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a full discussion of the advocacy of cpatial punishment by put forth by michael l. price
osted 8/11/00, the submission from michael l price entitled "capital punishment" attempts to rally the troops behind the cause of state-sanctioned murder by --- get this --- attempting to show that violence has its good points. his insightful strategy was to attack the various "cliches" associated (by whom?) with the opponents of treating crime with a healthy dose of death (although he never says which opponents). the main thrust of the polemical monologue seemed to center around the very fact that many of the expressions he chose as representative of the opponents of his pet statist control mechanism were, in fact, cliches. the discussion proceeded roughly as a list of cliches, each followed by a short rant on the elegance of violence as a control mechanism and the utility of violence in imposing one's will. before i examine the list of advanteges micheal associates with violence, i'd like to pause and consider the issue of whether or not a cliche is an effective form of speech and --- the issue michael seems to be implicitly taking a stance on --- whether or not the use of cliches should be provided with wieght in a critical dialogue. the propogation of structures --- of any sort in whatever medium --- depends on several different properties --- of both the structures and the medium. the most compelling accessible analyses of the assumptions in this area with regard to idea structures is provided by richard dawkins in his book "the selfish gene" (i think i'm supposed to tell you who the publisher is, but in all honesty fuck 'em). mostly the book is an anlysis of how life on this planet has be reduced to the surival instinct of self-replicating data structures --- which use our bodies to shield themselves from the world. we are all familiar with the presence of these data structures when we are reminded of these more conventional name "genes". the interesting part of dawkins book is really the last chapter, where he introduces a concept which he takes to be the cultural analogue of the gene --- which he refers to as the "meme". without the benefit of the text, i will limit my statements about the position taken by dawkins to the one which asserts that he believes the properties of successful memes to be roughly the same as those of successful genes. with some additional analysis --- which i credit to dawson for introducing into the meme-pool wherever appropriate and for which i absolve him of all blame wherever appropriate --- we can begin to see what a successful meme might be like. one clear property is that successful memes are successful in protecting the vessels in which they are stored. that electricity can kill you is an example of a meme that has a good deal of success for this reason. the memes related to the opposition of statist murder have this property only in an indirect sense --- in a society fully infected by mimetic complexes resulting in anti-statist-murder phenotypic characteristics, the individual memes will survive (but only because they are prevalent and various and the socio-political medium within which their phenotyical characteristics are expressed is designed to accomodate the phenotypes of successful mimetic structures). the characteristic that will keep this discussion from diverging into a discussion on information structure (which, by the way, michael, is something that ACTUAL SEMANTICISTS --- particularly those concerned with LOGIC --- typically spend a good deal of their time doing) is the one which i can only apporiximately define as the "efficiency" of the meme. this amounts to something like a ratio between the complexity/size of the meme and the significance of the information that it encodes. (admittedly, this is still a domain in which measurement is difficult --- especially with regard to the significance of a piece of information and the various models within which that quality can be evaluated, given the intended contexts of evaluation. but its informal properties have been widely discussed in academic circles and the story here is the one which i think will play a role in providing crucial insights for the construction of a formal treatment of information packaging, survival and propogation.) so what does this say about cliches? in an effort to keep the present portion of the discussion within the domain of "semantics" which michael seem so fond of, i will demarcate the range of applicabilty associated with the use of the term cliche by consulting the dictionary (and assuming that defining words in terms of other words is actually not a futile gesture inevitably undermined by the effects of infinite regress brought on by the emergence of closed loops in definitional dependencies). it seems the perfect language users over at webster's seem to think that a cliche is: "a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase usually expressing a POPULAR or COMMON thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity and impact by long overuse ..." (where the elipsis is word orgins and various unrelated and functionally useless notes and where the emphasis is mine). the clear implication about the various expressions that fit this definition are precisely those that have been excessively successful in promoting their own frequent and widespread reproduction; they are precisely those expressions which give rise to (and originate in) memes which have a