Killing is neither legal nor moral .….

April 30, 2014

but, apparently, one can make it both….

The way I heard it, a couple of hairy guys carrying clubs were sitting around the fire chewing on the leftovers of some four footed critter when they kind of agreed that killing small animals was good, because they could eat them, but that killing each other was bad for a number of reasons beyond the fact that human beings apparently taste like shit. Something deep down inside told them that it was “wrong”.

They didn’t really understand the concept, but since none of them relished the idea of being dead just for the hell of it, and there was unanimous agreement that they’d rather eat rocks than each other, they created the first “rule” in human history.

No More Killing

Thirty seconds after they closed the meeting to mill around fist bumping and grunting unintelligibly, as is the tradition of such congresses to this day, one of the guys just out of the blue quietly picked up a huge boulder and transferred the head of the guy in front of him from his shoulders to somewhere near his navel. Henceforth, although the Pact remained in effect, mankind began perfecting the fine art of rationalizing his way around it whenever the mood struck him. One positive outcome was that he found it less frightening to come with rules after that, and he did so prolifically. The downside, of course, was that he used the finely tuned skill of talking out of both sides of his face passed down by his ancestors to get around virtually any “rule” agreed upon before the ink was dry, once he had invented ink, that is. Before that, he just did it anyway. So, here we are, many tens of thousands of years and umpteen million laws later, still playing the same tune. Only the lyrics have changed. I wrote a little piece inspired by this odd phenomenon a few years ago. I’ll have to dust it off and post it, which I have been inspired to think about doing by today’s news article informing the world that everything is hunky-dory in River City because, having mulled it over for a few months…

“Ohio Says Controversial Execution of Dennis McGuire Was ‘Humane’….”

Language is an interesting development, but not nearly as exact as we’d like to think. At any given moment and in various contexts, just about any word in the English language can adopt a new or alternate meaning. A former President of the United States even managed to parse the significance and purpose of the word “is” once.

So, it’s no challenge at all to mess with the meaning of such a strong and supposedly inarguable word as “kill”. I imagine one could “kill” just about anybody one chooses if one could come up with a plausible rationalization for doing so. Our species has been busy ever since that original rock-bashing incident splitting hairs, both figuratively and literally. One could circle the globe, and I’d wager they’d never be able to collect all of the approved exceptions to that simple concept of “do not kill a fellow human being.”

Historically, one has been able to terminate the life of another for any real or perceived transgression as long as he didn’t annoy his peers excessively or violate the rules-of-the-moment as endorsed by the Scepter Bearers. For the most part, such goings on have been primarily religiously based, in retribution for everything from acknowledging the wrong deity to acknowledging the right deity in the wrong way. This sometimes became complicated when peer-snuffing was done to appease, amuse, or feed competing Big Kahuni. But I digress.

In modern times, we are allowed to kill if we are organized into government-sanctioned teams, wearing approved uniforms, and following orders, as long as the targets of our terminal focus belong to a foreign counterpart with whom our Scepter Bearers are at some territorial, philosophical, theological, economic, umbilical, culinary, or commercial odds. Of course, like any perfectly normal siblings, we always restrict such forbidden behavior to incidents that are initiated by the other guy and are therefore unavoidable, which is virtually 100% of the time. Essentially, governments are allowed to kill, but people are not.

Over time, various cultures and societies have devised systems of rules and methods, such as courts of law, to figure it all out, but they haven’t finished yet because every time one finds the answer, another changes the question.

Considering all of that, then, it can be said to make perfect sense that Dr. Kevorkian went to prison for seven years, convicted of murder, while Ohio’s Dennis McGuire was strapped to a gurney and offed, having been convicted of murder. The difference, of course, is that Kervorkian’s victims (plural) requested his assistance in ending their own lives because of debilitating terminal illnesses and he readily admitted doing so, while McGuire’s victim (singular), one may safely assume, did not want to die and McGuire denied having caused her to do so. The courts, and the serendipity of geography, disagreed. Whether or not Kervorkian’s sparing and McGuire’s death were justifiable depends on who you ask and where you ask them.

