Basically, he commented about this story that he actually happened to agree that human monsters such as the one in the story did deserve brutal, painful, public executions and that the families of victims deserve to participate.
Eugene is a brilliant guy, and a good friend, and he knows that his opinion is controversial in this culture (to say the least). He was honest and brave enough to declare his genuine, considered, opinion that his instincts about what would actually constitute justice for vicious mass murderers should be official policy. He understands the many objections and is thusfar unpersuaded by them.
I can certainly understand his emotional reaction to these crimes, and the feeling that these monsters deserve to suffer greatly, and that the families of the victims should be permitted to get comfort from participating. I understand what he means when he indicates that it slights the victims and their families to not have the culprit suffer. I also feel that there’s a tragic moral imbalance in the universe if the killer isn’t getting the horror he deserves.
I have to disagree with him on this one.
While they are sometimes right, I think that our initial instincts are often wrong about what actions are proper, and they’re very often wrong about what actions to establish and institutionalize as public policy. Just as I think that the collectivist instinct that tells many that people should be forced to share their wealth is disasterous public policy, I also think that the universal instinct to make those who caused suffering to experience suffering themselves would likewise be a very bad policy.
First, let me say that I am not impressed by the argument that treating murderers cruelly brings us to their level and makes us monsters ourselves. And I also don’t think that the example of official infliction of pain will cause private citizens to be much more likely treat their non-criminal peers that way. Furthermore, I don’t think that even the worst criminals deserve respect for their human dignity; I think they forfeit their right to that from decent people.
The argument that does impress me is that no matter how carefully such a policy is drafted, it is very likely that it will be misapplied and expanded to be used in many cases other than the narrow ones it was initially intended to cover. I would much rather see criminals treated too leniently than to see innocents, or people guilty of lesser crimes (or merely taboo violations) subjected to horrible infliction of pain. The biggest problem with governments is that there are many factors that lead them to grow beyond their proper scope and increase their abuse of power. The policy change Eugene suggests will make this problem worse.
Additionally, the more I think about vengeance, the less I think it makes sense for us to want it.
I’d be the first to admit that if somebody viciously killed someone I loved, or even just empathized with, part of my initial reaction would be to want him to suffer horribly himself. I think this is a very natural and superficially reasonable reaction.
But, does it make sense?
Is it really in our interests to place a high importance on what’s going on inside the head of some warped scumbag? Why should it matter to us whether he feels pain and regret? He’s an asshole!
What if we beat him and he just laughs and declares that this helps to confirm his theory that life is all about exploiting your power over others when you have the advantage? He could go on to say that obviously that’s the official position because that’s what society is doing right now. He could declare that each blow he receives only serves to entrench his theory that the only thing he did wrong was to get caught.
If he reacts that way should we feel bad?
I don’t think it makes any sense to pin our happiness on our ability to mold the experience and theories of a psychopathic monster. Fuck him! He’s not that important. The main thing about him that we should care about is that he never gets a chance to repeat his crimes. Perhaps we can also learn something about his psychology to help prevent others from getting as screwed up as he is.
Other than that, I think we should focus on furthering our own goals and values, and not make our success dependent on the experiences and ideas of the worst among us.
UPDATE: Eugene seems to have changed his mind about whether we should adopt deliberately painful executions for practical, institutional, reasons. But, he continues to defend his view that retribution is a legitimate goal of criminal justice.