good deal of success. it seems the reason why cliches have been excluded from the public forum is becuase they are too obvious to mention. this may not apply to more antiquated cliches (but this does not depend on their age, only the intervening changes in the mimetic superstructures which serve as the anchors of the associated information --- which is the impetus for various sancrosanct beliefs in a culture at one point to become the subject of ridicule and condemnation in later generations when the cultural context has shifted and the base of human knowledge has undergone expansion) but the status of an expression as a cliche does not, a priori, remove it from the class of expressions illustrative of the primary assumptions underlying the validity of a statement or from the subclass of those which have sufficient moral, ethical, practical, phycical, ... grounding to constitute a contribution to the effective and exemplary defense of a line of reasoning closely related to the particular use of the expression in question. indeed, the conclusion being drawn by many frustrated formalists is that an absolute and objective determination of the assumptions which are necessary if a line of argumentation is to be considered successful is not possible. the growing attitude in the fields of FORMAL SEMANTICS and MODEL-THEORETIC LOGIC is that the analysis of meaning can only be undertaken with the help of dynamic systems that depend both for their interpretation and for the validity of their propositional content on various fragements of contextual information. the dynamics of interpetation are reflective of the potential ambiguity which exists in the presence of referential expressions which are not uniquely referring proper names. until the choice of interpretations is forced by contextualization, these expressions do not uniquely refer to a logical proposition but to a class of propositions with destinguishable characteristics. the introduction of new propositional classes to the ever-growing context reduces the range of interpretations (of each expression) which may be consistently asserted along with at least one possible interpretation for each of the remaining expressions in the relevant context. this means that the only way in which the validity of an assertion or inference can only be made in the context of the willingness for participants in a dialogue to accept the presuppositions necessary for these assertions and inferences to hold. this being the case, we can see that many of the expressions which michael would like to point out as cliche, can serve as the basis of an effective foundation in the construction of a pressuppositional framework within which principled discussions can take place --- provided that the participants in the discussions can agree about the validity of the assertions which are provided by these cliches. but the constuction of effective presuppositional frameworks can only be accomplished effectively when the participants in the discussion have effectively internalized the content of the relevant beliefs held by the other participants. and progress in the direction of mutual understanding on abstract --- and largely normative --- assertions will never take place when the participants cannot adopt the pressuppositional framework necessary for discussion on those assertions. now that the logic of dialogue and information has been outlined and the presence of a role for cliche has been identified within that logic, we are now prepared to evaluate the validity of the explicit assertions which follow the introductory "cliches" which michael takes to be persuasive in the justification of statist control mechanisms which employ acts of violence, torture and murder. we will begin at the top. i will first pause to point out that the various cliches eployed in michael's rhetoric are not provided with a source, which does little for its effect as a response to the arguments put forth by the opponents of execution --- since no frame of reference is provided to establish that these are actually the arguments to be addressed. i will only mention the cliche being addressed when i believe the content of that expression to be appropriate in the presuppositional framework collectively shared by the members of a just society. the first argument presented by michael is the one in which violence is taken to differ from the seemingly equivalent behavior of law-enforcement. in the justificational rhetoric, the (not-) violence which is perpetuated by the state is a tool in law-enforcement and, therefore, a different thing alotogether. the analogy to the forceful application of water by firefighters does little to provide unique support for the use of violence as a mechanism of state control --- it only provides support for the need to employ tools of some variety in the accomplishment of societal goals such as the elimination of crime. one potentially effective mechanism in the accomplishment of this goal --- which chronic conservative chronicles quoters like michael like to remind us about --- is the apparatus of worlds most effective fleet of devices coordinated in the distribution of the means of existence (and the various toys that the complacent middle class consider more important than universal health care with appropriately democratic access or an accepitble standard of living for all our citizens --- who's vulgar again, michael?). if an effort was made to use this apparatus (and many of the resources devoted to the promotion of