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 Post subject: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-25 04:09pm
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Forgive me if this seems a bit abstract, or not grounded in reality.

A bunch of friends and I were hanging out recently, talking about all manner of things as we do, when the subject of the Harry Potter books came up, more specifically the wizard's prison, Azkaban. If you're not familiar with the books, the prison island is home to wraiths that suck out all your happy feelings, thoughts, and memories. They force you to relive the worst moments of your life without the solace of even remembering better times, and since someone can't think of anything that would make them happy planning (even CONCEIVING) of escape or release is not possible. Why, we asked each other, does Azkaban exist? How could a semi-decent society ever permit such a blight upon the world? What exactly was going through the minds of the wizards who first set the place up?

Eventually we decided the most likely answer is that their is no other way to effectively imprison HP wizards than to literally keep them from thinking of teleporting away or turning a rock into a boat or something. And the Ministry is clearly unwilling to adopt the Code from Dresden Files (any abuse of magic is punishable by death.) Fair enough, but that doesn't that still make them monsters for choosing to inflict a fate worse than death in lieu of an actual death sentence?

Plenty more examples abound from fiction, most recently Alphas showed prisoners with "pacifier chips" installed in their heads. AtlA showed us a variety of means, many on the morei nhumane side, of restraining benders, including giving waterbenders only enough water to survive periodically while chaining them, or keeping firebenders in a freezer. Don't get me started on Silver Age Superman, who (in a surprising act of generosity) set up a 10x10 foot prison underground for the parasite with a food replicator, robot butler and no human contact for the rest of his days. Not to mention everyone he marooned in space, encased in iron, or sent to the phantom zone.

This, I feel, is not a problem we as a society have had to face. 95% of people if handcuffed or tied up properly are not getting out of it. If locked in a proper prison cell, barring shoddy construction/procedure or outside intervention, that someone is probably staying put.

So, dealing with people who can and will escape standard prisons with ease to terrorize society again, at what point (if any) do you say "screw it, it will be monstrously expensive and infeasible to keep this man, and he'll live in conditions we could never, ever, allow for the other prisoners. It's kinder to just put a bullet in the back of his head."?



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-26 09:44am
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Is it your place to decide whether or not that person would rather be dead? No, it isn't. Especially so, since death is very final, while people can be released from prison. Civilized states don't kill people, unless they really really have to in order to save others.



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This is pre-WWII. You can sort of tell from the sketch style, from thee way it refers to Japan (Japan in the 1950s was still rebuilding from WWII), the spelling of Tokyo, lots of details. Nothing obvious... except that the upper right hand corner of the page reads "November 1931." --- Simon_Jester

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-26 01:26pm
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Skgoa wrote:
Is it your place to decide whether or not that person would rather be dead? No, it isn't. Especially so, since death is very final, while people can be released from prison. Civilized states don't kill people, unless they really really have to in order to save others.


What if we extend the OP to a hypothetical case in which the prisoners are put into a coma/brain death? How would that factor into ethical considerations?



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-26 02:53pm
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Ziggy Stardust wrote:
Skgoa wrote:
Is it your place to decide whether or not that person would rather be dead? No, it isn't. Especially so, since death is very final, while people can be released from prison. Civilized states don't kill people, unless they really really have to in order to save others.


What if we extend the OP to a hypothetical case in which the prisoners are put into a coma/brain death? How would that factor into ethical considerations?


It would erase such considerations.

As for Skgoa's statements about civilized states not killing people, that would imply civilization was not invented until the late 19th century, and that the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg were run by a bunch of barbarians.

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-26 03:38pm
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amigocabal wrote:
It would erase such considerations.


How so? What is the major ethical difference between killing someone "completely" and just "brain killing" them into a coma? And in a hypothetical society where this is happening, would you be killing people out of moral consideration or economic expediency (it would be incredibly expensive to maintain large hospital-prisons of coma patient-prisoners)?

amigocabal wrote:
As for Skgoa's statements about civilized states not killing people, that would imply civilization was not invented until the late 19th century, and that the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg were run by a bunch of barbarians.


Why the late 19th century? What happened in the late 19th century that stopped all the killing ... except for Nuremberg? What point are you even trying to make?



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-26 07:26pm
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Ziggy Stardust wrote:
amigocabal wrote:
It would erase such considerations.


How so? What is the major ethical difference between killing someone "completely" and just "brain killing" them into a coma? And in a hypothetical society where this is happening, would you be killing people out of moral consideration or economic expediency (it would be incredibly expensive to maintain large hospital-prisons of coma patient-prisoners)?

Brain-killing them is not permanent.
Ziggy Stardust wrote:
amigocabal wrote:
As for Skgoa's statements about civilized states not killing people, that would imply civilization was not invented until the late 19th century, and that the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg were run by a bunch of barbarians.


