I was distressed to read recently that there is an on-line petition to parliament in which people are calling for the re-introduction of the death penalty in this country. The demand for such a final and decisive measure of retribution is, I feel, an indication that people are not so much interested in seeing justice served as in seeking vengeance for its own sake. Licensed killing by the state can serve no other purpose. Surely it is indisputable that, in matters of life and death, reason must always triumph over emotion. It is inconceivable that our anger (no matter how righteous) or cost considerations, for the love of goats (surely we’ve all heard the “Why should we pay for these people to be imprisoned?” rant), might ever actually allow us to feel entitled to even consider legitimising the taking of a human life.
The fundamental principle which the “bring back hanging” brigade don’t seem to have grasped is that all life is precious – and more precious than any bloody price-tag too. The call for a return to barbarism (which is all that such a retrograde step as the re-introduction of licensed killing by the state could ever be considered) is nothing but a pitiable indicator of the crumbling of the mores of our society. Civilisation is dependent upon us not giving in to our base instincts of rage but instead seeking reasoned and rational responses to all situations as they arise. The alternative is as violent as it is ugly.
The application of justice and the use of imprisonment should only be about the rehabilitation of offenders and the protection of the public through the containment of those who transgress laws. The treatment of those convicted and the mercy shown to them is an indicator of a society’s maturity and wisdom. As such, it should be cherished, because it’s one of the very few that we have left.
Giving vent to bloodlust is symptomatic of a social psyche which has become enraged, intolerant and unforgiving. Sadly, in recent times this has been showcased quite extensively – those signing the death penalty petition, the recent scenes of rioters and looters on our streets, the reactionary idea of pacifying those rioters using plastic bullets, even the calls for bankers to be flayed and tortured (or perhaps that last was just me). We seem to be caught in a maelstrom of blame and hatred that could too easily spiral out of control. This is a dangerous path for us to start down because it could put our way of life at threat; we could be on the verge of willingly sacrificing all that makes us free and enlightened or we could – nay, should – take stock and turn away from the temptation of extreme reactions. Let’s hope that we still have the strength and wisdom to make the right choices. Never say die.