “revenge.”
I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean that when people talk about bringing someone to justice, they invariably mean getting revenge through punishment?
Exactly. It’s what Noel was talking about above.
Sorry, I’m a bit slow. I wasn’t sure because from your comment on the last post, you seemed to think the family ‘deserved’ that notion of justice. I’m beginning to suspect your sarcasm went over my head? Honestly, I have so many conversations at cross purposes.
Any news on Ark? I was lurking on his site the other day and one of his SA buddies was reassuring his forlorn Welsh friend that there are internet problems in his area. I can’t imagine how internet problems could last quite so long in his seemingly modern Spot.
I think what i was saying was people will want justice, which is simply a nicer way of saying revenge. I don’t see that as healthy, it will only stunt the human condition, but i’m in the minority… like you.
Nah, no word on Ark. I did send him and email weeks ago, but i’m not sure if i sent it to his active email or a dead one. Either way, he never replied.
I did consider friending his daughter’s cakes on Facebook and asking if he’s alright. Also, I know he’s personal friends with that scary Gipsika character, so if curiously overtakes me I may harass her. 🙂
Do! He deserves to be harassed and hounded out of his hole 🙂
Ahhh, just lurked on the cake page and found this for the cake customers: “It seems Telkom are still having trouble with Observatory, our date to reconnection keeps moving further and further. It is the 8th of June apparently.”
Let’s see if he’s back next week!
Jesus, how can people survive without the interwebs for so long? Must a post-apocalyptic-zombie hell up there in the comfortable Jo’burg hill suburbs 🙂
Saw this just now… thought you might be interested!
Thank you!! 🙂
When I think of the death penalty as it is implemented in Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern states and am filled with rage and sadness. When I think of the death penalty in China, it underscores huge intolerance for dissent. What about the US for a non-US outsider like myself? It appears to be simple logic and short justice. This isn’t about protecting society, if anything it legalizes the logic to kill when it is ‘justified’. I don’t think it is about making the victim’s families feel good: nothing will bring back their loved ones and in a indirect way, it puts blood on their hands. In my view, the logic of death as punishment is as simple as that. Simple, cultural and sad.
I just can’t imagine why it’s still in the use in the US when there is no logical reason for it. And it even costs more. I’m glad Cindy’s engaging in discussions because it’s interesting to speak to someone who’s in that culture, and not in fact pro-death penalty, but clearly revealing that the cultural indoctrination.
That fact the US and Japan are the only industralised democracies with death penalties doesn’t even seem to give them pause for thought. It’s barbaric and there’s no logical reason for having it – that’s why EVERY other country that’s not mental has abandoned it!
“I will see you bereft of all that you have, of home and happiness and beautiful things. I will see your nation cast down and your allies drawn away. I will see you as alone and friendless and wretched as am I; and then you may live as long as you like, in some dark and lonely corner of the earth, and I shall call myself content.
-Lien, Albino Celestial (Dragon) ”
― Naomi Novik, Black Powder Wa
This goes to the true essence of revenge. Revenge is about making someone else hurt to the extent that you are hurting not about punishing the person for the actual crime. If it somehow makes anyone feel morally superior to call incarceration (or even the death penalty) revenge, then that is aboviously your right, but I believe it cheapens the complexity of the both the actions and the emotions.
The law cares nothing of revenge (at least not civilized law). It is a way to try and protect all of society. Revenge is personal.
Are people, through no fault of their own, born into situations that might make them more susceptible to adopt criminal behaviors? Yes. Are there people who, even though they have everything and no reason to become criminals, still choose a life of crime? Yes. Are there people who, based on their lot in life, you would expect to turn out to be criminals but they do not? Yes. Criminal behavior does not have a black and white cause and effect.
I do not condone capital punishment, but I do not think it is revenge. My cynical side believes it is a way to try and save the money on incarceration of the “lost” causes, but that theory does not hold water because most of those on death row are there for years and years. The fact that Texas does it so much probably means it is about machisimo (which is morally reprehensible), but I tend to be biased when it comes to Texas male chauvinist attitudes.
