The Search for Morality
by Ivar Slavenburg
One of the most powerful word in any language in the world is „why”. There is no better way to increase your knowledge then by asking „why”, nor is there often nothing more challenging than to answer such a question. The word „why” is the key to innovation and as such to human progress. Maybe because it is so demanding, so confrontational that the word „why” is easy forgotten in many situations. Demanding because it requires acquiring new knowledge and confrontational because that new knowledge might lead to new insights, prove that your earlier opinions were wrong or even that the foundation on which you based your opinions is questionable.
Unfortunately, consistently challenging opinions and assumptions is the only way to advance a human society. It is only possible to adapt to new situations if you’re willing to see and accept that conditions have changed. Constant adaptation is the reason why we and other animals, but also plants, can exist. Probably, it is the reason anything still exists. It is the foundation of science. The willingness of people in a society to ask „why” says lot about the state that society is in, how vibrant it is, how capable of adapting itself to new situations. Also, it is vital for the development of a shared moral code. As such, in Liberalism, it is the foundation of law (Hayek, not to be confused with e.g. Socialism as practised by the US Democrats).
The Lockett CaseLate at night, Clayton Lockett and some companions broke into a house. They held the family living there hostage. When all valuables were taken, Lockett took the daughter of 19 outside and raped her. Then he threw her in a hole and buried her alive. Lockett got caught, confessed and consequently found guilty of these horrible crimes. A judge in the state of Oklahoma gave Lockett the death penalty.
Consequently, on the 29th of April 2014 Clayton Lockett died in an Oklahoma State Penitentiary. At that time it was 7:06 pm, or slightly less than 2 hours after Lockett was brought into the execution chamber. According to a timeline published by The Wire, at 18:23 Lockett received Midazolam, a drug that should have made him unconscious. After several checks by the doctor on site, it was concluded the drug had done its job and the lethal injection was made. At that time it was 18:33. Then things went wrong. Instead of passing away quietly, as it should, Lockett remained alive for more than 30 minutes, apparently in severe pain and agony. The doctor on site tried to stop the procedure, but it was to late for that. In the end, Lockett died of a heart attack.
Oklahoma is one of the few states in the US still having the death penalty. Recently, it also has build terrible track record when it comes to executing people. Lockett wasn’t the first inmate on death row who’s execution didn’t went flawlessly, as an article in Time magazine makes clear. As the death penalty itself is under consistent scrutiny, screwing up executions doesn’t exactly help its case. Unsurprisingly therefore, the Lockett case is reason for many opponents to jump up and make their case for abandoning it.
As can be expected, having lost the fight in Oklahoma against the death penalty many times and faced with a government not willing to abolish it anytime soon, even after the Lockett incident, not all commenters remain capable of iterating their views in a normal, civilised way. A nice example is Columnist Charles Pierce of Esquire. He finds it necessary to name his comment on the case „Barbarians in Oklahoma”, calling the responsible governor Mary Fallin a „fucking barbarian”.
Even though I did some searching on Google and the Esquire website, I didn’t found Pierce using the same or equal terms for Clayton Lockett. Obviously, he wasn’t on death row for nothing. In his whole comment though, Pierce is not mentioning this once. Instead everybody from the Oklahoma government involved in the case is a „fucking barbarian” that want to kill people. Maybe Pierce thinks this kind of language strengthens his argument or something. Problem is, he hasn’t got a well though out argument, so the stupid language is only adding insult to injury.
Another columnist is Ari Weitzman. He is allowed to have his say on the matter on the website of the Huffington Post. If you follow me on twitter, you probably know I have strong doubts about the quality control by Marni Soupcoff (who seems to have left the HP recently, by the way) when selecting writers for her blog. His contribution to the debate, called „Clayton Lockett’s Inhumane Execution and What We Should Really Be Talking About” promises a lot, but doesn’t deliver. It only proofs again the bad judgement of the Huffington Post when selecting and accepting contributions.
Just like Pierce, Weitzman also doesn’t start at the beginning, so with the crimes committed by Lockett. If you think he even mentions Lockett’s great achievements that brought him into contact with the penitentiary system in the first place, nor shows any reconciliation with the fate of the young woman, grasping for air as she gets buried alive, think again. Not a word. As the title suggests, he considers the punishment of Lovett inhumane. Leaving so much facts out, as a critical reader you sooner or later realise yourself that Weitzman’s judgement has little depth. As what matters is the question why it is inhumane, but that question is not answered. Combined with the one sided way of presenting the case, it all makes no sense.
He goes on to argue that in the US „Our judicial system is occupied too much with non-violent crimes, it’s historically racist (…)”. To clarify, the “non-violent crimes” he is talking about concern for example drugs (including the trade in drugs, trafficking, prostitution and all the violence related to it etc.), the racism part is brought up because most drugs offenders are either Chinese-Americans (Opium), lately shifting to Mexican-Americans (Marijuana) and black people (I suppose he means Afro-Americans) for crack-cocaine. Even worse, „drug incarceration has evolved from being statistically racist to becoming a full-fledged war on the poor”. Again, it doesn’t become clear why this is racist? If Chinese-Americans deal in opium and Afro-Americans don’t, why is it racism if the Chinese-Americans get arrested for it and Afro-Americans don’t. Isn’t this a simple matter of cause and effect? Let’s not even go into the discussion whether or not we are talking about different races of humans in the first place.
