On Moral Arguments for the Death Penalty: “Kant” and Retribution

Immanuel Kant: “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.”.

“A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

Cited by Dudley Sharp in comments on a previous post

Continuing a conversation begun here and taken up by commenter Dudley Sharp (for whose contribution I’m grateful), I want to turn to Sharp’s “MORAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE DEATH PENALTY, Part I) (See the comment linked to above–and I hope Sharp will share Part II or more). I probably won’t spend much time addressing the religious arguments–or I may come back to them later. I will just say that I don’t believe any human is capable of speaking for the alleged ultimate authority on morality, which many name “God.” I think it’s more fruitful to assume that justice on earth is more of a political or social problem than a cosmic one. So let me focus on Sharp’s “foundations” that jibe with that view, such as the argument from “Kant” above for starters. Continue reading

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Fambul Tok: The Movie

My last post on  Sierre Leone’s NGO Fambul Tok was based on my viewing several weeks ago of the 2011 film of the same name, directed by Sara Terry and co-produced by Libby Hoffman, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in questions of crime, punishment, and justice.  In brief, it concerns the NGO’s work in Sierra Leone’s communities with reconciling victims and perpetrators of the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1991-2002. It begins at a bonfire in a small village with a rape victim confronting and eventually forgiving the rapist, her uncle. In another village, former best friends are reconciled; one, as an impressed child soldier for the rebels, had killed the other’s father. A sister of a notorious rebel leader, who remains missing, begs and receives forgiveness on her brother’s behalf from the cousins and neighbors whose families he had brutalized by torture, rape and murder.

As the film explains through its central spokesperson John Caulker, Fambul Tok was developed as an alternative to the post-war commissions that had, until the film was released, prosecuted only a handful of war criminals, none of them of top rank. The cost to the nation of that nearly decade-long Western-style process was in the tens of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Fambul Tok’s brand of justice had cost about $US 1 million  since it was founded in 2007 until the film’s release last year and had reconciled hundreds of former antagonists. Continue reading

Why We Need a New Approach to Justice

I’ve been absent from this blog for a while, feeling frankly too hopeless about the political situation to pick up on my usual themes and too busy reading for pay as a professional reviewer to have much time to explore other ideas. But I have been thinking about something that I’d like to begin exploring on this blog, just setting aside the question of whether it can ever become a more generally salient idea for discussion elsewhere, let alone a movement for radical change. In a word: I’d like to propose a radical rethinking of justice, crime and punishment.

Continue reading

So What if Derrick Bell Visited the White House?

I’ve just had a testy little exchange of tweets with Jake Tapper, White House Correspondent for ABC news. Tapper tweeted  this question this afternoon: “Did Professor Derrick Bell Visit the White House? http://abcn.ws/vZLFsU” To which I replied: “So what if he did?”

The occasion of these tweets was the late Andrew Breitbart’s last gasp attempt to smear Obama as a black separatist radical with a tiny snippet of video from a protest at Harvard Law School in 1990 for more diversity on the faculty. Taken from a WGBH news story that was quoted in a  Frontline episode that ran in 2008, Breitbart’s clip shows Obama introducing and then embracing the late Derrick Bell, Harvard’s first tenured African American law professor and one of the intellects behind “critical race theory.” (More about that in a bit.) Continue reading

Middle of the Road Rage

Here’s an interesting nugget in a comment, addressed to me, from the post on John W. Smart’s blog that I was discussing yesterday:

…Hillary lost because of documented, widespread caucus fraud, bribing of superdelegates, and the theft of her delegates on national TV (which I and many others watched live). She won the primaries, but they pulled him an inch over the finish line through the cheating. So our disgruntlement is about far more than Hillary. For many (most?) of us, the democrats were “the good guys”. What you obamabots did was to awaken us from our stupor, you allowed us to see how corrupt the obamacrat party really is. So for many of us our whole political philosophies have changed. We no longer trust the dems more than we trust the republicans, and we know now that there are a HELL of a lot of stupid and mob-like people out there who don’t have a CLUE what real democracy means. To them, it’s win at any cost. So your obot tactics burned a LOT of bridges. It may have been just one more day of cheating for you guys, but it was a life changing tsunami for everyone else. Many have changed to independent, some are still registered as Democrat but no longer consider themselves as such. So any numbers you think you have – you DON’T.

I’m not going to answer this person on Smart’s blog as I know my presence there this morning would be counterproductive to the purposes of dialog. He or she said some other things that are unhelpfully provocative boilerplate from the primary wars of 2008, and as everything that could possibly be said in those wars has already been said a thousand times over, there’s really nothing more anyone can add to it that isn’t also boilerplate or counterproductive to reasonable discussion. I’m really, really not interested in the “Who’s better/more progressive/more electable/ more presidential: Hillary or Barack?” debate. From my perspective, this is irrelevant to present realities, no matter how endlessly fascinating the question may be for some. It honestly never was a useful discussion for any leftist, ever, even while it was was relevant.

But it is eye-opening to experience the violence of feeling ready to erupt among the Clinton refugees and, I tip my hat to them, sincerely: it does make me realize that I, like probably every former Obama supporter, no matter how hot or cold they were for their choice, had blinders on during those primaries. Continue reading

Liberals Fear #OWS, Part Deux

I posted earlier about The New Republic’s “skepticism” toward #occupyWallStreet. There’s another fascinating display of liberal OWS bashing going on here. I was drawn to it, while perusing the OWS posts on WordPress a couple of days ago, by its provocative title: “Failure.” “FAILURE.” [Shouting CAPS in the original.] In it, the author, John W. Smart (if that’s his real name), gloats  about the impending doom of #OccupyLA’s encampment at City Hall (which I watched part of last night on ustream) before snarkily giving it his thumbs down:

Many Occupiers are busy congratulating themselves for their “accomplishment” – another perfect demonstration of pathetic public education system they emerged from. Everybody gets a sticker for showing up. Everyone’s ‘self worth’ is feted with a bull horn and a cookie. The concept of real accomplishment is utterly foreign, in fact, it is dangerous. The true “others” in this nether world are those who get things done. They must be fought.

In terms of ‘getting things done’ Occupy is an abject failure. 3 months in and not a single major bank as been shut down…or is even in fear of failure. No enabler in Congress is remotely concerned about his/her job. The middle class, who took it up the south side and continues to with the bailouts, is completely disinterested, if not disgusted. The sympathetic press – such as it is – has moved on, alighting only for the occasional graphic clip of pepper spraying or baton beating. What Occupy wanted at the outset (still a muddled question) has not come to pass, nor is any tangible action moving in that direction.

Still what one might call a success – if one is generous – did occur. There is a slightly greater consciousness of how rigged our system is. This is not nothing, though to my thinking it’s close. The population understood the system was rigged before Occupy showed up. Occupy did show us that some people are willing to do some thing about the appalling racket we call an economy. I give the protesters credit for this. Unless the encampments were merely a prelude and  Occupy morphs into a vital, muscular movement – and quickly – I must call it like I see it: Occupy is a failure.

Let’s first note that Occupy as a viable force is two months old. I think it’s premature to expect any movement to outright “succeed,” however one defines success, but it’s certainly premature, not to say churlish, to conclude that something that is barely aborning is a failure. It’s this injustice in the remark that provoked me to plunge in with a comment in defense of OWS. Continue reading