vacuous consumption on the part of the middle class) to improve the conditions under which an increasingly marginalized and desperate population has been forced to live. another tool which is likely to produce results in societal efforts to eliminate crime would involve the introduction of democratic and representative constraints into the selection of law-enforcement agents given authority within particular neighborhoods. this is intended to suggest that those in law-enforcement are properly included in (in the formal sense corresponding to "is a subset of the set of people in") the community in which law is to be enforced. when this is the case, law-enforcement officials would have a peronal interest in promoting the well-being of the community and its resources. the localization of authority would also be effective in providing law enforcement with the relativized insight, well-informed approach and personal motivation to achieve victories by engaging in preventative law enforcement which does not --- as in the centralized and impersonal statist machinery of the status quo --- attempt to incarcerate potential stability risks but rather address the issues from which potential instability may result --- whether those issues be personal on community-wide. certainly the money that is spent on the current effort to turn statist control agencies into full-fledged para-military organizations could be better spent on the foundation of a fund --- which could would allow for the distribution of emergency funds to rectify potential sources of instability which are deemed by the entirety of the community of communities which fall under the jusidication of the "central office" --- or the union of the communities in the city which has created a centralized collective for the effective mobilization of the community through the coordinated efforts of the distributed law enforcement community. these are just a couple of the tools of creative self-governance that could be effective in promoting a society in which crime does not occur due to the efforts of local communities engaged in a legitimated struggle against their own darker sides and those of their neighbors and which does not achieve its goals by promoting cages and needles as the primary mechanism --- but which instead addresses issues of personal deviance from societal norms with as much contextualized specificity (i.e. common presuppositional frameworks), opportunity to engage in efforts of prevention and concern for the welfare of the community as possible. so the need to have a tool which can effectively be used in the prevention of crime is not a requirement which uniquely requires (and therefore, not a requirement which can be used to jusify) the use of violence by law enforcement. the anciliary line of argumentation michael then proceeds to pursue is charming in its employment of pop-culture references for the purposes of demonstrating a point, but is undermined by the typical inability of reactionaries to read between the lines in literary commentary --- which tends to make one curious about how much they actually listen at all. the parody of reasoning proposed by michael in the second of his "cliches to be exposed" laundry list is intended to serve as support for the assertion that the belief that "violence does not solve anything" is short-sighted and lacking in correspondence with the arrangement of the "real world". now i'm curious, michael, how you can accuse the informed activists involved in the present discussion of being short-sighted about their beliefs in justice --- which are typically similar in persistence --- when the method you assert (thus far without direct mention of the actual action being discussed in the explicit and objective terms "taking the life of a human being" and without clear argumentation which should be required --- in any case --- to justify this specific form of behavior) that has the greatest likelihood of succeeding in eliminating crime from our society is to strap human beings down to tables in front of sizeable audiences and then inject them with lethal chemicals. it seems worth to dig into the tool bag of logic --- which michael seems to like to emphasize quite a bit yet know little about --- and placing the two perspectives in a comparative relationship: in order to effectively address the issue of crime in the us we could 1) kill bad people; or 2) promote a democratic society with a just distribution of the tools for survival and empowerment in which communities create approaches which they consider most likely to be effective in the reduction of crime in their own neighborhoods which are provided with the resouces necessary to improve climates of instability before they result in the willingness by members of those communities to step outside the realm of behavior which the community considers acceptable. i know which solution i think is less myopic (which is another word for short-sighted, michael, but seems to me to come with a good deal of added implicature about the willingness of its referents to look at the issues from any perspective that does not fall along their predetermined path through the genesis of history) but the reader is free to search his own conscience in this matter. the real humor begins when michael attempts to use lines from "starship troopers" to express the glory of violence and the immorality of opposition to its application in matters of state. wishing he hadn't thought his college english classes were a waste of