Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Value of Life

Barbara at Mahablog makes a very important point about the execution today of Stanley "Tookie" Williams:

So Tookie Williams is dead, and the four people he was convicted of murdering remain dead, also. And the world turns, and the seasons change. In the vastness of eternity, big bleeping deal. Whatever path Williams took last night is one we'll all take eventually. Whether we "deserve" death or not is beside the point.

And this is a point missed by both advocates and protesters of last night's execution. Opponents of the death penalty make a huge mistake, IMO, by making the issue about what a prisoner might deserve. Will Bunch wrote yesterday about an anti-death penalty "cult of celebrity" that makes poster boys out of "deserving" prisoners like Williams or Mumia Abu-Jamal. These men are considered "deserving" because of their intelligence and accomplishments. Those who argue for sparing them either dismiss their convictions or insist they are better men now and don't deserve to die for what they did then.

But if we make the argument about who deserves to die, we're thinking like righties, who arrogantly believe they know who deserves to live or die.

For those who don't know, Will Bunch is a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News; he also has a blog called Attytood. Here is some of what he has to say:

As strongly as we feel about the death penalty, it's been hard for us to write about Tookie Williams, and here's why. We think the guy is total scum. What else could we think about a man who has been convicting of four cold-blooded killings, in two robberies that netted small amounts of cash?
And yet in spite of all of this, we want Tookie Williams to live.

To truly oppose the death penalty, one must oppose it not just for the innocent or the remorseful, but for the most vile scum among us. The idea of a government taking someone's life is offensive to our core religious beliefs -- and most likely to yours as well.

That is exactly right. If all human lives have equal value, then they have equal value even though some human beings are fine and kind and good and others are foul and cruel and vile. If that were not true, then it would be meaningless to say that all human lives have equal value.

That does not mean that all human actions have equal value. Clearly, they don't -- and actions should bring consequences. But state-sanctioned execution should not be one of those consequences. No human being has the right to take another human being's life away from him, except in direct defense of one's own life or the life of another. If you believe there is "that of the divine" in human beings -- whether you call that "divineness" God or something else -- then it follows with utter logic, not even to say morality, that another person's life belongs to that person and is not anyone else's to take.

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