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An End to Rationalization

The argument of Aidan N. Low '98 for more executions and "streamlined" appeals ["Limit Appeals, Spend More on the Innocent," May 5] illustrates what we can stoop to in our quest for increasingly harsh punishment.

Low argues that we should overcome our squeamishness and change our method of execution to a summary shot in the head (just like the progressive and humane system in China). It goes on to say that spending $100,000 a year to feed, house and guard (and sometimes educate) prisoners is too much and a few "wrongful deaths" are an acceptable price for the savings which could be put to good ends.

Though more extreme than most arguments for death penalty, those above typify their sort of logic and cost-benefit rationalizations. Central is the assumption that criminals don't have to be treated as human beings. This is accomplished by prosecutors' "aggravating factors," use of victims' families for sympathy and other methods of focusing on the heinousness of the crime to make the jury's or voters' own crime seems commensurate or even "too good for him" and therefore just. To make the execution more palatable for our weak stomachs, methods such as lethal injection are used.

All of these make executions seem kinder and gentler, but supporting murder through voting for politicians who promise to kill or any other way is morally equivalent to performing the "unnecessary killing" personally. When I was four I learned that anger doesn't make it necessary for me to hit my little brother; "deterring" him from competing for attention wasn't a good justification either. Another preschool adage is that "two wrongs don't make a right"; an eye for an eye might not leave the world blind, but it will leave it bloody and soulless.

Albert Camus wrote that although it's unrealistic to expect to end murder, we should at least strive to end the rationalization of murder. Using prison funding, psychological closure for victims and a public thirst for blood vengeance as warrants for state sanctioned murder makes everyone from the doctor-turned-executioner to the tough minded voter no better than the supposedly inhuman criminals whom they are killing.

Aram W. Harrow '01