Wednesday, January 03, 2007

All for Public Execution!

Apparently we all are.
Here's my thought: one of the 'practical' objections to the institution of capital punishment is just how much it costs to put someone to death. The lengthy appeals cost the taxpayers of a given state a staggering amount. Take this case study:
"The North Carolina study estimated that a capital trial takes roughly four times longer than a non-capital murder trial. Based on the data collected by the authors of the North Carolina study, they found that less than a third of capital trials resulted in a death sentence. Nevertheless, each of these trials had the extra expense associated with death penalty proceedings. The trial costs alone were about $200,000 more for each death penalty imposed than if no death penalty was involved." (full article)
Crazy, huh? Why would we spend so much to put people to death?
Because apparently, our society thinks it's right, thinks it's worth it.
Hell, you want a democratic look at it? Well over 400,000 people have viewed some incarnation of it on YouTube (No, I'm not counting the SouthPark cartoons) at the time of this writing. So I got interested. Why is nobody advertising on YouTube on these pages? It's all search-term sensitive: you buy up keywords and your ad appears on relevant videos. That's a lot of hits with no competing bids! Lots of bang for one's buck.
Aha. There we are. Try this on for size: if our society wants so badly to murder its deviants, and if it's already paying for it through the nose, why not lessen that burden by showing these as pay-per-view specials? We could even have the broadcast limited to residents of a certain state, to make sure that only those who were benefiting from the security guaranteed by the executions were watching, that nobody was taking any questionable or even pornagraphic pleasure out of it.
Sponsorships would help, too. It could be "the Army Air National Guard execution of Willie Mack Moddon, this Friday!" or, "This sloppy lynching of ex-iraqi president brought to you by British Petroleum."
We've already done it. Commercials were running, though I haven't been able to figure out whose yet, during the major news outlets' airing of the execution, and don't think people weren't pouring over the numbers after the fact.

Here's a serious article on Saddam, by someone a little more controllably disgusted.


Le Capeur said...

There's a novel called "Vernon God Little" by DBC Pierre where this scenario is enacted, except instead of just televising the execution, they create a reality show out of death row where America can vote Big-Brother style between two inmates up for the chair.

The book is excellent (I think the NYT named it one of their top books when it was published in 2003, and I know it won the Booker Prize), and the part above is only a small section. It's a big-time critique of America, I highly recommend it.

John A. Atchley III said...

My problem with the execution is what it means for a democracy to externalize its problems via an act of absolutism, i.e. execution. What the political responses to Saddam's execution suggest, and I think what can be assumed to be theoretically or philosophically true as well, is that execution in a Democratic society erodes our ability to confront history and move forward in a dialectical manner.

Execution is so easily synonymous with a purging, that it allows societies to pretend perfection and totality. When we kill someone, we've rid ourselves of a problem so to speak, simply because that problem no longer exists in our society.

Problem is, there's none of the necessarry humility or critical reflection in that act: its all ego, pretending that the evil is entirely divorced from ourselves, entirely Other. And though Saddam did kill a lot of people and was a terrible man and was, in many ways, very divergent from what might be grossly characterized as the values of our society, he was none the less a part of what we have so been desperately striving to make a global democracy.

As such, he was never divorced from us, is always a part of us, and we must reckon his problems and our own failures into any vision of progress we have for ourselves as a democratic society. To pretend Saddam is outside of our society is to be complicit with the divergence of his actions. Hyperbole of course, but whatever bit of that sentiment can be retained is what erodes our democracy and what terrifies me about the celebrations surrounding the tryant's execution.

Diana M. Gauvin said...

Sigh. As if killing Saddam really -did- bring us closure. If it had done so, we would not have seen reactive bombings following it.

The anti-capital-punishment argument has been rehashed in so many venues in so many permutations of the same points - so I will not attempt it here. This was about more than Capital punishment, though. This was about something to which BJ was alluding - playing God; annihilating. Like echthroi... gone. Nothing. And Nothingness, I suppose, was the goal.

But this is just a pageant, of course. BJ's other point is true: Saddam and his atrocities are inextricable from ourselves and the world society as it exists. Even uprooting a weed still leaves the chance for regrowth - one can never eliminate every trace, nor its effects on the garden.