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War for Men's Minds

AN OBJECTIVISTíS VIEWPOINT OF THE DEATH PENALTY
by Manfred F. Schieder

“Pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent.”

(Ayn Rand, “Bootleg Romanticism”, The Romantic Manifesto.)

 

“I don't think that after about the age of 25 you can carry on blaming either your parents or your DNA for anything that you do.” (Ken Follett, the author of “The Third Twin” commenting his book on his personal webpage, http://www.ken-follett.com/bibliography/thirdtwin.html)

 

„When the mind of man becomes perverted and cruel it is more vicious than that of any other creature on earth.“

(Master sleuth Philo Vance in S.S. van Dine’s „The Dragon Murder Case“)

 

   Murderers are not humans. This may shock the reader but, as will be shown, it is true. In spite of the fact that human history is filled with them; in wars as well as in civilian life, murderers are not humans. They have, of course, a human appearance, but this is all that relates them to the rest of humanity[1].

 

   What characterizes them is their hate against human beings, which is in itself sufficient proof that they are not humans; for feelings, as philosopher Ayn Rand taught us, are not tools to obtain knowledge. The foundation and the means to obtain the human condition, is the faculty of reason. Hence, to state that murderers are not human beings in the proper sense of the term is the logical consequence of Ayn Rand’s teachings. Their brain may have developed up to the level where the faculty of reason starts to operate, but they rejected it before it reached its full extent or, else, they alienated the minimum of reason that their brain was able to retain from its original function of providing the correct sustenance for a life proper to a human being. Even in this last case, they exist at a level that is even below what Ayn Rand described in her article “The Missing Link”. Their level is above that of an irrational animal but below that of a human being with an arrested mentality. They exist at a level that combines the instinct of a higher-level animal, such as a lion, which is able to stalk his next prey but fully unable to reason the consequences of the rifle pointing at it. This, as we shall see, presents a very interesting fact that will be considered under paragraph 4), when I come to speak of the corresponding punishment.

 

   The term of murderer is not limited to the physical act of the murder itself, i.e. the actual execution of a maliciously premeditated killing, but refers also to hate mongers, religious, political and military propagandists who seek to promote hatred and prejudice against another group or those who do not follow their same beliefs, wishes and aims.

 

   Ken Follett’s words leading this article clearly determine that an adult can blame nobody but himself for having malevolent feelings and intentions.

 

   Even considering that both common murderers as well as hate mongers probably have a certain part within their genetic DNA structure that may move their brain towards a murderous activity, this would be just a basic deterministic tendency. Against any murderous commitment stands the barrier of reason, the personal action of logical and coherent thoughts, and the personal decision taking that allows every single, individual human being to act against an eventual DNA tendency. This, the capacity to act rationally, is precisely what separates human beings from their evolutionary animal origin.[2]

 

Though this will be taken up again later on in this writing, I hasten to precisely point out that anybody killing in self-defense is NOT a murderer, since precisely the aggressor initiated the act of violence.

 

It was the genius of Ayn Rand who, in relation with the theme of this article, murder, deduced from the reality of what we are the need for a rational, objective, non-contradictory nor contrary to human nature moral code to guide our acts without any absurd threats, i.e. not based on fears from eternal punishments but on man’s basic right, reaching the happiness obtained through a life in peace, productiveness and harmony with his fellow men. The “moral codes” that were designed earlier, such as those mentioned in the Bible, the Talmud, the Qu’ran or any other similar civilian or religious writings, cover the purpose of an ethical guidance only in appearance for, as a matter of fact, they are nothing but an instrument designed by the powerful to subdue and control the lower rungs of the population. On top of this they are either wrong or even evidently malevolent, the disguised product of murderous minds. Ayn Rand presented the only possible correct human moral code. It is a universal code.

 

   As said, moral codes come in various ways in which they are articulated and can be generalized, thus, as being 1) too general, 2) definitively imperfect, 3) truly malevolent, or, finally, 4) faultless. Let us inspect what they say and what implications they carry.

 

1) Though it has never been proposed, the rule “No killings within the species” looks quite acceptable when first looked at, but clearly contains a full series of errors. Quite besides prohibiting those in power to start any bloody fights and wars, for to do so they would have to openly break the rule, it is worded in too general a way, thus prohibiting also any killing in self-defense as well as any death penalty as punishment for murderers. It is so general a rule that, due to it, it becomes useless.