Neither do I condone health spa prisons. I’m all for providing an education and even training for a trade in prison. I also believe that we should not have crime in prison. But that does not mean that prisons are not necessary.
Thanks for this piece and for the links.
You don’t need me to rescue you, but I would like to go on the record saying that you have not committed a strawman argument, as some here have accused you. Arguing semantics over the interpretation of the word revenge is unnecessary – people who support capital punishment tend to rationalize their opinion with phrases like “[Person A] killed my cousin – they deserve to die” or “Good thing I didn’t get to [Person B] first, or they’d already be in the ground.” It’s not necessary to debate this point – it’s pretty well accepted. You gave a couple examples in your post yourself. So I found it rather disappointing that someone would bother to argue with you on that point, rather than discuss the merits of your main message (that perhaps we don’t have to feel this need for revenge and there are other ways of coping with loss).
Incidentally, for those who discuss the public cost of keeping someone in prison versus capital punishment, it has been shown time and time again that capital punishment is more expensive than life imprisonment, especially considering that the judicial system gets tied up in more appeals when someone is issued the death penalty. And I find it rather petty to bring up dollar signs this way when someone’s life is in the balance. If the cost of our judicial system concerns you (and it concerns me), that’s fine – save your breath for speaking out against the War on Drugs, which is a MUCH more expensive problem than the relatively few people who are subjected to the inhumane notion of capital punishment.
Thanks for the comment. I think you’re right that people tend to skim read posts and then argue about things that are clearly covered in the post. I don’t mind too much, as I suspect I’ve done it myself on occasion, and anyway, it gives me the opportunity to make the point again. 🙂
I think the cost issues comes up because supporters of the death penalty have historically argued that it’s wrong for tax payers to fund violent criminals to live out their life in reasonable comfort when they have committed horrendous acts that need to be ‘punished’. It is a ridiculous argument, but it’s made more ridiculous by the fact that it’s been proven to be wrong over and over again, given that, as you say, it’s more expensive to keep people on Death Row than to complete a full life sentence i.e. until their death.
The War on Drugs is another interesting topic I’d forgotten about. Have you read about the Guatemalan president’s proposal? I suspect he is right that decriminalisation is the only way to effectively deal with it.
I have a related post! http://tiffany267.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/billionaire-and-former-mexican-president-announce-plans-to-open-retail-marijuana-stores-around-the-world-q13
Very exciting news! (And no, I’m not a pothead, in fact I detest mind-altering substances, but I think this will reduce the violence on the black market considerably!)
Thanks for the link, I hadn’t read about that. I totally agree with you that in terms of taking the power out of the hands of cartels, it’s a really useful development.
I am afraid I have not been clear, as seems obvious from this comment:
“’a deterrent to others’ – as I stated (and linked to) in the last post, this does not happen. Where have you seen it demonstrated as a deterrent? ”
Again, let me reiterate that I am NOT saying that the death penalty is a deterrent (except for the person executed) though I have come across information from others that suggests they believe it is and I have posted the link later. Instead, I have attempted to provide what I think are the ONLY logical arguments one could ATTEMPT to make for capital punishment when arguing for it BEFORE any facts, figures or statistics or real-life examples are figured into the equation and this would include the idea that it could be a deterrent to murder.
In addition, I tried to point out that your dismissal of someone who might support the death penalty as being someone out solely for revenge is not valid (in my opinion) and I gave my reasons for this belief. And even if an individual person supports it because they think it gives them the power to inflict revenge, the actual system does not work that way, and they really don’t understand what revenge is.
I would also add, in response to the examples of those people who have “forgiven” after a crime has affected them, that it doesn’t really matter what any one individual says, wants or does; either for or against the death penalty, or parole, or life-in-prison. The list of people who are willing to forgive can be matched with an equally long list of those who would want certain criminals to “rot” in jail (the real revenge) or to die. So, unless your sole argument is might makes right (and if that is the case, I believe capital punishment probably ekes by), then those lists aren’t useful. Thankfully, the judicial system does not work that way and shouldn’t. The reasons are the same as why we do not put victims of crime on the jury.
“No-one who may commit murder has a change of heart when they realize that instead of life imprisonment….”
