Monday, November 24, 2008

Death Penalty—Washington State's First Execution Since 2001

Washington state is preparing to execute a death-row prisoner for the first time since 2001. If all proceedes as planned, the execution will take place on December 3rd.

Today's episode of the radio program The Conversation discussed the issue.

The man slated to die was convicted of aggravated murder in 1993 for killing his wife, his three children, and his business partner.

I don't support the death penalty for many reasons ... but the part of me that understands it has an intellectual kinship with the argument that Joseph Campbell lays out in his mythological explications. He separates personal revenge from societal revenge.

To illustrate this point, he talks about a story of a samurai who spent his life working to avenge his father's death. The samurai finally tracks down his father's killer, after years of training and searching, and he is about to exact revenge when the man spits in his face. The samurai puts down his sword and walks away. Campbell points out that if the samurai had killed the man at that moment, it would have been personal revenge and therefore petty, instead of a more noble revenge for an unjust crime. His killing needed to be based on revenge for his father's death, not anger over having been spit on.

For Campbell, I think the death penalty works the same way. It is a process by which society can cleanse itself of great evil and seek impersonal revenge for the greatest of crimes that have been done within society and therefore to society.

Anyway, I am hoping there will be many more opportunities for dialogue on this issue as the date of execution nears. NPR's Morning Edition will feature special coverage of the death penalty next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I assume it must be connected to Washington because those dates are December 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I'll try to update as I find more information.

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