 

2) The biblical command “You shall not kill” lowers the absoluteness of the rule just mentioned above but turns it into so flexible, so plastic a mass, that it renders itself either useless or, else, directly malevolent. Of course it is flexible enough to yield its command in the presence of the requirement of self-defense, when the attacker (same could be applied to a mass of people or a whole invading army) has to be killed, but it includes also the malevolent possibility that any hate- or power monger can start an aggressive war or that a murderer could use killing as a means to achieve his goal (whatever same may be). After all, the rule does not rule out the killing, it merely recommends not killing. This includes self-defense, of course, but also, as said, the possibility of finding a good excuse to start an aggressive war if sufficient battle power or general hate is available. It is, thus, a totally impractical rule. Moreover, it is also theoretically wrong, since, due to the spirit ruling its wording, it cannot establish a strict obedience. It is also too lax, resembling a far too weak mother that reprimands its naughty offspring for any misdeed carried out (“You know you shouldn’t have done that but, well, what can I do since you did it already…”).

 

3) The third command is the worst of the line. It is criminal for it promotes total intolerance. It indiscriminately condemns other human beings or groups and is, thus, responsible for the majority of the violence that has burdened the human race during the whole of mankind’s existence. It lays at the basis of all religious persecution, Inquisitions, wars and all related harms imaginable. It represents what the law calls “malice aforethought”, a deliberate intention and plan to murder. While it is already implicit in the Old Testament part of the Bible, where “God” continuously threatens or directly orders to kill those who do not follow him, it appears in clear and unmistakable words in Christianity, having been taken over from there by the Moslems. It says, “Whoever isn’t with me, is against me” (Math. 12, Luke 11). Within the Moslemic cult, this turns into “Death to the Infidels” and lays, of course, also at the root of communism and its brother-in-kind: Nazism. Within the Bible, there are many places where it is applied without having been expressly mentioned; for example, when the sons of Jacob killed the people of Shechem, in spite of their willingness to repay the offence done (Genesis, Chapter 34). Besides, only one individual of the Shechem tribe had committed the offence, so it was totally out of proportion to take revenge against the whole clan. The dictum that “Whoever isn’t with me, is against me” gave the Christian and similar religious beliefs, a “carte blanche” to persecute, torture and kill those it considered to be its enemies and those who did not follow the “elected people”. We are still suffering the results of this command, nowadays in the form of a religious war that endangers the whole of the human species. So none of the aforementioned “moral” rules is valid for any human being characterized by the faculty of reason.

 

   None of these commands, that pretend to be “moral”, can really be considered to be so.

 

4) It took thousands of years for the right law to be designed. It took the mind of a genius – Ayn Rand – to deduce the correct command from reality. It reads: “Nobody – and this means NOBODY – has a right to INITIATE an act of violence against another person or persons.” Observe the preciseness of this law.

Since most of all “philosophers”[3] prior to Ayn Rand were either religiously minded or, in the case of Marx and others, replaced religion by another abstract term (“The Proletariat”), their moral dictums were all in error. Aristotle, one of mankind’s clearest minds, considered that a moral law could never be achieved with precision since, as he contended, it is based on opinion and not on principles. Ayn Rand proved him wrong.

 

   Democritus considered that a set of rules could be established that would allow mankind to live well but he only disclosed darkly and imprecisely what these rules were, thus setting up an early attempt that finally led to Kant’s “Proceed in a way so that others can proceed likewise”, though Kant, strangely for a man who was considered to know much, left open and unanswered the immediate question of what should be done if a Stalin, Hitler, Mao or any other such Stalitler came up. Are we then to live in accordance to the evilness these criminals and other suchlike promoted or promote?

 

   As soon as the Christian religion reached political power (about 4th century after Christ) it started to persecute and murder systematically all those it considered to be heretics. Firmitius Maternus, for example, inspired Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius to persecute and murder all non-Christians and steal their possessions. These persecutions were also directed against other Christians who did not follow Firmitius Maternus “beliefs” and served, thus, to increase the wealth of the new rulers. We can read a repetition of this in events unfortunately taking place nowadays. Here we can aptly apply Mark Twain’s words when he said: “Man is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself… and who cuts his throat if his religion doesn’t coincide with his own.” I think that the examples given suffice to make my point clear.

 

   Now let us turn again to Ayn Rand and to the implications contained in the law that establishes that every human being has a right to his personal defense. In “The Objectivist Ethics”, she provides the firm ground for this pronouncement: “No man – or group or society or government – has the right to assume the role of a criminal and initiate the use of physical compulsion against any man. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. The ethical principle involved is simple and clear-cut: it is the difference between murder and self-defense. A hold-up man seeks to gain a value, wealth, by killing his victim; the victim does not grow richer by killing a hold-up man. The principle is: No man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force.”

