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LETTER: Government should not make or carry out its own decisions

Letter to the Editor
Letter to the Editor

Canada seems to have few really responsible citizens even among the most “zealous” supporters of a death penalty for murder. Really responsible citizens would not seek to resolve their disputes through the election of a government. They would not allow the election of a government until they had settled any serious disputes among themselves. They would elect governments either to carry out decisions the citizens had made or to make decisions that the citizens ought to carry out; they would not allow a government to both make and carry out its own decisions.

Responsible citizens would not accept passively the position of legislators and courts that these are appointed chiefly to protect citizens from harm. They would insist that laws and courts ought to inflict distress on citizens who deserve it, because persons deserve the effects of what they do and any injustice — anyone’s grasping what he does not deserve or his inflicting what another does not deserve from him — ought really to distress anyone of whose experience it becomes part, as the unjust actions of every citizen are part of the experience of his fellow citizens.

Responsible citizens would insist that all legal penalties in their country be such that an ordinary man would not endure them in order to enjoy what he knew he did not deserve, nor would an ordinary man refuse to endure their equivalent in order to punish a fellow citizen who deserved those penalties.

Since we deserve the effects of what we do, those who punish others deserve themselves what they inflict; they avoid that only because no one else has the right to inflict it on them — unless someone disputes the justice of the law imposing it. In that case, the outcome of a fair fight ought to determine who inflicts or endures what. For every citizen is answerable, at least in a democracy, for what the state does to anyone else.

That applies especially to opposing or supporting the death penalty for murder, since either imposing that penalty or forbidding it must be unjust: if it is wrong for the state to slay murderers rightfully convicted, then someone might slay a would-be executioner, if that were really necessary, in order to spare a murderer — at least if the defence of life were the only justification for killing anyone.

This means that supporters of the death penalty in a state which does not have it, ought to challenge to a duel to the death any citizen who wants it to continue forbidden, and opponents of the death penalty in a state which had established it ought to challenge likewise those who want to retain it.

Whether to forbid or institute the death penalty is a decision that ought not to be left to a government through the election of officials to represent the state’s population as a whole.

“Life” is not itself a self-justified “right,” but rather an opportunity to deserve to remain alive and contemplate what is fitting with regard to life in a material universe, which the murderer forfeits by his having destroyed another’s capacity to deserve and to which the murderer can at least pay his final respects by accepting being killed as he deserves. That is why it is wrong to ignore what humans deserve and to claim, in defence of killing in self-defence, that if a murderer is determined to kill, some life will be destroyed, so it might as well be the murderer’s.

The latter is strictly a material calculation, and what we humans deserve is a matter of higher than material reality.

Colin Burke, Port au Port

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