What is wrong with the Death Penalty as "vengeance" ?

Many argue against the death penalty with the idea that it is merely vengeance, and serves no useful purpose.

Well, I feel that vengeance IS a useful purpose, in itself. What is wrong with vengeance? When someone commits heinous crimes, then smokes like a Jimmy Dean sausage on old Sparky, I think, “Good.” And it’s not just “Good, justice has been done.” It’s “Good, I hope the fucker suffered, because he caused suffering, and deserves every bit of pain he got and lots more.” Am I in the minority, feeling this way?

I think that executions satisfy the desire for vengeance, and this is a valid reason to have executions.

There are of course other factors regarding the death penalty, and very good reasons against them. But I would like to address the vengeance factor ONLY in this thread, please.

I’m in complete agreement about the death, but not necessarily the suffering (i.e., torture). Repeat violent offenders must be quickly put to the death by the families of the victims in a State-monitored facility.

Bullet to the head.

Blade to the neck.

Cheap and quick. Inflicting great pain and suffering is problematic and leads to abuses, and there’s always the possibility the convicted is innocent.

A quick death is more humane than an imprisoned life. I know I’m right because the Lord, my God, hath told me.

Yet to be reconciled with the reality of the dark for a moment, I go on wandering from dream to dream.

I don’t think vengeance is an appropriate or useful human response, and I do not think it should be encouraged. Think about your own life; say someone wrongs you. So you do something to “get back at” them. Then they “get back at” you, you “get back at” them, they “get back at” you, and so on…escalating all the way, since we can’t honestly judge what is fair when blinded by a desire for other’s suffering, and tend to overemphasize the harm done to ourselves and thus wreak greater vengeance in return. Encouraging vengeance at any level seem like a bad idea; it seems to inevitably lead to excessive hatred and suffering.

Justice is fairness; vengeance is cruelty. With justice, if someone wrongs you, you coolly evaluate the harm done (preferably with an impartial observer), and determine the fair consequences. Enjoying a cruel person’s suffering makes you just as much of a beast as they; “when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks also into you” (Nietzsche). You can’t indulge in cruelty without becoming cruel. So if indulging in vengeance makes us worse people, what good is it? Joy in other’s suffering seems like something quite difficult to find moral justification for.

And if the condemned deceased turns out to be innocent, who then gets to have vengence for that death?

The desire to see someone suffer for the wrongs they have committed can be overwhelming. After all if someone rapes and kills Mr. Smith’s daughter, well he should get thrown in the slammer for a good long time, but it if someone rapes and kills your daughter, then just give you ten minutes alone with him.

The reason to have the state act as an avenger for the wronged is simple: If the state doesn’t do it, the people will. The state has a better record than the mob does when it comes to lynching innocents, and gives the accused a means (however poor) of defending himself. When the state begins to become inneffective at vengence, then the potential for lynchings increases. OTOH, when the state becomes overly zealous in its vengance, then it sets itself up for revolution.

An odd thing just occurred to me: Who calls for vengance? Is it the person who was wronged, or is it the people who were/are closest to the person who was wronged? Do we desire vengance when someone hurts us directly, or when they hurt our friends and family? I need to think about this more.


Letting my inner child run loose and break things.

The family of the condemned deceased, of course. They get to wreak their vengence on the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, and anyone else involved.
And then if it later turns out that the original condemned was guilty after all…

By that sick, twisted morality, we should allow child pornography because it satisfies the desire to ass-fuck little boys.

By all means, let’s pander to lowest, most beastial facets of human nature.


“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”
–James Thurber

Amen, Thuccotash. The desire for vengeance is one of the lowest, least admirable qualities of human beings. I wouldn’t call it bestial, because animals never stoop to it. The pain of victims’ families is real, but if they think finding satisfaction in the death of the person who hurt them is going to help them heal, they have a long way to go.

I concur, but is it not possible to impart capital punishment on an individual in fairness?

If enjoyment isn’t found in such an action, then the beastial attributes one sought to eradicate are not perpetuated by the exacter. If one commits an act such as depriving another of their life, and that individual thereby forfeits his/her life in doing so, the abyss has looked back into the one who initiated the base action.

Right. I’m not arguing against the death penalty as a whole here (although I do not support it); I am arguing against it as vengeance, as the OP stated. He said basically, “hey, I enjoy knowing that this guy suffered” and I am saying this justification for the DP is not something that should be encouraged. As to whether the death penalty can ever be “justice”, that’s another issue.

Just checking.

True indeed. Is a hijack in order? Maybe we should let this topic play out a bit longer.

The arguments for or against vengance can only be made on the basis of competing values, a very difficult area to argue rationally in.

The arguments against vengance as a value are all weak, but I’ll list them, and note their weaknesses. Note that the arguments for vengance are equally weak for the same general reasons.

  1. Vengance is explicitly repudiated by the Christian religion. Obviously, this argument carries no weight whatsoever with non-Christians.

  2. “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” i.e. the negative consequences of this value outweigh any positive consequences. This is, of course, a circular argument since it presupposes a set of value weightings.

  3. People who do extract vengance usually don’t feel better afterwards. A very shaky psychological argument with little hard data.

