Harry Hope's Saloon

This blog takes it's name from the setting for O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh -- a lousy gin-mill; a smoked-out, greasy dive where the habitues have all landed, it seems, permanently. Their lives, in each case, are paralyzed by fear and laziness. Like my own.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

I do get comments

I know that a few people are keeping up with this site (not difficult, since I seem to be posting so infrequently) and sometimes I even get comments. So far, most of them are comming from J. Goard. And so far I've been neglectful of engaging them. Let me begin to redeem myself thereof.

Recently I asked, in regard to the argument against juvenile execution:

But is there any sense in which we might say that by definition one would have to lack some capacity normal to a person's majority in order to commit murder? In other words, isn't murder always a case of some retardation - some fundamental immaturity? What then?

To which J. replied:

To the last question: no. To the penultimate: probably not any reasonable sense that's not appallingly parochial. It's only because we live in a very recent (and still rare) kind of society with an complicated and flexible network of social structures that murder isn't part of our normal repertoire.

There's a deeper issue here of the relationship between concepts like morality, spirituality, awareness on the one hand and sanity, health, naturalness on the other. I'm no Hobbesian (except maybe in the tiger sense), but I do object to using concepts from the latter category (roughly, the functioning of human systems) to the former. The examined life is often profoundly dysfunctional, as attested in Kafka's _Hunger Artist_ and in the author himself, and the well-functioning life often quite barbarous. If we can achieve both true spirituality and healthy function, it's an accident of our birth in one of the best societies that has thus far existed, NOT a deep congruence between these concepts.


Of course the last question (what then?) is not of the yes or no variety, but I think it's clear that J. was excluding it for the moment and addressing the first two questions -- which, however I had meant to be two ways of putting one question. Hence the use of the phrase "in other words."

Then again, J. might have been speaking rhetorically, addressing the question in two ways to say, "the answer is no, because of the parochialism..."

But enough quibbling. My real response to this comment is that it is difficult to tell whether J. sees that I'm wondering if what I called the socio-biological argument against juvenile execution, if accepted, might not just be generally applicable.

If we might say, for instance, that children and the insane should not count as moral agents because they have not reached the age of reason and so factors of accountability do not work to shape their behavior, could we with justice say that murderers in general just haven't learned to process such factors? That murderers are just the kind of folk who, like the certifiably insane, never happen to reach the age of reason?

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