 

   The physical possibility exists that the attacker kills his victim(s) and escapes his just punishment unscathed because he is never found. After all, this happened countless times. Jack the Ripper is such a case in point and, in fact, the search for the assassin is the main theme of every “Who-dun-it” that was and will ever be written by any author. However, the law in itself continues to be fully valid. So what if the culprit that broke the law is finally captured? Here there are two possibilities and, quite definitively, the second one is the best: a) lifelong imprisonment or b) death penalty.

Many who fear that the mechanism of justice may produce the non-amendable mistake of condemning an innocent, favor life-long imprisonment. History informs of such a possibility. In Europe, for example, death penalty has been abolished and, thus, the maximum punishment is life imprisonment. However, this involves a series of difficulties.

 

   First of all, we deal with a being that is human in appearance but not in character, since it either never reached or, else, abandoned the level of the faculty of reason. I mentioned this fact at the beginning of this article. The criminal must, thus, be kept permanently separated from the rest of the population, that is, it must be kept and fed in a place that can avoid its eventual escape, surrounded by a very expensive warden organization that should, ideally, be maintained, with all its expenses involved, by the imprisoned criminal, for it would be – and in fact is - utterly unjust if the general population has to pay unwillingly for the life sustenance of a non-human being that hasn’t even the advantage of the innocence of irrational animals.

 

   Several problems appear in this relation. Due to an apparent or intentional good behavior of the prisoner, a psychological decision stating that he has been “cured”, overcrowding of the prisons or even pressure applied by so-called “pro-human-life” organizations, the culprit may be pardoned and released. History is filled with examples of what most of the time happens then. We can read it every day in the news: sooner or later, the culprit commits another murder. The abduction, rape and killing of minors by the offender immediately after his release is a well known point of frustration and disappointment to the anguished parents, whose sorrow doesn’t seem to make any impact, in most countries, on “life-protectors”, judges or the political organizations in general.

 

   Moreover, a life imprisonment of murderers should be carried out only in a special prison for assassins, but in these special places they must be treated as what they are, i.e. dangerous non-humans that have been condemned as mentally evil beings. However, they must not be treated psychologically, for they are not human beings that suffer from an eventually curable dementia but are otherwise peaceful and non-violent. From the foregoing must be deduced that to keep such creatures in jail, only produces enormous expenses for the rest of the general population, besides being an absurd procedure as it means that large tax amounts, taken from the work and efforts of honest citizens, will be permanently wasted. A clear distinction must be made, though, in relation to those poor creatures that must be kept in asylums due to being mentally demented even in the case where they might have committed an otherwise blameless act of violence.

 

   The only truly human procedure with deliberate murderers is, thus, the death penalty. As deduced from Rand’s moral code, the death penalty is the time delayed procedure of self-defense as carried out by the representatives of the victim(s) who, at the time of the incident and due to the then existing circumstances, was/were unable to defend itself/themselves from the willful murderous attack.

 

   The execution of the death penalty by the very humane procedure of putting the condemned to sleep, followed by a lethal injection of poison, corresponds to the Objectivist consideration that it is the attacker and not the victim who breaks the law that nobody has a right to initiate an act of violence against another person or persons (“The Objectivist Ethics”). Putting the culprit to death is not an act of vengeance but a procedure of social hygiene.

 

   Further on, as per Objectivism’s indication, in an Objectivist society it corresponds to the penal authorities, to take charge of the execution, since the defense of the right to life of the individual attacked, is the main and sole duty of government or its equivalent (See “The Nature of Government,” by Ayn Rand). The death penalty does not constitute a vengeance nor is it to be considered as a deterrent to further willful murders, the accent falling on “willful”. Hence, neither an accidental killing nor a killing in the heat of passion can be considered murder. The efficiency and scrupulosity of judicial proceedings, the steadily increasing efficiency and the certainty of the analysis of the evidences and circumstances preceding a sentence, as well as the lengthy procedures following the verdict of the death penalty and preceding the execution, which characterize the juridical system of the United States of America, provide sufficient opportunities to substantiate the correspondence between the murderer and the victim, to evaluate eventually extenuating circumstances, to consider the mental capacities of the accused, etc. so as to avoid a judicial error, thus reducing such a possibility to the absolute minimum. Normally, years go by between the sentence and the execution of the death penalty, sufficient time for those that consider the accused to be innocent, to supply the required evidence to sustain their point of view. Beyond this, the possibility that only one innocent person may be murdered is sufficient reason to establish the death penalty. The Objectivist law clearly backs the victim.