As the line of reasoning is so vague it takes a while to realise what Weitzman insinuates. The „war on drugs”, initiated by Ronald Reagan, has nothing to do with drugs, but is a cover up for right wing American politicians to persecute and arrest people of certain ethnic minorities and low income. Obviously, he doesn’t provide any possible motif for that. Why would they do that? And how is it possible that this is still going on with decades of Socialist, left wing, presidents like Clinton and Obama in the white house? Or is this just another little Quantanamo Bay style glitz of the Obama administration?
While reading the pieces mentioned any normal thinking reader can’t stop wondering what people like Pierce and Weitzman were thinking when writing this stuff. A family gets robed, their daughter gets raped and murdered and these two guys use the situation to come up with a load of ludicrous statements and insinuations, turning a convicted murderer in a victim. Just to attempt to proof that right wing politicians suck. You don’t even want to ask „why” for fear of having to hear more of this kind of vulgar talk. Then again, this raises the question who to turn to if you want to have some rational debate about these kind of serious situations?
Is science then the latest frontier for this? Hopefully, but be careful who you pick, as the biggest problem with science are the scientists. They resemble what priests and imans are for christianity and islam. They preach a superior form of objective gathering and sharing of knowledge, but in reality their ways are painfully human.
On his blog „freethoughtblogs.com” scientist Myers is giving his opinion on the matter and guess which article he links to? It’s the rant of Mr. Pierce. Myers is off to a bad start anyway. In his first sentence, he uses the word „torture” for what happened to Lockett. This implies the errors made during the execution were done either on purpose as a type of punishment or to make him confess something. For neither is any proof. But it gets worse.
Linking to several comments on the piece of Pierce, that uniformly wish that Lovett had even a worse ordeal, he states „We’re just fostering barbarism when we don’t reject these kinds of sentiments… and it makes it hard to reject them when states support them”. There are many things wrong with that statement, but particularly the suggestion of state support. Again, it remains unclear what this judgement of Myer is based on. Nor his article, nor that of Pierce provides any evidence to support such an accusation, as that’s what it is. As said earlier, the latter contains some insinuations, concerning the drugs used in Oklahoma, but nowhere Pierce actually proofs that they were tempered with on purpose to „torture” Lockett or for any other type of „barbarism”.
We know Myer from another piece I wrote recently. He is a biologist and for his research is dealing with all kinds of lab animals. When they are of no use to him anymore, he kills them. Gently, off course. And in the name of science, which for some reason seems to make anything ok. That practical knowledge of how to kill makes him wonder how these barbarians in Oklahoma couldn’t finish Lockett off easily. He is doing it all the time, never a problem. Again, gently, off course. And in the name science, obviously, so it’s ok.
You must have a „flexible” mind to make such a turn in this debate, though the word “sick” is probably more appropriate here. Or Meyer feels the need to desperately want to make a point to prove how great he is. And if you can kill an animal without any remorse, why not use the rape and killing of a 19 year woman to put yourself in the spotlight? Anyway, I suggest Meyer to invite the „barbarians” out of Oklahoma next time when he kills a Chimpanzee or Bonobo, or any other „large lab animal”. So he can teach them how to do it properly. And gently, off course.
As Meyer is quite active on Twitter, I challenged him a bit on this part. I wrote a tweet quoting the euthanised lab animals bit from his article. One Lorien Lowe answered something like not all deaths are equal, because, „If they were, we wouldn’t b disturbed by people or animals being tortured to death”. Clearly, she didn’t got it.
Why are we sometimes disturbed and sometimes not? What mechanism is behind that? Who is deciding whether we should or should not be disturbed when an animal or human being it tortured to death? There’s no rationale in Myers piece, nor in Lowe’s answer. So l reply that she is implying a moral judgement without any substantiation: apparently, killing a bad human, who had a choice in live and screwed up completely, is worse than torturing an innocent animal to death in the name of science. Really? You have to come up with some decent arguments to support such a claim. Especially if you claim to be a scientist.
Well, this is the answer I got from the „scientist”:
.@ISlavenburg Wrong. Torturing a human to death is worse than killing an animal humanely
— PZ Myers (@pzmyers) May 1, 2014
Obviously, this is lazy and lousy work and a disgrace to science, let alone an intelligent answer to the issue raised.
Fortunately, all the people mentioned, including Myers, are absolutely no experts in this field and their opinions should be taken as serious as anyone’s. Even if they made any sense the principal question Mr. Pierce, Mr. Weitzman and Mr. Meyer have to answer is what their opinions are based upon, it the “why” behind them that matters. It is disturbing that this is the level of discussion about a matter of, literally, live and death.
Clearly, anyone searching for some deeper understanding of how to deal with these kind of important questions is left empty handed. As for „why”, don’t even ask.
- Meyer, PZ, 30-04-2014, Charles Pierce is a bit angry
- Ohlheiser, Abby, 01-05-2014, Oklahoma Releases a Timeline of Clayton Lockett’s Botched Execution
- Pierce, Charles, 30-04-2014, Barbarians in Oklahoma
- Sanburn, Josh, 01-05-2014, 25 Secret Minutes Inside Oklahoma’s Execution Chamber
- Weitzman, Ari, 30-04-2014, Clayton Lockett’s Inhumane Execution and What We Should Really Be Talking About