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The Death Penalty

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jeanne's imaginary of The Culture of Denial: Villon, 15th Century, Courbet, 19th Century

The Culture of Denial: Villon, 15th Century, Courbet, 19th Century
The Ballad of the Hanged - Ballade des Pendus
by François Villon (1431 - 14-?)
Around the time of Jeanne d"Arc

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: February 28, 2006
Latest Update: March 1, 2006

E-Mail Icon jeannecurran@habermas.org
takata@uwp.edu

Index of Topics on Site Love, Illocutionary Discourse, and the Death Penalty

The death penalty issue is before us again in all its raging affect. Tookie Williams was executed in California on December 13, 2005.. Only there were glitches. Things didn't go as swiftly as planned. Now there are more glitches as another execution was planned, and it has been postponed on grounds that the process of lethal injection is inhumane. Too late for Tookie, but may we continue to learn and to grow as humans.

This would seem to have little bearing on No Child Left Behind, but that is in fact not so. The beliefs and values that we have to answer for as individual citizens of these states which are executing people in our name are beliefs and values that we socialize into children as part of their schooling in justice and fairness. We do not seek consensus. It's hard to come by in a diverse world. But since we are complicit in these state actions, we should think through for ourselves the basic issues involved, and translate them into plain enough English that we can translate our reasons or beliefs to our children.

  • In the computer image above I was trying to capture the the culture of modernism, and perhaps of postmodernism as well, that came to accept images of horror, like the dead rabbits, deer, chickens, etc. or the skulls, that were often a part of still life scenes along side a bowl of fruit. I borrowed the bowl of fruit from Courbet, but it hardly looks like his, as the links will show you. Then I called it the Culture of Denial.

    I think what I had in mind about five years ago, when I did that image, was the crazy juxtaposition (postmodernity) that we came face to face with as we realized that the enlightenment wasn't all we had thought it would be. I think I meant, or at least I can reinterpret today the cognitive dissonance of old ideas of gross cruelty nestled contentedly next to ideas of peace and respect for mother earth.

    This interpretation, along with a card featuring the computer image, would be an excellent favor to offer a stranger with whom you would like to talk about this strange juxtaposition of violence and peace.

    And then there are the beautiful lines,

    Frères humains qui après nous vivez, n'ayez les coeurs contre nous endurcis . . .
    Car si pitiez de nous pauvres avez, Dieu en aura plustot de vous merci.

    transliteration - the French sounded out roughly: (frair u men' ki apray noo' vi vay, nay yay lay ker' cone tra noo' on dure see . . . car si pitiay de noo povr avay, Dieu on ora pluto de voo mare si.)

    Human Bros who live after we have gone,
    Let not your hearts be hardened against us
    For God will grant you more readily his grace,
    If you pity us in our disgrace

    Discussion Questions:

    1. What are the underlying issues in our decision to support the death penalty or oppose it?

      Consider the horror of the crime itself which may seem to call out for retribution. But go more deeply than this first consideration.

      Consult Capital Punishment by Kenneth Cauthen.

      "Thesis One: In principle a case can be made on moral grounds both supporting and opposing capital punishment.

      "Thesis two: Concretely and in practice, compelling arguments against capital punishment can be made on the basis of its actual administration in our society.

      "Two different cases can be made. One is based on justice and the nature of a moral community. This leads to a defense of capital punishment. The second is based on love and the nature of an ideal spiritual community. This leads to a rejection of capital punishment."

      from Kenneth Cauthen's Capital Punishment, at the top of the file, consulted March 1, 2006.

    2. Is Kenneth Cauthen's a published work? Does that matter in using it as a source?

      Published. "This essay is part of Chapter Eight in my Toward a New Modernism (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1997), 151-165. Copyright 1997 by University Press of America. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce this essay must be sought from UPA, 4720 Boston Way, Lanham, Maryland 20706." In same file.

      Means that this is an acceptable, peer-reviewed academic source.

    3. Does the fact that it's peer-reviewed and published mean that it's true?

      Absolutely not. Those are two of the factors that we can take into consideration to decide for ourselves whether it's true or not. And "true" in this case means whether I think it's reasonable for me to consider it. If I am aware of it and have considered it in good faith, then that is all that is required of a responsible individual citizen.

    4. How do you think we would teach our children about punishment and forgiveness on the basis of what Kenneth Cauthen argues on the death penalty justification?

    5. What other authorities should be considered on this issue? How would you share those with children?

    References:



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