Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, September 26, 2011

*Some Commandments Optional

James 1:26 ESV
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.

Via driftglass and TBogg, we see Ross Douthat has perpetrated another atrocity. It takes a brave man to say that we're doing people a favor by executing them, but Ross Douthat is that man. It is, quite possibly, the laziest argument I have ever heard in my life, and I read Megan McArdle every day.

Douthat is a graduate of a prep school and Harvard. He is the youngest ever op-ed columnist for the New York Times. He undoubtedly is paid six figures for his work. Yet the best he can come up with about the religious and political issue of capital punishment is an essay that would be failed by a high school teacher.

Douthat says that by holding executions we shine a spotlight on the criminal justice system and bad prison conditions and therefore holding executions is a good thing, even if we accidentally-on-purpose execute an innocent man. The argument seems to rest on his belief that it's perfectly okay to kill criminals, or innocent guys as long as they have already been born.

IT’S easy to see why the case of Troy Davis, the Georgia man executed last week for the 1989 killing of an off-duty police officer, became a cause célèbre for death penalty opponents. Davis was identified as the shooter by witnesses who later claimed to have been coerced by investigators. He was prosecuted and convicted based on the same dubious eyewitness testimony, rather than forensic evidence. And his appeals process managed to be ponderously slow without delivering anything like certainty: it took the courts 20 years to say a final no to the second trial that Davis may well have deserved.

For many observers, the lesson of this case is simple: We need to abolish the death penalty outright. The argument that capital punishment is inherently immoral has long been a losing one in American politics.

The argument that we should outlaw abortion has also long been a losing one, but Douthat doesn't care about that. He will use popularity when it helps him win an argument and morality when it will not. Hypocrite Act #1.

But in the age of DNA evidence and endless media excavations, the argument that courts and juries are just too fallible to be trusted with matters of life and death may prove more effective.

If capital punishment disappears in the United States, it won’t be because voters and politicians no longer want to execute the guilty. It will be because they’re afraid of executing the innocent.

Douthat ignores moral arguments against capital punishment; the Catholic Church is against capital punishment because "only God can take a life" but oddly Douthat ignores that basic directive. Hypocrisy #2.

This is a healthy fear for a society to have. But there’s a danger here for advocates of criminal justice reform. After all, in a world without the death penalty, Davis probably wouldn’t have been retried or exonerated. His appeals would still have been denied, he would have spent the rest of his life in prison, and far fewer people would have known or cared about his fate.

There is no way of knowing this and it wouldn't matter if it were true. The argument is ludicrous on its face. Reformers care about injustice and cruel living conditions as well as the death penalty, and the attention Davis received didn't do him any good in the end. Douthat doesn't care about the living conditions of poor minorities and others he has deemed guilty, and pretending he suddenly does is Hypocrisy #3.

Instead, he received a level of legal assistance, media attention and activist support that few convicts can ever hope for. And his case became an example of how the very finality of the death penalty can focus the public’s attention on issues that many Americans prefer to ignore: the overzealousness of cops and prosecutors, the limits of the appeals process and the ugly conditions faced by many of the more than two million Americans currently behind bars.
Or we could, you know, focus on these things without killing anyone. Focusing on them while killing people has not proven effective so far.

Simply throwing up our hands and eliminating executions entirely, by contrast, could prove to be a form of moral evasion — a way to console ourselves with the knowledge that no innocents are ever executed, even as more pervasive abuses go unchecked.

As long as anyone suffers we can execute prisoners. Funny how that works out.

We should want a judicial system that we can trust with matters of life and death, and that can stand up to the kind of public scrutiny that Davis’s case received. And gradually reforming the death penalty — imposing it in fewer situations and with more safeguards, which other defendants could benefit from as well — might do more than outright abolition to address the larger problems with crime and punishment in America.

This is also Ross Douthat's anti-abortion argument, by the way. Let's eliminate abortion so we can end those divisive abortion arguments and concentrate on how we can end abortion!

This point was made well last week by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing for The American Scene. In any penal system, he pointed out, but especially in our own — which can be brutal, overcrowded, rife with rape and other forms of violence — a lifelong prison sentence can prove more cruel and unusual than a speedy execution. And a society that supposedly values liberty as much or more than life itself hasn’t necessarily become more civilized if it preserves its convicts’ lives while consistently violating their rights and dignity. It’s just become better at self-deception about what’s really going on.

You tolerate prison rape, right? So why won't you tolerate executions too? Where is your consistency, Liberal America?!

Fundamentally, most Americans who support the death penalty do so because they want to believe that our justice system is just, and not merely a mechanism for quarantining the dangerous in order to keep the law-abiding safe. The case for executing murderers is a case for proportionality in punishment: for sentences that fit the crime, and penalties that close the circle.

And here we see the real Ross Douthat. Not the fake religious man--the real thing. Only God can take a life. Period. The Church does not make exceptions, not for dying parents or babies, not for unwanted children, not for criminals, not for anyone. Jesus was executed as a criminal, remember. When he said, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brother, that you do unto me," he wasn't advocating for more public executions, you know. This is not a matter of opinion, a suggestion, or an interpretation. Jesus said turn the cheek, not turn the dial on the electric chair. Douthat's religion is fake. He may have plastered a Christian veneer over his bundle of neuroses and OCD disorders and say "God" a lot but he is not a godly man, and certainly not a Catholic.