 

   In nowadays twisted view of things, criminals are generally considered to be themselves victims of sorts, but Objectivism cannot share this view, since each human being is responsible for what he (or she) does and, as such, is responsible for his/her deeds. Here, Ken Follett’s words at the beginning of this article aptly apply.

 

   No criminal was never obliged to take the road of crime and human biographies are filled with the stories of people who were born within the worst conditions and subject to the worst treatment by their surroundings and still made their own way behaving with the correctness proper to a human being. Hence, a willful murder does not deserve any consideration under any circumstances, for he has taken, through the feeling of hate, the willful decision to kill innocent people.

 

   What must be excluded by all means from the slightest chance of applying the death penalty are killings made in the heat of passion (also called crime passionel), committed as a result of the fact that one of the partners decides to leave the other, which cannot be accepted by the companion, who confronts the unbearable situation of having to live without the loved person. This may cause a moment of such emotional unbalance that the abandoned person loses its control and kills the other. But this also rules out so-called "honor killings," that prevail in certain societies, as these cannot be considered, due to their characteristics, as crime passionels.

 

   A killing committed in the heat of a brawl or a violent argument that reaches a point where one of the participants loses every restraint and, in a state resembling madness, kills his opponent, is also part of the category of incidents that cannot be considered as willful murders.

 

   These incidents do not involve a deliberate purpose and must be considered, thus, as a special case. Emotions momentarily surpass the capacity of reason, so that the killing person loses any notion of what he is doing. Immediately after committing the killing, he repents what he has done.

 

   This leaves willful murder, also called “planned killing” as the only item falling into the realm of the death penalty. Planned killing involves an evident purpose in relation with the murder. The killer has the declared intention of killing the selected target for a given reason. Often the assassin “studies” the victim’s habits or, during a burglary, decides to kill the victims to hide his own identity (the “In Cold Blood” case, described by Truman Capote in his homonymous book). Stalkers must be included in this category.

 

   Though remote, the possibility exists that the murderer, reconsidering his crime, understands the evilness of his action and gives himself up voluntarily to the law enforcers. In such cases, the death penalty must be replaced by a very long, eventually even permanent, prison period, the final decision depending on the gravity of the crime committed.

 

   The execution of innocent individuals is evidently the most heinous wrong any juridical system can possibly commit, though such cases can be practically completely avoided given the possibilities now available to criminology through general fingerprinting, DNA curriculum, chemical detection of invisible evidence, and all further ways of identification, that science continuously incorporates to criminology. Surely in the near future, it will also be possible to produce a character and tendency profile based on the knowledge obtained through DNA technology.

 

Juridical mistakes can still appear occasionally. Here the law of possibilities comes to apply, but such possibilities are reduced to an absolute minimum by the presently available methods of investigation to prove the guiltiness of the murderer. Here too, however, the fact continues to retain its validity that the victims of a willful murder deserve justice to be applied through capital punishment. This principle would be a firm part of the punitive code of an Objectivist society.

 

   (Personally, and should I ever be subject, being innocent, to the death penalty, I would sacrifice my life, though not without fighting to prove my innocence during the time still remaining until execution. I would call to my assistance all existing criminological knowledge on dactylography, DNA, etc. At no time would I renounce to any related efforts, though I would also accept my bad luck or the circumstances that placed me in the catastrophic situation that proved me guilty against my innocence. As an Objectivist, I would at no time accuse an Objectivist society to be guilty for my situation.)

 

   To repeat, far too little consideration is taken for the victims and far too much for the criminals. Murderers released after having committed a murder can, and generally do, commit their next one. A perfect example of what happens when we come to consider that a criminal is “a victim of sorts,” is the famous Jack Henry Abbott case, who, after committing a murder, was released due to the personal efforts of author Norman Mailer… to then stab a waiter to death. Abbott was sentenced again. He hung himself in 2002, while still being in prison.