Where do you get proof of this? I know that I would have a change of heart if I thought I could get the death penalty and I daresay that some people who have contemplated murder might actually have changed their minds because of the consequences. The possibility of going to prison keeps most of us from committing crimes. Just because it does not keep hardened criminals or lunatics from murder does not mean it doesn’t scare the hell out of the rest of us. Many people who have committed crimes (including murder) have made a lot of effort to cover it up to avoid being caught and going to prison or worse. Unfortunately (for them), their calculated risk failed. Many of us are damaged, confused, desperate, and impulsive and do not commit murder or even shoplift. We should be protected from those who do. If we are not, there will be anarchy.
You speak as if you might have first hand knowledge or experience, so I apologize if all this seems insensitive. I have had two family members, myself, go to prison. The first is a cousin who was born evil (damaged). It is a lucky thing that the rest of us cousins made it through to adulthood as he was sadistic, even as a child. My aunt and uncle (now deceased) spent years making excuses for him and getting him out of jams. This cousin, in his early twenties, threw an elderly woman off a highway overpass. She died (was murdered). None of us were surprised. He did not receive the death penalty but has spent his life in prison and will remain there, I think, until he dies. I do not believe he can be rehabilitated. We all feel safer that he is not out there in the real world.
The other I will not comment on as all parties involved are still living and I do not wish to cause them further harm.
So, I have mixed feelings about this whole mess. I think my cousin needed to be institutionalized (those facilities have their own horror stories). I think prisons are awful places (hence my saying that in some cases, death is more humane, and you might be surprised that many on death row have chosen to take death sooner rather than later because of it). But whether it be prison or a mental institution, they require money in addition to the support of the people.
The U.S. has a lot of money, but it is concentrated in the hands of a few. They don’t want to give it up for things like “humane” prisons and mental institutions and they spend a lot of time, effort, and money to keep their money. Therefore, you would be asking Joe Blow taxpayer, who may just be eking out a living, to provide a quality of life to criminals that he and his family don’t even enjoy. So, while I agree with you that our government and our judicial system and our political system all have problems, I am equally convinced that Norway’s socialist system is not sustainable nor is reproducible for the U.S. and probably most other countries; especially ones that are anti-socialist.
Norway has huge oil reserves and taxes its citizens heavily. If their oil reserves dry up and/or new technology renders the oil less valuable, things will change there (and not in a good way). And while I agree that Norway’s prisons are more humane to prisoners, it does bring up several questions. First, is it more humane to the law abiding citizens who are subject to the 20% recidivists; i.e., those released because they were deemed rehabilitated? Why does the most egalitarian country on the planet have any criminals whatsoever (if being poor is the main reason for criminal activity) and a 20% recidivism rate? And I also find it interesting that Norway’s prison sentencing, though the max is 21 years, allows them to keep renewing the prison term (indefinitely) in 5-year increments if they do not believe the individual is actually rehabilitated. That has the potential to skew recidivism rates – I would think – over a system that applies absolute sentencing like the U.S. Also, I believe it could be grossly abused in the wrong hands.
While it might sound like I am slamming my own country (yes, I am pointing out some things we could do better), there are many benefits to living in a country like the U.S. The harshness of this environment (from the very beginning), coupled with its democratic principles as laid out in our constitution, has harbored a resourcefulness that lends itself to innovations that are pretty much unparalleled in the world. Norway, to be fair, has given us the cheese slicer and the aerosol can. The U.S., as a country, through our government and private organizations funded by caring individuals, have provided billions and billions of dollars in assistance to people around the world. I haven’t seen anyone reject our money yet because we treat our prisoners poorly. So, perhaps the rest of the world has a hand in keeping the status quo and a responsibility as well. Despite the fact that there is a huge disparity of wealth in this country at present, the U.S. people are steeped in fairness and equality and we have the power to make our government bend to our will. It is not always easy, and sometimes it comes painfully slow, but the power is there. And despite our whining, many people from other countries come here and shake their heads at what we are griping about. Everything is relative, is it not?
“to keep the offender from repeating the crime on someone else” – as we discussed before, at what point do you kill them? The examples you gave me….”
