Friday, March 18, 2005


I've been giving a lot of thought as to whether or not to weigh in on the blogpile controversy over Eugene Volokh's recent peaen (being updated like mad) to the catharsis of public executions. You've probably heard of it, if not actually read it: his hearty endorsement of the killing of an Iranian found guilty of murdering a number of children; the preliminary 100 lashes (if you don't know what this does to a human body, I recommend reading Mutiny on the Bounty for the scene in which one of the sailors, flogged 100 strokes, has his back laid open to the bone and dies of the shock); and finally, the noose around the neck and death by slow strangulation while hanging from a crane (which was a popular prop for executions with the Taliban, too) in front of an enormous hooting crowd.

Eugene--feeling particularly bloodthirsty, or just damned pissed off--on seeing this, launched into a great tirade on the ineffable justice and righteousness of the whole thing, and it's been non-stop verbal saturnalia ever since. Digby, and Yglesias (love your Dad, Matt!), and The Editors have all been taking a scalpel to the good professor's post, but I thought Mithras over at Fables of the Reconstruction (call me chauvinistic, it's a Philly blog) touched on all the right elements with the acid tongue it deserves:
"I think part of the problem is that people who would be perfectly fine blowing someone away for cutting them off in traffic - if they could get away with it - feel queasy when similar punishments are inflicted en masse. As a people, Americans are sadists with delicate sensibilities. The American way is to hire others do the torture and hide it, so we don't sully our beautiful minds with such images. Prison walls don't just keep the guilty in; they also block them from our sight. If that's not good enough, there's always extraordinary rendition. The crime of Abu Grahib was not the humiliations or the dogs or the beatings - it was the pictures. Damned sloppy of them. Similarly, Eugene's sin is being too honest, rather than couching his language in the balancing tests and learned utilitarianism of the libertarian lawyer."
Would it be too obvious to say that those who indulge their vengeance coarsen themselves and become the very things that they hate? Or that we lose what moral superiority we may like to think we have over murderers and sadists if we do? One thing we would not lose is our humanity, which encompasses the very worst (as well as the best) that any of us is capable of.

Those of you familiar with David Neiwert's discussions on lynching will recognize the illustrative principle at work in the top of the post.

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