Instead of dismissing this point of view as backward and barbaric, criminal justice reformers should try to harness it, by pointing out that too often our punishments don’t fit the crime — that sentences for many drug crimes are disproportionate to the offenses, for instance, or that rape and sexual assault have become an implicit part of many prison terms. Americans should be urged to support penal reform not in spite of their belief that some murderers deserve execution, in other words, but because of it — because both are attempts to ensure that accused criminals receive their just deserts.

Romans 12:16-19 ESV
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Abolishing capital punishment in a kind of despair over its fallibility would send a very different message. It would tell the public that our laws and courts and juries are fundamentally incapable of delivering what most Americans consider genuine justice.

Yes, God forbid we should think our criminal system is unfair.

It could encourage a more cynical and utilitarian view of why police forces and prisons exist, and what moral standards we should hold them to.

Heaven forbid we should think that the powerful use the police and judicial system to keep the sheep in line.

And while it would put an end to wrongful executions, it might well lead to more overall injustice.
Because nothing would be more unfair that to stop executing innocent people.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

...and I read Megan McArdle every day.

"How do you manage?", I wonder.

P.S. Heaven forbid we should think that the powerful use the police and judicial system to keep the sheep in line.

Macing Wall Street protesters. Our NYPD plutocrat-rentacops, in action.

Susan of Texas said...

Those protesters are too few, too vulnerable, and to weak. The rich and powerful only respond to fear for their own safety. We need more protesters or a different type of protest--guerrilla protests.

Ben Wolf said...

Douthat has always been a sloppy thinker. That is, after all, why he got his gig in the first place. But how on earth can he continue to get worse? Is he that intellectually sheltered?

Kathy said...

There is something about ArgleBargle, Douchat and Loadpants that is amazingly offensive.

Its not just their dullard Stupidity, tho stupidity claiming to be brilliance is certainly irritating.

Its not just the lame ass sophomoric writing style, the coy, adolescent preening and sneering, the intentional vagueness used as a technique to slither out of being held responsible for writing something contemptable: "You didn't understand what I was saying... blah blah blah..."

Its not the Fame, fortune and BIG BUCKS being paid these perspicacious propagandists... oh wait.

It IS the fame & money.

These people are stupid, immoral, hypocritical and sly- and they receive lots of money, praise and admiration for it!

Most aggrivating!

Downpuppy said...

I always kinda wondered what Douthat would do when he had to pick between The Church & The Party.

Of course we all knew he'd go with the Party, I just wondered how he'd justify it.

Answer is : Hands in the pockets & whistle.

Total appearances of words in the column:

Catholic -0
church - 0
pope - 0

David in NYC said...

Shorter Ross Asshat:

That Troy Davis sure was one lucky ducky.

Boys and girls, we are very near the end of civilization.

Mr.Wonderful said...

After all, in a world without the death penalty, Davis probably wouldn’t have been retried or exonerated.

Plus, in a world without the death penalty, Davis might have been in prison one day when Tinkerbelle was visiting and became very, very sick. And her survival might have depended on a sufficient number of inmates clapping for her-- a number that might have been reached by Davis's clapping but which, for reasons we needn't go into, he might have failed to do.

So a world without the death penalty might have become a world in which Troy Davis killed Tinkerbelle. It's hard to imagine the anti-death penalty crowd being able to justify that.

Anatole David said...

Mush mouthed caveats walking on seas of cresting incredulous hypotheticals,"Oh ye of little faith!"

This phony either/or muddle(not middle) grounding of Douthat fits the High Broderism M.O.. Douthat and McCardle trot High Broderism out when they have no credible argument pro or contra, yet still wish to convey which side of the fence their shiny asses are hanging over for lost souls fumbling in darkness.

This masochism must end. Take your vacation. Ignorance has one thing on Wisdom, infinite variety. No deeper agony than contesting its Protean nature. It'll give you fits.

Douthat, McCardle, Friedman, Brooks, et al. find ignorance the Royal Way. It pays better.

"Folly reigns." Erasmus wrote centuries ago. Plus ca change...

Thinking these days is akin to donning a hairshirt midst "serious" lotus eaters. I'd be happily damned if that was an elitist sentiment rather than sober observation.

There is no moral defense for the death penalty. Bringing God into it merely stresses the unnatural lengths authority will go to justify killing(cf. War).

Batocchio said...

Douthat always argues poorly and disingenuously, but that one is definitely one of his all-time worst. I might take a go at it later on, but I've greatly enjoyed your take, and DG's, and TBogg's, and others...

aimai said...

Great comments, everyone. I fell asleep thinking cruel anti douthat thoughts that were absolutely brilliant. Alas, they were lost in the scrum that I call my dreams. But I assure you, they would have been a revelation.


Kathy said...

Is his argument "we must keep executing people, even if they're innocent, so Americans don't lose faith in the righteousness of our "Justice" system"?

Because that is way beyond a STUPID reason. Wonder if doucehat came up with it in the shower or when taking a dump?

Substance McGravitas said...

Injustice is so much more unsettling than killing people.

HMDK said...

KWillow: "Is his argument "we must keep executing people, even if they're innocent, so Americans don't lose faith in the righteousness of our "Justice" system"?"

He's saying that executing the innocent is better than actually getting off the couch and trying to reform the justice system.
Because, you know, NOTHING helps inspire faith in the justice system than systemic injustice!