I could be for the death penalty, if it could be shown to deter other violent crimes. It cannot.
I could be for the death penalty, if it could be shown that the people put to death are 99.9% sure to be the guilty party. It cannot.
I could be for the death penalty, if it could be carried out in a way that preserves dignity for the state as the monopolist of legal violence. It cannot.
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The recent botched executions around the country could be solved by a firing squad, hanging, and so on. The public could be brought in to watch—or pay for the privilege of hacking someone to death with an axe. We could turn it into a reality TV show and reduce the budget deficit!
People recoil from this not only from squeamishness, I think, but from common sense. We are all too aware of what happens when mob or vigilante violence is incited, as indeed a venomous state killing would do. While Americans don’t learn much about history and the atrocities of the French Revolution, they may remember something about the 1968 riots across America. They can read about the wanton violence in today Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Do we really want to rouse up the vilest of emotions, believing that these emotions can then be put back into a neat apothecary bottle?
The reason we require a dignified death without pain for the vilest of murderers is because...