Saturday, July 05, 2008

The New Capital Punishment: Sterilization

One day when I was a paralegal, I was thinking about how a background in psychology would really help a judge or lawyer.  After all, wouldn't you better be able to tell when people are telling you the truth?  Then I realized that law is, at its essence, applied psychology.  So here is some interesting psychology about the death penalty*:

In their comprehensive study of homicides, the leading evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson note that most homicides between men originate from what is known as “trivial altercations.”  A typical homicide in real life . . . begins as a fight about trivial matters of honor, status, and reputation between men (such as when one man insults another or makes moves on another’s girlfriend).  Fights escalate because neither is willing to back down, until they become violent and one of the men ends up dead. . . . .

. . .

Incidentally, this is why the death penalty may not deter murder.  The logic of the death penalty assumes that most murders are premeditated.  A potential murderer carefully and rationally weighs the costs and benefits of the act, and decides not to murder if the costs outweigh the benefits.  This might describe a fictional murderer on Columbo, but not real-life murderers, who do not stop to think before escalating their trivial altercations into fatal fights.

The logic of the death penalty also assumes that execution is the worst fate possible.  From an evolutionary psychological perspective, there is something worse than death, and it is the total reproductive failure that awaits any man who does not compete for mates in a polygynous society.  If they compete and fight with other men, they may die, by being either killed by the other man or executed by the state.  If they don’t compete, however, they will definitely die, reproductively, by leaving no copies of their genes.  So they might as well compete even at the risk of death; the alternative is much worse.

So you see, capital punishment may not deter because death is always a risk when choosing to enter any activity.  Interestingly, this may explain why sterilization seems so cruel and inhumane.

5 comments:

A. Shipp said...

The problem with your argument is that the death penalty is not meant to be the ultimate punishment possible. The purpose of the death penalty is to exact justice, not punishment.

Jeremy Masten said...

My problem with the justice argument is that when you start talking about justice you run into two problems. (1) What is "justice" generally? (2) Who defines what "justice" means in a particular case? I'm not saying it's not his fault, but why does this particular rapist murderer deserve to die while the people who made him that way get away scot free? (I think he deserves the lion's share of the blame, but don't they deserve some blame, too?)

And anyway, I don't want to play God like that.

How's LA? I really liked that piece of flair you sent me.

Shipp said...

What do you mean by "the people who made him that way get away scot free?"? It is my understanding that each individual is responsible for his own sin, and I don't like the "My mommy didn't love me, so I raped four little girls" argument. Not that I'm saying you are arguing that, but, there you go.

I don't think it's playing God. I think it is granting the civil magistrate the legitimate power that God has appropriated to the civil magistrate.

LA is hot as hell, humid as the ocean (like the water part, not the beach), and generally not fun. But, the job is great.

I couldn't stop laughing about that flair. So true, so true.

Shipp said...

While we're talking about the death penalty, I want to talk about the Kennedy case. While I was researching a rather mundane, boring procedural matter for my judge I stumbled across the Kennedy case. After reading it, I went to the bathroom and threw up. Not because I ate something unpleasant, but because of the behavior and cavalier attitude of the defendant.

It's real easy for us all to be opposed to capital murder when we don't have to read about what these people actually do to people(their own children or stepchildren.)

In my opinion, if there is only one crime for which death can be a legitimate consequence, (as the Supremes have just told us) it should not be murder, it should be rape, of anybody, especially children.

Sorry to dump that on you, but it has been bugging me. I don't mean to be provocative or argumentative, just sharing some thoughts.

Billy Edwards said...

I'll leave the death penalty issue alone for now. However, the guys that said that honor and status and reputation are trivial matters may be trained, reputable, brilliant psychologists, but they don't know doodly squat about people, particularly men-type people. Honor and reputation are some of the highest pursuits of men. Correctly so? Well, that's another argument, but reality suggests that it is so.