time, michael is missing the crucial insight that heinlien seems to have written the story as a tongue-in-cheek satire of the rhetoric and behavior of fascist societies. in the presented passage we get the "greed is good" speech of aggressive statist militarism --- but michael seems to want us to generalize this commentary to all state-perpetrated violence and then use it to justify the death penalty. michael? still with us? this is an example of what i mentioned above about the importance of understanding context in the interpretation of natural language. just so that you can pretend to be a semanticist with a better disguise next time. the assumptions implicit in the rhetoric provided in the relevant passage are critically tied to the presence of an immediate predatory threat that is engaged in a campaign of violence and/or destruction targeted at the communities represented by the state supposed to be moralizing. it cannot be used as support for the use of violence in the case of statist murder-campaigns, because these are acts of violence committed to victims already restrained by the control structures of state --- and, hence, the presuppositional structure of the assumptions and the forced conclusion lack sufficient consistency to be a valid inference. michael, more semantics. this means that if we want to believe the premises, then we have to believe at least one proposition which is the opposite of some presupposition required by the proposition making up the conclusion --- and this could never be the case when we set the avoidance of contradiction near the top of our reasoning strategies. in the troopers case we are given an argument which justifies violence on the basis of its utilty in resisting the imposition of violence which will result in the loss of "lives and freedom" (which, in the present context of phillyimc, seems a better justification for self-defence on the part of phyically assaulted protestors than one for the utility or morality of state murder) an assumption which is necessarily false in the event that the state has already brought a human being within sufficiently effective control structures to subdue that human being, who is very seriously facing the imminence of his own death. so the party then moves to the "why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" corner of the room where the polemics really begin to stream from michael's fingers. after giving the quoted nomenclature for the cliche, he proceeds to provide a paraphrase (which has an entirely different inference schema, completely lacking the force and simplicity of the insight as it is typically expressed) so that he can stun us with his knowledge of the words "semantics" and "logic" when he artifically analyzes a word ("murder") that does not even occur in the typical formultation of the cliche --- which is, in a stroke of strategic genius, exactly the one which michael chooses to provide us with as the precise formulation of the cliche --- by using the student-council election favorite of quoting the dictionary. but, outside of the obvious implicatons of the fact that the definition of murder is irrelevant to the validity of the actual cliche under analysis, we can also say with conviction "bullshit, michael" i think that when we authorize the state to take someone's life, we are implicit participants in the commission of a MURDER. i don't need your fithy laws and your archaic morals to know that killing people is murder and murder is wrong --- i just need to be given the space to critically examine issues of conscience and i can see clearly that it is not appropriate to participate in the structurally entrenched rituals in which human life is willfully extuinguished by the participants in those rituals; that the presence of justice does not require the intimidation of the populace; and that the real way to address the issue of crime is to eliminate its causes. at this point, micheal begins to present a series of analogies and rhetorical questions which are so entertaining in their implications for exposing michael to a philosophy which he seems to both know nothing about yet express very succinctly --- called anarchism --- that i have decided to address each in turn. let's pretend that we're cnn and do this in the form of a post-fabricated interview in which micheal is trying to show america how wonderful anarchism is through his use of questions directed at loki --- who is responsive to michael's line of questioning because it's just so damn good at exposing the simplicity of the arguments which loki and his friends believe about where we want the corporate statist death machine to go today. MICHAEL: comparing executions to murders is like comparing incarcerating people to kidnapping or charging taxes and fines to extortion. LOKI: wow, mike, you really hit the nail on the head with that one. we do believe that that analogy can be drawn. the mechanisms which the elite will employ in a statist power structure for the maintenance of privelege will be varied and inequitably applied. we need to oppose statist entrenchement at all costs. MICHAEL: there is a difference between violent crime and punishment. LOKI: right again, mike. in the caase of the latter, the impersonal machinery of state is employed with the complicity of the populace. MICHAEL: is there a contradiction in a policeman speeding after a speeder to enforce speeding laws? LOKI: absolutely. MICHAEL: one displays a serious lack of moral judgment to believe that just because two