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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 15 December 2003

Topic: The Culture

Quote for the day - having something to do with the death penalty, or war, or any of the ideological reasons one might have for killing other folks because it's the right thing to do, as with the Saddam Hussein or the DC snipers. Or maybe it's the right thing because it's someone who disagrees with your particular ideological preference... whatever.

"A further reason for my hatred of National Socialism and other ideologies is quite a primitive one. I have an aversion to killing people for the fun of it. What the fun is, I did not quite understand at the time, but in the intervening years the ample exploration of revolutionary consciousness has cast some light on this matter. The fun consists in gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one's power, optimally by killing somebody--a pseudo-identity that serves as a substitute for the human self that has been lost."
- Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections


Say what? Interesting, but way too deep.

So see Iraqi-Run Trial Holds Promise and Peril
The nation could grow as a democracy if it adheres to the rule of law -- not vengeance.
Alissa J. Rubin and Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2003

They quote Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch: "The capture of Saddam provides an opportunity that either will continue the cycle of revenge or begin the rule of law."

So what's this justice stuff? Not the same as revenge (vengeance)? How so?

See Definitions of Justice at the site Body and Soul where "Joan" has some thoughts:
I've been thinking this morning about a moment in 2000 that helped move me from simply not voting for Bush to actually fearing he might win. During a debate, Al Gore raised the issue of hate crimes legislation, and spoke about the death of James Byrd, who was chained to a truck and dragged to his death. There are reasonable objections to hate crimes legislation. I have some concerns about them myself. But Bush's objections were far from reasonable:

"The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them?" Bush said, smiling. "They'll be put to death. A jury found them guilty. It will be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death."

... no matter how much benefit of the doubt I tried to give Bush, I ended up seeing a man grinning at the thought of execution, smug in what seemed to me the bizarre belief that justice is all about catching bad people and killing them. I'll try to give Bush the benefit of the doubt once more and assume it was not bloodlust that provoked that smile, but reveling in his own sense of righteousness. But it was repulsive either way.

That revelation of character and beliefs has come to be far more important than I imagined. So much of what has gone wrong with this country since Bush became president stems from a belief in simple justice, a belief that if we just eliminate all the bad guys, good will triumph.

Saddam Hussein's capture this morning triggered this old memory. I'm happy that one of the most brutal tyrants on earth was captured, not killed. Good. Maybe we will get some answers. Certainly there will be a trial.

I admit to a somewhat less civilized pleasure over the fact that he was caught in a hole in the ground, imprisoned by himself, buried. Is anyone so noble that he doesn't delight in that? Would God herself expect us to rise above such pleasure? (On the other hand, I will never get used to the sound of joy and gloating at misery. It is simply beyond my understanding, and there is always something that startles and scares me about that noise.) "Enchanting" is a horrible word choice to describe it, but it is certainly a fitting end for a man who imprisoned and buried so many innocent people.

But there was something very disturbing in the reports of Saddam's own response to his capture:

"He was unrepentant and defiant," said Adel Abdel-Mahdi, a senior official of a Shiite Muslim political party who, along with other Iraqi leaders, visited Saddam in captivity.

"When we told him, 'If you go to the streets now, you will see the people celebrating,'" Abdel-Mahdi said. "He answered, 'Those are mobs.' When we told him about the mass graves, he replied, 'Those are thieves.'"

Justice is simple. If you capture and kill all the bad people, all the people who oppose you, good will triumph.
Well Joan, "simple" works for most folks these days.

Back in the sixties I shouldn't have read that long, book-length poem by that Jewish writer from the UK - In a Cold Season by Michael Hamburger, about the trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann. Apart from the poet's odd and amusing last name, as I recall the idea was to ask the question of whether it was good for us that instead of six million dead, we now had six million and one dead. What does that make us? Yadda, yadda. You get the idea.

Well, everyone these days thinks death is a good thing. Or at least a useful thing. I don't want to be the odd man out here.
____

Readers of the magazine might want to reference my October 12, 2003 Review of Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing With the Death Penalty; Scott Turow; Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 166 pp., $18 - where such things are further discussed.

As Turow points out, on the one hand, murder is a crime so extreme that it requires the most extreme retribution. On the other, state-sanctioned killing reduces our society to its lowest common denominator, making all of us complicit in the taking of a life. But then again as for those who are enthusiastic about the death penalty as "a statement of moral value" to be applied widely, and often, to say exactly who we are - to clearly show what we just won't tolerate - what about that view?

I guess I'm basically a Hamburger helper.

Posted by Alan at 09:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 15 December 2003 09:35 PST home

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