December 27, 2003

And now for a lighter topic-serial killers!

Posted by Curt at 03:52 AM in Movies, Uncategorized Current Events, What the Fuck? | TrackBack

Two new movies have just been released about various aspects of the life of the convicted serial killer Aileen Wournos, who was executed in Florida last year, have just been released. One of them, Monster is a fictionalized Hollywood treatment. The other one, Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer, is a documentary about the filmmaker’s ordeal last year while testifying during Wournos’ final appeal. Not having seen either film, I can’t really comment on them as films, but they do raise yet again the legal, social and yes, perhaps moral issue of the death penalty.

I promise this will be my only contribution to the death-penalty debate, but I was spurred to it by the rather perplexing attitude of at least one reviewer of the films, who at least affected to be flabbergasted that Gov. Jeb Bush would have consented to the execution of this clearly insane woman, who apparently in the documentary spouts off an endless litany of psychotic paranoid theories about her situation shortly before her death. Now nobody could be surprised that a governor who was elected partly on a pro-death penalty platform would allow the insane to be executed. But a very large number of people, not just a single movie reviewer, seem to be very appalled by this. I’m no fan of any of the Bushes, but I don’t entirely understand this furor over the execution of the mentally impaired (as opposed to executing the sane).

I have not formulated a firm attitude towards the death penalty myself, but in my mind the only possible justification for it is as the human equivalent of shooting a mad dog, i.e. as the only possible means of dealing with individuals who are simply too psychotic and dangerous to exist in society. Now I am not sure that this is true of anyone, which is why my feelings on the matter remain ambiguous, but in any case, if is true of any person, their relative sanity is pretty irrelevant. In fact, insanity would actually make it more likely that they could not be dealt with in any way other than execution.

But these people that believe that only the mentally capable that are aware of the moral significance of their actions should be eligible for execution clearly have a different conception of the point of the judicial system than I do. I have no faith in the idea of retributive justice, mainly because, as I have said before, I don’t believe that moral concerns have anything to do with the motives of the judicial system (even if they did, I don’t understand what could give judges or juries moral authority over our lives, but that is a different issue). But I can only conclude that those who support the death penalty only for the sane must have a retributive idea of justice. Why else would the relative moral culpability of the perpetrator make any difference?

Well, I suppose there is one other possibility. Some people may believe that all insane people can be cured through psychotherapy, while those who decide to murder calculatedly are beyond redemption. But this seems to me not only stupid but also perserve. Even putting aside what the actual boundary between sanity and insanity is when one is talking about mass murder, isn’t the very concept of sanity, as opposed to insanity, the idea that the sane person is reasonable, i.e. amenable to reason, capable of being reasoned with, while the insane person is not? So who is more likely to be “cured,” the sane person or the insane? It is apparent what a ludicrous debate this would be, and how filled with hubris. Which brings me back to my original premise: judges and juries have no God-like insight into other people’s psyches, hence they have no right or ability to decide upon relative moral goodness and then dispense punishment accordingly. There are some people in the world, like suicide bombers and those who train and prepare them, who I have difficulty imagining as being anything other than enormous menaces to the world for the duration of their lives. For ones such as them, I can at least see a valid argument being made for their execution, though I would not go so far as affirm it at present. But as for this phony, sniveling pseudo-moral sanctimony, enough with it!


Well said.

Posted by: Qiwi Lisolet at December 29, 2003 05:22 PM