 

   A few words must be added to clarify every possible misunderstanding: DNA is the ground structure of what we are. We cannot avoid being made of DNA since it contains, in the form of chemical instructions, all that we are. It is a determinating fact and we just cannot avoid it being so. But, as Ayn Rand properly deduced, while all other living beings have to obey what DNA “commands”, we have the power – and, believe me, this really is power – to say “NO!, No, I will NOT do this” or “No, I will NOT do that,” even if DNA has programmed us to do as it says. For we are the only living substance (at least on this planet, but I sure hope this to be a very common fact, out there in the rest of the universe) that is NOT subject to determinism. We cannot avoid being what we are but we have the power to say “NO” and it is precisely this what obliges us to have a code of conduct for our activities. Only if we renounce that power, only if we keep being bodily humans but in everything else we decide to behave like lower animals (as unfortunately too many people roaming the world are) we will be subjected to determinism. Hence, murderers are doubly guilty: they are guilty against themselves for not taking the right decision of obeying the Objectivist law that allows a peaceful social life and then, of course, they are guilty because they broke this law and committed the criminal act of murder.

 

   As Ayn Rand clearly established, it is our capacity to decide, what allowed us to cross the barrier that separates us from determinism. Nature brought us to this point to then place the further control of evolution into our hands.

 

   Since then we decide to be human or to stop being human beings. We will not return to our former state of mere animals if we decide for ourselves to obey the Objectivist law and become peaceful, productive individuals. Knowing what we are can precisely lead us towards the correct decision. Surely, if we submit to criminals like Marx, Stalin, Hitler, Genghis Khans or other such Stalitlers for that matter, we will stop being humans, but let me repeat it, not if we decide for ourselves to take the correct path. This same reasoning corresponds, of course, also to religious beliefs, wrong ideas and philosophies, political ideologies, etc.

 

   Such a decision, which should be learned by all rational human beings and taught by all parents to their offsprings, would produce amazing results. To know what each of us is, is useful, for it allows us to know our potential capacities and how to apply them to plan our way through life in a peaceful, productive manner. You can never know where a Nobel Prize may be waiting for you but knowing your capacities may lead you to it. One example will suffice. During the 19th century, the owner of a plantation sent a black youngster, the child of slaves, to the university, turning him into the first colored university student in the United States. The youngster was Washington Carver, who developed new procedures of land cultivation and produced out of new breeds of potatoes and peanuts some 300 types of synthetic products that included inks and soaps and even substitutes for milk and cheese! Therefore, the next time you eat a handful of American salted peanuts, think that these calories are the product of the intellectual work of a black scientist.

 

   Knowing our DNA profile allows us, as said before, to choose the right way and reject the eventual possibility of committing a crime against our fellow men. We have free will, the freedom to decide, and knowing our DNA profile can fundamentally help us in the difficult task of determining our future. Ayn Rand gave us a full understanding of the tool of reason that belongs to our brain and the correct guide of behavior. This is, in itself, an enormous contribution of Objectivism to the treasure of human knowledge.

 

   Beings like those who nowadays blast themselves and others into smithereens should start to think about it, though I greatly doubt them to be capable to do so since, as this article holds, they are murderers and as such haven’t the faculty that makes a being of human appearance human.

 

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

 

   The way in which political assassinations and the ruling of dictators must be handled involves deductions and procedures similar to those just described, though their application entails a treatment more difficult to be carried out. An Objectivist society will apply the capital punishment to political murders committed on its territory. In addition to this, it will cut every contact or relation with every dictatorial regime. However, reprisal actions will be justified only where such a regime were to attack the Objectivist territory. Should it be necessary for Objectivist troops to enter the attacker’s region, such a momentary stay will only be justified by insuring the establishment of an Objectivist social system (which, necessarily, includes instituting the capitalist economic system) that will allow implementing an adequate peace treaty and warranting for the population’s personal freedom and the possibility of peaceful and productive work.

 

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

 

[1]When the killers of the Clutter’s family were apprehended, the population was surprised to see that they even had a human appearance. (From “In Cold Blood”, by Truman Capote, End of Part 3)

[2] In a letter sent to her brother, one of the murderers of the Clutter family, Barbara Smith wrote that no man has a right to blame others for the faults committed by himself and added that it is well known that, by the time they are seven years old, most people reach the age of reason, which means that they are by then well aware of the difference between right and wrong. (From „In Cold Blood“, by Truman Capote, 2nd. Part)

[3] The term “philosophy” is here written between quotation marks since, by definition, only a rational philosophy can be called thus, which corresponds precisely to Objectivism, while all others have no right to the term for they rely either on mysticism or other forms of irrationality, religious beliefs or non-existing abstractions such as “The People”, as even a religious enemy of Objectivism – John W. Robbins – recognized.

 

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