My last post ended with a reference to "Tookie" Williams. Here is a post from the old Powerblogs site dated 29 November 2005:
I just viewed the Stanley "Tookie" Williams segment on Hannity and Colmes. Williams, co-founder of the L.A. Crips gang, and convicted of four brutal murders, faces execution on December 13th in California. Here is a description of one of his crimes.
What struck me was the low level of the debate. Actor Mike Farrell, as part of his defense of Williams, and in opposition to the death penalty in general, remarked that "we shouldn't lower ourselves to the level of the perpetrators of violent crime." The implied argument, endlessly repeated by death penalty opponents, is something like this: Since killing people is wrong, the state's killing of people is also wrong; so when the state executes people, it lowers itself to the level of the perpetrators of violent crime.
Now this argument is quite worthless. If it were any good, then, since incarcerating people is also wrong, the state's incarceration of people is wrong. And so on for any penalty the state inflicts as
punishment for crime.
The trouble with the argument is that it proves too much. If the argument were sound, it would show that every type of punishment is impermissible, since every type of punishment involves doing to a person what otherwise would be deemed morally wrong. For example, if I, an ordinary citizen, demand money from you under threat of dire consequences if you fail to pay, then I am committing extortion; but there are situations in which the state can do this legitimately as when a state agency such as the Internal Revenue Service assesses a fine for late payment of taxes. (Of course, I am assuming the moral legitimacy of the state, something anarchists deny; but the people who give the sort of argument I am criticizing are typically liberals who believe in a much larger state than I do.)
So the 'argument' Farrell gave is quite worthless. But Hannity let him escape, apparently not discerning the fallacy involved. Farrell and Hannity reminded me of a couple of chess patzers. One guy blunders, and the other fails to exploit it.
But that's not all. Alan Colmes jumped in with the canard that people who are pro-life should also be opposed to the death penalty, as if there is some logical inconsistency in being pro-life (on the abortion issue) and in favor of capital punishment for some crimes. I refute this silly 'argument' here.
Even more surprising, however, is that Sean Hannity then committed the same mistake in reverse, in effect charging Farrell with being inconsistent for being pro-choice (which he grudgingly admitted to being after some initial prevarication) and anti-capital punishment.
What people need to understand is that the two issues are logically independent. There is nothing inconsistent in Farrell's position. He could argue that the fetus simply lacks the right to life while "Tookie" and his ilk possess the right to life regardless of what they have done. Nor is there anything inconsistent in Hannity's position. He could argue that the fetus has the right to life while a miscreant like "Tookie" has forfeited his right to life by his commission of heinous crimes.
So the logical level is low out there in the Land of Talk and I repeat my call for logico-philosophical umpires for the shout shows. But I suspect I am fated to remain a vox clamantis in deserto.