So, unavoidably, I had to ask myself how I would decide such matters.

Essentially, I can think of three ways by which a person’s life might be ended by the actions of another:

  • [1] By accident. As we all know, “stuff happens”, and people get killed, whether through someone else’s negligence, or the victim(s) just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, there is no intent or aggression involved.

  • [2] The process of self-defense. I’m not talking about sending a load of 12 gauge double ought across the kitchen into some jerk’s torso because he came in without knocking and declined to leave. If, while being physically assaulted in such a manner as to remove most doubt that death is immanent, the assailant is himself inadvertently killed while his victim tries to prevent his own demise, I would call that legitimate “self-defense.” The same parameters would apply in the case of defending another under similar circumstances.

  • [3] Intentionally. This may seem to be self-explanatory at first glance, but that would be a gross underestimate of human imagination and creativity. It has taken untold hundreds of thousands of years to evolve that as yet unfinished description, so I’ll simply say that whether or not the act was done intentionally depends on what the meaning of “was” is…or, was. Context, you know.

Returning, then, to the original theme here of questioning how one can “humanely” end the life of another intentionally and against his wishes, without actually committing murder, I confess that I cannot come up with an answer. Being human, I have little doubt that I, too, could violate the First Rule under the right conditions. I’m moderately bright, imaginative, and have a creative streak, among other things. Hell, I could probably even come up with a way to make it funny if I had to. Thus far, however, and despite a life-long “Donald-Duck” temper, along with more than a few inviting paths to self-righteous justification, I have never succumbed to the urge, despite the occasional resurrection of some residual genetic instinct/memory.

Without further ado, exit Dennis McGuire, stage left….(move along, people! hustle up. You’re not the only ones in this line, you know!)…and enter Clayton Lockett, the Oklahoma man (as in male human being) who was the next to groove the Farmaceutical Funky Chicken. In case one hasn’t seen the story, Mr. Lockett was duly convicted of unspeakable crimes against another human being, but the little skit put on by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (to correct his behavior, no doubt) went so far awry that the curtain was pulled so that those in the gallery, invited to witness his last gasp, wouldn’t have to witness his last gasp(s). In fact, the show was so far off script that the head honcho of the Dept. of Corrections halted the farce and the Governor put a moratorium on upcoming killings to give the state time to figure out how to do it right. Heck, maybe they should take a mosey through Death Row and ask the professionals how to tweak their game. Latter day Roman Gladiator fans needn’t fret or demand their money back, however, because, even without the Magic Potion, Lockett died of a heart attack while his “correctors” were scratching their heads.

Clearly, I’m not a supporter of capital punishment. On the other hand, I am somewhat fascinated with language and clarity in communications, which may contribute to my opinions on the death penalty, because I can’t reconcile the almost universal taboo against homicide with the almost equal fervor for devising Rube Goldberg methods for killing those who break the taboo and making theater out of the whole process.

I’ve long been opposed to the practice of grownups teaching little Johnny not to hit his brother on the head with the toy truck by whacking little Johnny on the head with a toy truck, and I have similar thoughts regarding the Death Penalty.

Killing killers to teach people not to kill, or to do other things that piss off the state, fails to meet the generally accepted definitions of alleged areas of civilized interest such as ethics, morality, logic, effective communication, and more.

I’m not saying we should excuse the unacceptable actions of the twisted and depraved, but we should be honest about how we do respond to such offenses, and not excuse those responses either.

The United States has the highest number of imprisoned people of any country in the world, and the highest rate per capita (737 per 100,000). We rank number five in number of executions (2012 data), outpaced only by China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. It would seem, then, that either we are a fundamentally bad people, or we naively go about the business of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under the weight of some rather oppressive laws. I tend to side with the idea that we are NOT a a fundamentally bad people, but that perhaps we have a lot to learn about defining “bad” and dealing with those who fit the bill.


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