practices share a physical similarity means that they are morally identical. LOKI: right again, buddy. we can attribute a higher degree of moral repugnance with behavior undertaken by the state because it claims legitimacy only when it is willing to provide an equal provision for liberty and security to each of its citizens. by conspiring to directly end the life of one of its citizens, the state thus commits a vile and negligent act of betrayal --- whose use cannot be justified on the basis of the pain inflicted on the victims of crime, who have themselves already been betrayed by the state with regard to understanding of its role in the elimination of the problems of society and the extent to which it is willing to perform meaningful work in an effort to ensure that elimination. the us is mistaken is it makes any claims to the sustained legitimacy of its authority. MICHAEL: law enforcement officials act well within the law when they punish criminals whether it be by charging fines, incarcerating them, or conducting executions, thereby, defending public safety. LOKI: funny that you mention that, mike, because we've had some trouble expressing the difference between action that is legal and action that is appropriate and just. the things you describe are currently legal, but are they just? we would say, "hell no!", dumbass, they're oppressive and unconstructive. we can do better than that if we really want to defend public safety (and not covertly, the maintenance of the structure in which artificial claims to authority over the means of production are made by the ruling elite in order to protect the organized system of theft known as global corporate-statism). and so on. at this point, our helpful conservative commentator (hey michael, what's the deal? are you having a bad day? you were pretending to be much smarter than this) decided to use mill commentary from the nineteenth century in order to exemplify the appropriateness of policies intended to accomodate a twenty-first century socio-political structure. i won't handle the actual quote --- which is handled implicitly by the commentary in the above satire --- but i will point out that mill does not tell us WHY we should kill people, either, and why we should take j.s. mill's word on what is right and what is wrong. (i will pre-empt this pointing out, for michael's sake, that the following commentary is directed at "Mill" as a tool of authoritarian entrenchement not mill who is dead and isn't causing any harm to anyone). FUCK MILL. I WANT TO HEAR WHY --- WHERE IS YOUR ABILITY TO THINK CRITICALLY? AND WHY DO YOU CLAIM SUPERIORITY IN LOGICAL ANALYSIS WHICH YOU HAVE YET TO EMPLOY --- I AM NOT WILLING TO TAKE MILL'S WORD FOR IT. FUCK MILL. FUCK MILL. FUCK MILL. ARE YOU GOING TO COME DOWN HERE AND MAKE ME BELIEVE HIM OR ARE YOU GOING TO EXHIBIT SOME INTELLIGENCE AND TELL ME --- IN YOUR OWN WORDS, WHY IT IS APPROPRIATE FOR ME TO LEND MY LEGITIMACY TO A STATE THAT IS WILLING TO TAKE THE LIVES OF MY COUNTRYMEN AND WHY IS THAT THE BEST WAY TO PROMOTE SECURITY. OTHERWISE --- FUCK MILL. with that out of my system, i would like to apologize to all the mill fans in the house (except you, michael. to you i still insist "fuck mill" until you are willing to convince me why i shouldn't). i only seek to undermine the mindless employment of quotes from "experts" as a substitute for actual thought and analysis --- which is undoubtedly how mill came up with his shit. micheal then gives us an inspired expose of the superiority which his commitment to "morals" (whatever he thinks those are) entail that he MUST have over some other guy who experienced a different econmic trajectory and found himself in desperate and horrific circumstances with little hope of recovery in a community racked with structural decay, socio-political marginalization and insufficient resources to buy the paper necessary to plan to solve these problems. obviously you're superior michael just look at how smart you are --- it must make you awfully useful to the machinery of corporate-statism and i can tell from your ability to pick up on the subtle issues in CONTEMPORARY politics that you will one day rise to a position of true favor in the system you so fervently and myopically worship. i wish you the best of luck. the following appears to be where it all comes together for our fearless defender of the party-line, so i will present it here in its entirety for everyone's amusement but it is broken with my commentary in the familiar loki vs. michael format. MICHAEL: still another cliched argument abolitionists use is that we should value ALL human life, even the most violent and discpecable ones. That philosophy indicates that there is nothing more to humanity than the physical traits that identify our species. I say they are wrong. LOKI: ok. first of all where are you getting this crap michael? how does this pilosophy indicate that there is nothing to humanity than the phyical traits? the ability to recognize the miracle of human existence and therefore to take claims of authority to its denial as a threat to the overall security of humanity implicates an abolitionist as a phyicalist. you're talking goofy micheal --- maybe you should not try to put so much GOD up your nose every weekend. the rest of the paragraph depends upon this inference and our consistent advocate michael has done nothing to support it. i personally recognize a clear role for issues of spirituality in attempts to follow the guide of one's conscience. i will not