Until Midterm Elections...

Scott versus Scott

Welcome to our blog. Here we will debate the days most serious topics and allow users the chance to discuss the topics as well. The range of topics will vary, but one thing will remain certain, the debate will rage on. Scott Lesinski is a proud conservative and Scott Jones is a proud liberal. However, the roles will switch on some topics. Stay tuned.

Scott Lesinski is currently an actuarial associate for a large human resources and insurance consulting firm in Saint Louis. He is also an avid student of US history and enjoys following current events, with an eye to their contextual relationship to the past. He is also, in fact, a former student of Mr. Scott Jones. Scott is working toward his FSA credentials, which is akin to earning a PHD in Actuarial Science.

Scott Jones is currently a high school social studies teacher at a high school in suburban St. Louis, MO. He teaches World History, AP American Government and Senior American Foreign Policy. He has a BS. Ed. (Secondary Social Studies) from the University of Missouri - Columbia and a M.A. (History) from Southeast Missouri State University. He is currently working on a dissertation in character education to earn a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Death of John Allen Muhammad and other Inconsistencies

They killed a killer a few weeks ago.

I kept waiting to feel something when news came that John Allen Muhammad had been executed in Virginia. As a staunch opponent of capital punishment, I wanted some nugget of remorse at the knowledge that the government had taken his life.

After all, a government that has the power to kill its own people is not consistent with the ideas of limited government power. The power to kill is absolute power.

But Muhammad's 2002 sniper attacks hit close to home. He terrorized millions of people in the greater Washington, D.C., area, where a friend of mine lives. His son was scared to go trick-or-treating. A friend of his son had his father shot at during the rampage.

My friend, his wife, and his two sons were scared to leave the house. Scared to go to work. Scared to go to school. Scared to go to a friend’s house after school. Recess was cancelled.

Muhammad was – and is – an example of the worst in humanity. Those of us who cannot live among us.

Therefore, I could not manage remorse.

Indeed, what I felt was an unsettling, appalling satisfaction that Muhammad is no longer in the world. I still remember the last time an execution caused my emotions to so thoroughly misalign with my convictions: it was in 2001, when Timothy McVeigh was put to death.

I am sure the same thing will occur in me when one of the engineers of September 11 will be put to death.

When I argue against the death penalty, I tend to lean on a few salient points: it is far costlier than life imprisonment; it is biased by class, race and gender; it is irreversible in the event of error. I use those arguments because there is ample statistical evidence to back them up, and because they are irrefutable.

But I have one other problem with the death penalty: it's morally wrong. It debases us. The power of life and death is too awesome to be left in human hands. We, as humans, do not have the right to act as God. Besides, how can killing a killer make us better than the killer in the first place.

Here, I know, the abortion opponent wonders how I can square that logically with support for abortion rights. The answer is simple: I can't.

Like, I suspect, most pro-choice people, my support for abortion rights hinges upon a visceral rejection of the idea that a limited in power government can compel a woman to bear a child that she, for whatever reason -- rape, incest, deformity, and poverty -- chooses not to have the child.

I suspect I am also like most pro-choice people in being squishy and irresolute about the fact that a human life hangs in the balance of that decision. I suspect we find it easier to think of it as a potential human, not a real one -- an oops without a name.

Furthermore, the constitutional argument for abortion rests on the right to privacy as guaranteed in Griswold v. Connecticut and a strict interpretation of the “equal protection” clause of the Fourtheenth Amendment.

Such an interpretation makes it difficult to also support the use of the “due process clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to run end around of the “equal protection” clause to support affirmative action.

None of this, by the way, is tendered as apology or even justification. Rather, it is simply to observe that where the awesome power of life and death are concerned, most of us are guilty of inconsistency, especially when those views are logically extended to other issues.

The classic liberal position, after all, opposes capital punishment and supports abortion rights, the latter often rationalized along the lines of the fractured logic above.

The classic conservative position, meanwhile, opposes abortion rights and supports the death penalty, glossing over with equally-fractured logic the fact that innocents will be (indeed, have been) executed.

Meanwhile, the conservative position also argues against the entitlements designed to help a woman forced to have a child survive as a parent and give the best possible care to the undesired child.

In order to justify the end of federally protected abortion, conservatives argue against the right to privacy, which in this case deals with medical records, because the Roe v. Wade was based on the constitutional right to privacy in Griswold, which conservatives argue, correctly, is a right not specifically guaranteed in the Constitution.

Yet, conservatives have no such problem invoking a constitutionally protected right to self-defense when it comes to gun rights. When you check your Constitution, you will find the right to self-defense next to the right to privacy.

A similarly fractured logic.

With the exception of the Catholic Church, then, and a few other outposts of religiosity, none of us is consistent on these issues of life and death, all of us ignoring truths that indict our deep convictions, striking bargains with conscience in the name of a good night's sleep.

Into that irresolution and fractured logic falls the execution of John Allen Muhammad.

And what am I to say?

I hate the death penalty, but this man's rampage touched the life of my friend, so I'm OK with it?

What kind of sense does that make?

None, of course. It is, if anything, just proof of my humanity -- and all the contradictions attendant thereto. It is our nature to seek certitude and resolution, but life is messy and untidy, doesn't always fit neatly into the boxes we build for it.

The life lived must deal with the gray areas of our convictions.

When it comes to the sanctity of life, the world becomes so gray. Life is Life. Life is precious. Life should not be wasted.

Yet, humans take each other’s life on a daily basis. This is something that I can’t understand. Never will. To know that you took the life of someone else – how do you live with that? The same can be said when it is the government that does the killing.

Yet, when that person is put to death, how does the family of the person murdered live with that? Actually being part of the end of a life no matter what the circumstance.

Retribution is the answer, but family member after family member reports feeling no satisfaction after the killer of their loved one has also been killed.

Yet, the abortion logical inconsistency.

We want clear answers. Our minds demand that the problems of the world fit so neatly into the boxes of our brains that we have created for each new issue that comes before us.

We hear about event A and we place it into box A so that we can make easy and unemotional judgments about it. Same with event B.

What happens with event C doesn’t fit into one of our boxes? We have a choice.

We can try to cram into one of the already made boxes and force our opinion out of that box.

On the other hand, we create a new box in order to develop our answer to the event. This path, however, might force us to change our views already in box A or B. This is something that most of us feel uncomfortable doing. We fit the contrary event into our already views so as to never have our existing view challenged.

What happens if event X happens, but our boxes only go to the letter M?

From our trenches of fixed opinion, we thunder at one another so readily that it is disconcerting when you are forced to wander the gray places between, to acknowledge complexities our certainties don't always allow us to see. It can give you pause.

If we are completely honest with ourselves, we feel this all the time.

This is not the worst thing in the world.

I still hope that John Allen Muhammad burns in Hell. Maybe he can say hello to McVeigh.

1 comment:

  1. SJ

    Here is a topic that we can agree on. I've been wrestling with the death penalty for quite some time now. You can point to stats on both sides showing whether it decreases murder rates or violent crime rates, etc. But for me, the idea of government having absolute power to take God's greatest gift, even from those who, in my opinion, have abdicated that right, is too much to swallow. However the main kicker is that our system of justice is not 100% perfect and if even 1 innocent person is put to death, its too many.

    That being said, I have a different standard for enemy combatants and terrorists like KSM and the Fort Hood terrorist, Nadal Malik Hasan. Its not a question of guilt with these animals and for crimes against humanity, I think we ought to go ahead and martyr them for their perverted ideology.

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