You’ll notice this is another of those chapters (like so many before it and more yet to come) that has more of a subsequent relation to Limbaugh than a direct one. That’s because, based on what I’ve heard on his show and read in his first book, his position doesn’t lend itself well to any kind of real debate. He supports the death penalty basically because it’s the will of the majority of people and because criminals must know there are consequences to their actions. But simply by virtue of his position, however poorly justified, what follows certainly points directly to why his position is wrong.

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Deterrence is the act of protecting one’s self and/or protecting others from dangerous individuals, and it takes place in the streets and wilds of our world. Once in custody, however, criminals are not a direct threat to society, and anything purposely bad done to them is an unnecessary abuse of power and wrong.

Not that this has stopped our so-called intelligent and civilized species from endlessly finding ways to justify our blood lust in the name of the larger good. The reason, or rather excuse, most often given by government officials for the death penalty is as a deterrent against crime and violence. But the death penalty’s only practical function is as a PR tool, something politicians can use to fool citizens into believing that justice is being served and crime being deterred. It’s the equivalent of Romans throwing Christians and other ‘‘undesirables’’ to the lions, and about as meaningful.

California Governor Pete Wilson: ‘‘Killers have no place in the civilized society of California. . . . I will do everything in my power to see to it that the people of California remain protected by the death penalty.’’ Is that why we’re gonna kill them, because they don’t belong in our ‘civilized society’? Isn’t that what prisons are for, to detain those deviants who do not belong in our society?

It’s often said that this protects us directly from the person being murdered (such as in Pete Wilson’s aforementioned assurance), but sometimes it’s also implied that this deters people on the street from committing crime.

But how could it be a deterrent? The very people it’s meant to deter are committing crimes so heinous, it’s not logical to assume that they value their own life so much as to be discouraged by the threat of ‘‘capital punishment.’’ There’s not a shred of evidence to indicate that America’s death penalty has ever had a direct or subsequent impact on lowering crime or homicide anywhere it’s been implemented.

Limbaugh counters such statements by saying that the only way we’ll ever find out whether this punishment has a deterring effect is for us to use it. But our government’s been killing criminals since its founding and there’s absolutely no indication in our society that this is deterring crime or violence. What makes him believe the continued use of the death penalty will reap different results?

It’s clear to myself, at least, that the death penalty’s real purpose is to satisfy the fear and neurosis of a people who’re fed up with this senseless violence and feel helpless before this problem. Everyone wants to see crime deterred, but how? In the face of digging for deeper answers, people choose to express this confusion through an equally senseless act of violence. The only purpose of the death penalty is to provide people with a false sense of order, a false sense of power, and most definitely a false sense of justice.


People argue that killing killers is justice, or ‘‘an eye for an eye.’’ And yet murderers are the only criminals we extend this philosophy towards anymore; probably the only ones we would continue to view as acceptable. Someone who’s convicted of shooting but not killing another isn’t shot in the same fashion. A person convicted of cutting another with a knife isn’t given the same wounds. You couldn’t bloody well rob a thief, per say, but you could cut off his hands. And you can just imagine what retribution would befall sex offenders.

On principle alone you’d think people would be suspect of a government that, by committing acts of coldblooded murder, is breaking, holding itself above, and superseding the laws it holds all citizens to. I suppose people feel this is alright so long as it’s legally premeditated, wrapped up in red-tape and bureaucracy: institutionalized murder.

Which is likely the reason quite a few media folk would like to televise these executions——granted some would televise it just for the ratings, but for many it’s a matter of public record, the citizen’s right to know exactly what happens within our own government. These things weren’t always done in such low-key or secretive ways. Used to be that these executions were done in public, often in the form of hangings or far more cruel devices of death. Nowadays, though, it’s hidden from the public, and is being done in cleaner and more ‘‘humane’’ ways.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of San Francisco recently ruled that California’s state gas chamber is unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment as it’s ‘‘cruel and unusual punishment.’’ In his statement the judge wrote that, ‘‘Our society no longer considers lethal gas an acceptable means by which to execute a person . . . [it] has no place in civilized society.’’

As if there were an acceptable means of execution in a ‘civilized’ society, or a cruelless form of murder. It’s a complete contradiction, more literal than that oxymoron ‘‘government intelligence.’’ That our society still believes there is an acceptable means of execution and that this protects us or is a form of justice only goes to demonstrate just how uncivilized we remain.

Myself, I’ve felt radically different about the death penalty over the years. At times I wasn’t sure how I felt, and other times I was for it. Not because it meant much of anything to me but because I simply didn’t care and figured, ‘‘Go ahead and kill ’em, what difference does it make to me?’’ Sometime since then I’ve given it more thought and have found that the death penalty does in fact sicken me. But that’s basically the depth of the reason given by most people I know who support this punishment. It’s always in some detached, bullshitting sort of way, like, ‘‘Screw it, who cares? Fry the guy.’’ The perfect image I see is of Beavis (or was it Butthead?) chanting to the television: ‘‘Give him the chair! Give him the chair! Huh, huh.’’

The death penalty has been sanitized, cleaned up and hidden so it won’t weigh on the public conscious (much like the Nazis hid their evil deeds from the innocent but knowing eyes of their pure Aryan people) and nobody will have to think about it on any other level than as a concept somewhere in the back of the mind. The state does much as it can nowadays to allow citizens to endorse this without ever having to actually witness what it is they’ve endorsed, without feeling that any of the blood is on their own hands.

And were these murders televised, many people’s blind beliefs would be shattered under the gruesome image of the taking of a real human life. (Although I have no doubt quite a few people would also sit there guzzling their beer and rooting for the execution like they do their favorite football team.)


Everyone must mourn for a loved one who has died, and I certainly can’t expect people to just forgive and/or forget the fiend who may have taken a loved one’s life. But by allowing vengeance toward the victimizer to consume them, aren’t people doing the greatest harm to the memory and spirit of the victim?

Limbaugh asserts that people who oppose capital punishment care more about the rights of criminals than the rights of their victims. We’re told by proponents that the execution of a murderer puts members of the victim’s family at ease. But I wonder just how helpful it really is. It does nothing to bring back their loved one. And such a heady vengeance must leave an indelible impression that’s next-to-impossible to separate from memories of their loved one. And when all that remains are one’s memories, I’d think the most important thing to do after such a tragedy occurs is to preserve the memory of their dearly departed in as pure and undistorted a light as possible. Can this be accomplished when the last significant act done in their name, in their spirit, is to murder he who murdered them?

Those suffering such a loss must ask themselves: Is that honestly what their loved one would want, was that the content of their heart, that they would want their victimizer brutalized in return?

Nothing can be done to reverse the physical murder of a loved one, but people can still do something for themselves by not allowing the villain to also stain that loved ones memory, which lives on with those who were closest to them. That is the secondary tragedy of such horrors, that which people can prevent but don’t. Hate is the easiest outlet of such strong emotions of pain, loss and grief, and consequently the least healing or productive, and the most personally disturbing and unsettling.


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