Saturday, April 12, 2008

Beccaria and Lichtenberg on Section 13.

I'm fully in favor of capital punishment, and I hope I would remain so even were I sentenced to death under the legitimate rule of law in a legitimate state; however, whether I were to be subject or not to torture before hand, I can't think of any good reason to support it, and I have one good reason to forego it: regardless of the advantages of gleaning information from one under torture, the benefit is lost in our becoming torturers. Beccaria argues against capital punishment on that same ground, and I do suggest he is wrong in it.

Torture demeans us, and capital punishment ennobles us. To torture a person is to accept their Humanness and to deliberately degrade it and nullify it for the sake of others. To torture is to shame, other aspects of it being negotiable. To shame is to destroy another's Humanness, which destroys ones own, a far too high a price to pay. One cannot bravely face torture. The point of torture is to deface the person so he has no bravery, no courage, not Humanness left in him, at which point he is tortured fully. Anything to be gained through that is not worth the having. But death is a different occasion. I accept it as occasion for the possibility of an act of courage. Nevertheless, for the executioner, capital punishment is not an act of personal volition and responsibility, per se. Killing people isn't Good; but sometimes killing people is Right. On those occasions of capital punishment, one might consider it an act of ennoblement of all concerned.

When a legitimate authority sentences a criminal to his punishment, then death is a good thing and right. Death shows to the community and to the one punished that Life is our highest value: To kill a criminal is to show that we take the crime so seriously that we will make the payment so severe that it transcends all other of our values in this case. We prize life so highly that we will take it from those who do not deserve it. We will go even that far. We won't defile ourselves by humiliating another for the sake of our own gain; but we will show to all that we value life so highly that we take it and destroy it rather than allow one to have it who has transgressed against us.

Our culture is askew. We seem not to know the difference between insult and outrage, the difference between traduce and trespass. Often we live in fear. Or we have no fear whatsoever.

Cesare Beccaria, Of Crimes and Punishments. (1738 –1794)

I do not know of any exception to this general axiom, that every member of society should know when he is criminal and when innocent. If censors, and, in general, arbitrary magistrates, be necessary in any government, it proceeds from some fault in the constitution. The uncertainty of crimes hath sacrificed more victims to secret tyranny than have ever suffered by public and solemn cruelty.

Chapter 11: "Of crimes which disturb the Public Tranquillity."

It is impossible to reduce the tumultuous activity of mankind to absolute regularity; for, amidst the various and opposite attractions of pleasure and pain, human laws are not sufficient entirely to prevent disorders in society. Such, however is the chimera of weak men, when invested with authority. To prohibit a number of indifferent actions is not to prevent the crimes which they may produce, but to create new ones; it is to change at will the ideas of virtue and vice, which, at other times, we are told, are eternal and immutable. To what a situation should we be reduced if everything were to be forbidden that might possibly lead to a crime? We must be deprived of the use of our senses: for one motive that induces a man to commit a real crime there are a thousand which excite him to those indifferent actions which are called crimes by bad laws....

Would you prevent crimes? Let the laws be clear and simple, let the entire force of the nation be united in their defence, let them be intended rather to favour every individual than any particular classes of men, let the laws be feared, and the laws only. The fear of the laws is salutary, but the fear of men is a fruitful and fatal source of crimes.

Chapter 41: "Of the Means of preventing Crimes."

Stern punishments for trivialities; trivial punishments for inhumanities callously committed. We now know less and less about things more and more important daily. Where the foulest of crimes go unpunished, the slightest of imagined insults brings down upon the man the wrath of the Gnostic estate.

A contemporary of Beccaria understood the problems of our jurisprudence as if he were looking through a time machine:

"Today we are trying to spread knowledge everywhere. Who knows if in centuries to come there will not be universities for re-establishing our former ignorance?" Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

Our Gnostic minders know too much, and in that they have lost fully the sense of our great Enlightenment. We must relearn our selves.

But if I do get arrested for speaking out, please let me get close to Pamela before I get hanged.

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