  4. By inflicting death or pain on someone who “deserves” it, one is adopting the precise value that the original criminal used to justify his crime. It’s a shaky analogy to start with and its arguable that the criminal has a faulty definition of “deserve”.

Vengeance isn’t civilized. We attempt to be civilized and live in a corresponding society. If you don’t want to be civilized beat on pelt drums and dance to make rain, but stay out of the judicial system.

Vengeance isn’t necessarily justice. The ol’ ‘eye for an eye’ saying is an absurd draconian law, see point #1.

In this case vengeance is racially specific. If it’s racially specific then it may be racially motivated. See point #1.

We could save a lot of money and time if we just did ‘trial by combat’ instead of lengthy court proceedings.

Justice has nothing to do with punishment.

When you punish your little boy for disobeying you, you are not looking for justice for his acts, but trying to show him he is wrong and it won’t be tolerated. No real injustice has been done by him refusing to eat his brussel sprouts and feeding them to the dog under the table, yet you still inflict a sentence of no dessert and an early bedtime. To a child that is wholly unfair. There are other vegetables he likes, yet you insisted on shoving the sprouts down his throat, knowing he couldn’t eat them last time. By not eating them he hurts no one, still he is punished.

Besides, in a world of ‘justice’ how do you measure an act of violence. A poor man, black man, famous actor, President, rich man, Indian Chief all receive very different forms of ‘justice’ in our system. It is to varied and arbitrary. There can be NO justice for some crimes. If you kill my girlfriend, there is no way to “make it up to me” or be “fair” about your punishment. There can be only one response - and vengeance shall be mine.

Gaudere, we are not talking about unchecked Viking blood feuds here (although I must admit what happened at Waco reminded me a bit of the climax of Njal’s Saga where the feud ended in a vicious house-burning).

No, but it can be - that all depends on who is doing the punishing.

It might be cruel to chop that child murderer up and disolve his flesh in acid, but tell me how it’s cruel to take that rapist and murderer of one hundred children and put a bullet through his skull? I think you need to get your priorities straight. HE is the cruel one, not US for holding him accountable for his inhuman crimes.

Once you stop acting human, we will not treat you as human.

I disagree. I look into the abyss and see nothing. There is nothing and no one looking back into me.

Justification and perspective are wonderful things.

Yet to be reconciled with the reality of the dark for a moment, I go on wandering from dream to dream.

Punishment is sometimes a component of justice. I would say a parent’s response to a child that will not eat brussel sprouts is discipline, not justice, any more than having to do pushups if you are mouthy to your drill sargeant is “justice”. It seems to me that “victimless” crimes have “disciplinary” punishments, and crimes with a victim tend to have both a “justice” and “disciplinary” component.

Vengeance is a desire for and enjoyment of another’s pain of suffering. Whether you personally inflict the pain or simply pleasure in the state’s doing it for you, enjoying another’s pain seems to lead to excessive inflicting of it, which is why I said “vengeance is cruelty; justice is fairness”.

For the second time, I am not arguing about the death penalty, I am arguing aginst vengeance as a justification for it. To take pleasure in another’s demise when that person was no longer a threat most definitely seems cruel.

I think I may be permitted to point out, that between the two of us, you, O Abyss-Looker, seem to have the slightly less gentle personality. :wink: I have a temper, too, but I try to render my judgments of others without factoring in a personal delight in their suffering, and I think I–and everybody–benefits from that. I cannot see how one can perform and enjoy cruel acts without being cruel and becoming more cruel, by reinforcing those desires.

Woo-hoo! The day they pass that law I am taking up a life of crime. :wink:

Glitch: That would depend on the definition of “combat.” Do I get to use Iocaine poison? :wink:

I have this vision:

Glitch and Gandhi square off in the court of combat. Glitch, offended by Gandhi’s resolute refusal to adopt a sense of campbat awareness issues the challenge. “Prepare for justice! I demand trial by combat, choose your weapon.” The gauntlet thrown, Glitch immediately prepares himself, his mind swimming through a thousand possible scenarios. Muscles twitch, then relax. Glitch’s every sense is alert and alive with expectation.

The mahatma smiles, and sits cross-legged on the floor. “Hunger.” :wink:

The best lack all conviction
The worst are full of passionate intensity.

Oh yes, the OP.

Gaudere has made some very excellent points, I feel. Rather than repeat her words, let me just emphasize one thought. Vengeance is a dangerous quality to encourage in government. People in power might be angered at any number of behaviors by the citizens of their country. It is perhaps unwise to encourage the idea that anger should be followed by quest for vengeance backed by the power of the state.

I think it is not entirely coincidental that the other nations in the world that are most associated with government vengeance are either oppressive totalitarian regimes or weak despotisms unable to maintain rule of law within their own borders.

The best lack all conviction
The worst are full of passionate intensity.

Yeah, they do. Elephants have been known to harbor grudges for years, and finally, when they see their chance, they take it. I can remember the story of a zoo employee who had tormented an elephant in the past. One day, whilst the man cleaned the cage, the elephant squished him against the side of the pen. The guy hollered for help until someone pulled the elephant away. Investigation into the matter turned up the abuse, and the guy was fired. Chimpanzees, parrots, dolphins, hell, even dogs have been known to seek revenge. Read “When Elephants Weep.” It’s got quite a few documented cases of animal revenge.