Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Amnesty Ironic

BBC NEWS | Americas | Guatemala urged to act on murders

That Amnesty International raises its voice in this case while campaigning against the death penalty seems a bit ironic to me.

Amnesty says that the death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

What is more cruel, inhuman and degrading: to permanently anesthetize a beast or to be subjected to torturous murders such as those described in the BBC article?

Amnesty says the death penalty violates the right to life. In this they are just being religious. Amnesty believes in inherent human dignity, from which it derives a right to life.

Human dignity, though, is far from inherent. Human dignity is reciprocal. The beasts among us should be executed.


jj mollo said...

So why do you think this is happening? Since the men's rate is up almost as much, you aren't necessarily talking about sexual predators. It's just that men can defend themselves a little better. I tend to discount claims that these problems are caused by poverty, but are economic indicators worse? Has policing decreased by a third? Is corruption growing? Are migrants coming in to Guatamala? Is there a growing drug market? Was the recent generation of twenty-something males traumatized in childhood? What do you think?

Steve said...

I don't know why. All of the factors you cite may contribute, but the vast majority of people subjected to them do not become killers. There's something else at play.

One thing common to all such cases, it seems to me, is the absence of human dignity. In fact, the existence of such cases demonstrates that "inherent" human dignity is a paralyzing lie.

jj mollo said...

That is an interesting phrase, isn't it? "Inherent human dignity" is, I think, a reflection of how we feel about others.

People are capable of the most despicable depths. Think about being a capo in a Nazi death camp. How much less dignity could a human have, forced to betray his people in exchange for a few more weeks of life. Many would do the same for a few more minutes. Worse is what people would do to protect their children.

The murderers, the tormenters, on the other hand, act with the greatest of apparent dignity, asserting their high positions of power.

The sad fact of life is that we are caught in it, vulnerable to a multitude of petty irritations and unspeakable horrors. What is dignity in that context? If I must be a victim, I can only hope I will never become a victimizer. That's the only dignity I think we can hope for.

Steve said...

Sure, but being or appearing dignified (or not) and being sacred are different things. The "inherent human dignity" I object to is the one that conveys a notion of sacredness. It's a false, mythical idea.

Some people hold that even the most depraved among us deserve a respect derived from some sacred "inherent human dignity". It's a religious notion based on belief in a god-given immortal soul, the same notion that led people to believe that Terri Shiavo was alive.

I think that most people, myself included, can be driven to depths of depravity under extreme conditions. That sort of thing might be forgiven, like cannibalism in the face of starvation. This sort of thing is a product of extreme pressure, external to the person who is acting uncharacteristically. Remove the pressure and decency might return.

The same is not true in the cases such as those referred to in the story I linked. I have little patience for the idea that perpetrators of crimes like those deserve any sort of respect.

But what do I know?

jj mollo said...

OK. I agree, but with two caveats. The first is that we are fallible creatures, much more likely to err than we realize. We have to be very careful to stick to agreed upon standards, and the best way to do that is uniformly.

The second concern is that exercising the authority to abuse others has a deleterious effect on us. Professional corrections officers have to be trained carefully to understand these issues.

I have no respect for criminals and suffer from revenge fantasies myself. I have no regret to see the evil ones die, but I think we need to distinguish ourselves from those who have no conscience and from those who are just good at excusing themselves. We are different, any of us who are part of the criminal justice system have a great responsibility. Sometimes -- perhaps in Guatemala, I don't know -- the good guys have no choice and cannot play by the rules. OK. So be it.

I have nothing against the death penalty ideologically, except that there are numerous cases where we have been wrong. DNA has been a great educator on that score. The reason we make mistakes is that some police officers are narrow-minded, certain of themselves, and willing to impose street justice inapropriately. These often seem to be the officers who get promoted.

Amnesty is an organization of wonderful people who want to make a difference. They are remarkably unaware of the fragility of civilization and don't understand who is trying to preserve it, and they are also irritatingly self-righteous. Are they accomplishing anything good overall? I don't know.

Steve said...

I'm not sure what you mean by uniformly sticking to agreed upon standards, but OK. I certainly agree that we're fallible.

Your description of Amnesty as wonderful people trying to make a difference seems right to me. I just think they're badly mistaken with respect to the death penalty.

jj mollo said...

I'm just saying, that even if you "know" the guy is guilty, you read him his rights the same way as everyone else and you investigate the case as seriously. Even if you hate a prisoner, you speak to and handcuff him and allow him privileges according to rules, not whim. It's the system that produces whatever justice we have.

I don't have anything against the death penalty, but I don't think it accomplishes much the way we use it in the US. I don't know which other countries use it, but I suspect it's not really a group to admire. Singapore maybe.

It's an emotional issue where you can't really make a lot of progress arguing about it -- like abortion. For the most part, the so-called "pro-life" people are in favor of the death penalty, where pro-choice are not. Your position is a little unusual. You must have thought about it a lot.

Steve said...

I do think about it quite a bit. I've gone back and forth with an anti-death-penalty lawyer who conceded me a few points once, but I have no illusions. Mine will be a small minority view until conditions get very bad.

With any luck I'll eventually be proven to have been way off base all along.