I gave you an example where the parents came home and found the man with his penis inside their two-year-old daughter and “their” parents dead on the floor at his hands. This was within hours after he had been released from prison for a prior sexual assault. I gave you that example as one that might possibly meet some acceptable level of evil that could justify the death penalty. Clearly, the man will spend his life in prison (well, one would think) as Alaska does not have the death penalty. I don’t think he will be a candidate for rehabilitation. Do you? But to be clear, it is not cheaper to keep someone in prison (in the U.S.) than it is to kill them (quickly). The cost of long incarcerations with numerous appeals is expensive. Very. We spend more per inmate convicting and incarcerating them (and paroling them) than we do per child educating our children in this country.
“because it could actually be considered more humane than life in prison” – only if your prisons are built for punishment and revenge. A humane prison that seeks to treat and reform damaged individuals, like the Norway example, is clearly more humane than death.”
I think I addressed this above, but I will add that the Norway example for a man that rapes a two-year-old and kills the child’s grandparents after ALREADY being given a chance at rehabilitation is obscene. That is obscene with a capital O. Truly. I agree that prisons should be humane. They are a travesty in this country. But I do think that part of the prison experience should be a punishment (loss of freedom) even if they do not have to be inhumane to be so.
I initially responded because I thought we were having a philosophical discussion. Yet, I feel as if there has been an attempt to twist what I am saying into a pro-death penalty box, and I think, Violet, that you even took a swipe at me insinuated that I had bought into the indoctrination. I don’t ever drink the Kool-Aid. I hope that I have, with this comment, made it clear that I am not in support of the death penalty, but I understand the reasons some people support it. For me, the fact that there are numerous examples of people wrongly convicted of murder is my primary reason to be against the death penalty. In addition, there are numerous examples of coerced confessions. And as you state, many of those sentenced to death or who are convicted of murder are damaged either through genetics or environment, so our only choice is to lock them away…forever. To me, the latter is just as sad as capital punishment because hope is extinguished on both cases. You disagree. And that is OK with me.
Why Norway model will not work in U.S. (just one article, there were more):
Interesting pro-capital punishment piece (the writer is REALLY pro-death penalty):
Hi Cindy, thanks for your loooong and thoughtful comment. You raise loads of good points, and the link with the response to the Norwegian prison facility is really interesting for a lot of reasons. Apologies if you thought I was having a swipe of you over the indoctrination comment. Not in the slightest. I’m aware that we are all indoctrinated by the dominant culture of our upbringing, and it’s often only through conversations like this that we can comes to terms with that, and meaningfully question what we instinctively believe is true.
The issue you raise about repeat sexual offenders is an interesting one as you rightly point out that rehabilitation is currently very difficult. However, I still don’t think execution makes sense in cases like that, for three reasons: the same old error problem; the possibility of a successful rehabilitation model being found in the near future; the possibility of finding out more information from the live criminal that can help other victims or help prevent other people developing into sexual offenders. I think these reasons have much more weight than getting rid of a harmful person. I believe there’s a big debate about the effects of chemical or surgical castration, which drastically reduces the reoffending rate.
Your arguments about the differences between the US and Norway just leaving me wondering why more people don’t realise that the Norwegian approach to society makes more sense (and I don’t think this is solely dependent on national wealth).
I agree with this post 100%! To concisely state my opinion the healing process for people who have lost a family member or friend shouldn’t revolve around more violence and hate: what kind of values are we basing our society on if that is allowed to occur?
Thanks Thomas! You’re so right. Violence and hate have a tendency to breed more of the same – somewhere along the line people have to look logically at ways to break these cycles.
A very intriguing topic. Thanks for sharing it.
I stand against premature death in any of its manifestations. Especially government-induced death, for anybody.
I also reserve entirely the Right to act in my own defence—to the required level of force involved to neutralise the threat.
Now to not digress—I invite than anyone here to google the words “april jones” and catch up on the latest there, and revisit some of the early stuff: if not a candidate for the death penalty I’d say that the nice misunderstood man should at the very least be oublietted … which would be win/win for all, actually …