Why the late 19th century? What happened in the late 19th century that stopped all the killing ... except for Nuremberg? What point are you even trying to make?

Skgoa was referring to the death penalty, if I am not mistaken, implying that it is uncivilized.

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-26 09:13pm
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Eventually we decided the most likely answer is that their is no other way to effectively imprison HP wizards than to literally keep them from thinking of teleporting away or turning a rock into a boat or something. And the Ministry is clearly unwilling to adopt the Code from Dresden Files (any abuse of magic is punishable by death.) Fair enough, but that doesn't that still make them monsters for choosing to inflict a fate worse than death in lieu of an actual death sentence?

It's not even clear that dementors are necessary. I believe HPMOR pointed out that Grindelwald is held in a prison without dementors.



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 05:56am
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amigocabal wrote:
Ziggy Stardust wrote:
amigocabal wrote:
As for Skgoa's statements about civilized states not killing people, that would imply civilization was not invented until the late 19th century, and that the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg were run by a bunch of barbarians.


Why the late 19th century? What happened in the late 19th century that stopped all the killing ... except for Nuremberg? What point are you even trying to make?

Skgoa was referring to the death penalty, if I am not mistaken, implying that it is uncivilized.

You still haven't made your point clear.



http://www.politicalcompass.org/test
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This is pre-WWII. You can sort of tell from the sketch style, from thee way it refers to Japan (Japan in the 1950s was still rebuilding from WWII), the spelling of Tokyo, lots of details. Nothing obvious... except that the upper right hand corner of the page reads "November 1931." --- Simon_Jester

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 10:05am
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Surlethe wrote:
It's not even clear that dementors are necessary. I believe HPMOR pointed out that Grindelwald is held in a prison without dementors.

Yep. He resided in Nurmengard. I believe the Britain WW got rid of the dementors after second war ended. This of course assumes you believe an author's words on the subject outside of the text is canon.


Last edited by D.Turtle on 2012-07-28 05:16am, edited 2 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 11:09am
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Skgoa wrote:
You still haven't made your point clear.

Example: Is the United States not a civilized state since there are states (ie. Texas) that still carry out executions?



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 02:28pm
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Ahriman238 wrote:
So, dealing with people who can and will escape standard prisons with ease to terrorize society again, at what point (if any) do you say "screw it, it will be monstrously expensive and infeasible to keep this man, and he'll live in conditions we could never, ever, allow for the other prisoners. It's kinder to just put a bullet in the back of his head."?


Can you guarantee that no innocent person will per ever be executed? If the answer to this is "no", then the death penalty is unacceptable in any civilised society. And to answer Soontir's question, for myself while not (obviously) for Skgoa, yes.



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 02:36pm
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Captain Seafort wrote:
Ahriman238 wrote:
So, dealing with people who can and will escape standard prisons with ease to terrorize society again, at what point (if any) do you say "screw it, it will be monstrously expensive and infeasible to keep this man, and he'll live in conditions we could never, ever, allow for the other prisoners. It's kinder to just put a bullet in the back of his head."?


Can you guarantee that no innocent person will per ever be executed? If the answer to this is "no", then the death penalty is unacceptable in any civilised society. And to answer Soontir's question, for myself while not (obviously) for Skgoa, yes.

So if the death penalty is unacceptable because it might kill an innocent person, no matter how remote the chance, why should not this principle not apply to everything else? Should anything that might have even the remotest chance of killing an innocent person be unacceptable in a civilised society?

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 02:54pm
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I'm going to try to take that in a less silly direction...

Captain Seafort wrote:
Can you guarantee that no innocent person will per ever be executed? If the answer to this is "no", then the death penalty is unacceptable in any civilised society. And to answer Soontir's question, for myself while not (obviously) for Skgoa, yes.
Can you guarantee that no innocent person will ever be imprisoned under conditions likely to drive them insane and miserable? Is your society that much more civilized if it simply drives people mad and desperate and ruins their lives, rather than killing them? Since when is torture a more civilized behavior than murder?

Remember, this is a discussion that came up in the context of 'superhuman' environments: wizards who can think themselves out of jail cells, supervillains who can rip apart reinforced concrete like it was paper, and so on. Imprisoning such people is tricky. The entire point of the OP is that such a person can't be reliably imprisoned without putting them under very intrusive, painful, degrading conditions- such as being chained to a wall at all times, or never allowed human contact, or shot into outer space.



This starts to converge with reality in supermax prisons where people are kept in solitary confinement with a suicide watch to keep them from injuring themselves and get fed with a tube down their throat if they try to starve or dehydrate themselves to death. That's rare, but it's hardly unimaginable that such a thing might happen- and when it does, we have to ask ourselves whether this person is really better off.