lend my conscience to the denial of human life on the basis of the guidance which i receive from that spirituality. i do not recognize the exclusiveness of physical traits in the humanity of man and i also believe that the moral standing of the human in question is not a determinant of the legitimacy which should be appropriated in issues of statist murder. in actual logic, michael, i am now what they refer to as a couterexample --- an example which undermines your ability to profess the generality of your assertion. in this case the counterexample is fatal to the remainder of the paragraph --- as i pointed out above --- but i'll finish it anyway because, michael, honestly, i couldn't have done a better job undermining your commitment to rationality than you did for me. MICHAEL: there is an entire spiritual aspect to humanity that they tend to completely ignore. anybody can be physically human. all that is, is an accident of genetics. It is the spiritual aspects of humanity that actually define who and what we are. LOKI: yeah. sing the songs of love and unity, brother michael. i have faith in you, man --- you aren't that dumb. MICHAEL: being human on a spiritual level means having compassion and respect for all ... LOKI: wow. you're starting to get it. that's the spirit. MICHAEL: ... that is good and decent. murderers display none of those traits. LOKI: ouch. micheal you really are dumb. couching your support for the right to be alive in an abiguous declaration on the virtue of goodness. you better be real good, mikey. MICHAEL: our spiritual traits is where our true differences lie. Allowing one's physical traits to hold more weight than his spiritual ones is the foundation of racism. LOKI: you're slipping quickly back into that situation where you look incredibly dumb again, michael. i thought that the failure to recogize the personal worth of another human being without reference to phyisical traits WHICH CAN BE EASILY IDENTIFIED AS INDICATIVE OF CULTURAL HEIRTAGE was the root of racism? MICHAEL: When a culture develops the moral structure to recognize humanity as more a spiritual thing than just some physical thing, they will have no excuse to allow, tolerate, or preserve evil and barbarism just because it hides inside a physical human shell. LOKI: when a culture develops the moral structure to recognize humanity as more a spiritual thing than just some physical thing, they will have no excuse to allow, tolerate, or preserve evil and barbarism just because it hides inside a structured statist shell. wow that was easy --- thanks for the cut and past rhetoric, guy. at this point we move into an embedded quote that michael uses in another uncreative attempt to turn ad hominenem and rampant emotionalism into argumentation by situating it in the mouth of an "expert". in this case the poster boy brought out on stage is charley reese. the requisite FUCK CHARLEY REESE is in order with its interpretation as above. there is no content, however. look at this fluff: CHARLEY: When I think of all the sweet, innocent people who suffer extreme pain and who die every day in this country, then the outpouring of sympathy for cold-blooded killers enrages me. LOKI: what? why? shouldn't it make one particularly sensitive to the impact that murder has on the family of the victim (oh yeah, i forgot. the family of one victim is clearly morally superior than the family of the other.) CHARLEY: Where is your (expletive deleted) sympathy for the good, the kind and the innocent? LOKI: in exactly the same spot as my sympathy for the victims of statist murders. where's yours, chuck? CHARLEY: this fixation on murderers is a sickness, a putrefaction of the soul. it's the equivalent of someone spending all day mooning and cooing over a handful of human feces. sick and abnormal. LOKI: wait. who's fixating on murderer's again? at which point michael decides to lay it all down for us: MICHAEL: Personally, I think abolitionists have a lot of gall claiming that they are motivated to oppose the death penalty by their "reverence for human life" when the only people that they are interested in preserving are those who display the least of it...the very least reverence for human life. LOKI: wait. remind me who the ONLY people are who's lives i'm interested in preserving. is it the good people or the bad people? i can't remember. and i forgot how to tell. am i a good person? i forget. i hope they don't kill me michael. i'm bad. FUCK GOD. and, oh yeah, michael FUCK YOU. i'm bad. ooooh, i'm bad. no. that's wrong. i'm sorry. i'm good. but FUCK GOD anyway. what has he done for us lately, anyway. am i bad enough yet michael is it ok to kill me. down with statism and down with capitalism and down with the middle class and down with the military industrial complex and down with complacency and down with sell-outs and down with the federal government and down with families as a political message and fuck the president and fuck the un and down with the stock market. am i bad enough to kill now, michael. let me know when i get bad enough to be killed, michael --- you seem to be an authority on the subject. FUCK YOUR TEXTBOOK MORALITY. come and protect your society micheal. I'M BAD. the entire problem comes out in the last paragraph. it seems that michael believes that: MICHAEL: Justice is about enforcing consequences for one's own actions to endorse personal responsibility. obviously, the problem is that michael simply does not understand the entire point. can someone else try. i'm tired.