Again, which is more humane? The death penalty, or a form of prison so torturous that the inmate stays there for years and finally starts begging us to kill them? If I had a choice up front between those, I'd rather get the rope now than the years of psychological degradation later.

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 03:05pm
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Simon_Jester wrote:
Is your society that much more civilized if it simply drives people mad and desperate and ruins their lives, rather than killing them?


Yes, because individuals can recover from such treatment. The number who recover to the extent that they can subsequently live a completely normal life may be small, but it's greater than the recovery rate from death.

Quote:
Remember, this is a discussion that came up in the context of 'superhuman' environments: wizards who can think themselves out of jail cells, supervillains who can rip apart reinforced concrete like it was paper, and so on. Imprisoning such people is tricky. The entire point of the OP is that such a person can't be reliably imprisoned without putting them under very intrusive, painful, degrading conditions- such as being chained to a wall at all times, or never allowed human contact, or shot into outer space.


It was also derived from the premise that it's possible to imprison such individuals, albeit with extraordinary measures.

amigocabal wrote:
So if the death penalty is unacceptable because it might kill an innocent person, no matter how remote the chance, why should not this principle not apply to everything else? Should anything that might have even the remotest chance of killing an innocent person be unacceptable in a civilised society?


Because everything else either a) is not specifically intended to kill an individual, b) lacks an equally effective alternative or c) both.



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 03:13pm
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Seafort, I feel like that statement is too... dogmatic to really address my question.

I'll say it again. Which is more humane? The death penalty, or a prison so torturous that the inmate stays there for years and finally starts begging us to kill them?

With animals we'd tend to say it's the other way around. At some point, keeping an animal alive and in constant pain in the vague hope that they might recover is not doing it a favor. I'm not comfortable with the idea that this is never true for human beings.

By the way, what's your position on elderly people with terminal illnesses deciding they'd rather die of a painkiller overdose now, rather than slowly from Alzheimer's or cancer later?

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-27 07:40pm
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Skgoa wrote:
Is it your place to decide whether or not that person would rather be dead? No, it isn't. Especially so, since death is very final, while people can be released from prison. Civilized states don't kill people, unless they really really have to in order to save others.


I wasn't suggesting killing people just because prison conditions aren't perfect. My question is, how horrific would conditions have to be (to hold an otherwise incontainable prisoner) to make death a preferable option? Or just something worthy of serious consideration? Would it be kinder to kill someone than to lock them in solitary forever with no human contact, no chance of appeal or release? Would death not be preferable to Azkaban?



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-28 08:34am
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Soontir C'boath wrote:
Skgoa wrote:
You still haven't made your point clear.

Example: Is the United States not a civilized state since there are states (ie. Texas) that still carry out executions?

*points to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib*
Can you guess?



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This is pre-WWII. You can sort of tell from the sketch style, from thee way it refers to Japan (Japan in the 1950s was still rebuilding from WWII), the spelling of Tokyo, lots of details. Nothing obvious... except that the upper right hand corner of the page reads "November 1931." --- Simon_Jester

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-28 08:46am
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Simon_Jester wrote:
I'll say it again. Which is more humane? The death penalty, or a prison so torturous that the inmate stays there for years and finally starts begging us to kill them?


I've already given the answer - prison because the probability of an individual recovering if it turns out you've lock the wrong person up is non-zero, unlike the death penalty.

Quote:
By the way, what's your position on elderly people with terminal illnesses deciding they'd rather die of a painkiller overdose now, rather than slowly from Alzheimer's or cancer later?


Not relevant to the discussion.



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-28 08:50am
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Ghetto edit:

Ahriman238 wrote:
Skgoa wrote:
Is it your place to decide whether or not that person would rather be dead? No, it isn't. Especially so, since death is very final, while people can be released from prison. Civilized states don't kill people, unless they really really have to in order to save others.


I wasn't suggesting killing people just because prison conditions aren't perfect. My question is, how horrific would conditions have to be (to hold an otherwise incontainable prisoner) to make death a preferable option? Or just something worthy of serious consideration? Would it be kinder to kill someone than to lock them in solitary forever with no human contact, no chance of appeal or release? Would death not be preferable to Azkaban?

The problem is: HOW do you ever make that distinction? HOW can you justify making ANY such choice? You can't get a little bit pregnant, deeds can't be a little bit illegal and states can't be a little bit killing their citizens. And on a morality/ethics level, it MIGHT be kinder, it MIGHT be preferable. BUT it's still not anybody else's choice but the person's who has to live through it (or not).



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This is pre-WWII. You can sort of tell from the sketch style, from thee way it refers to Japan (Japan in the 1950s was still rebuilding from WWII), the spelling of Tokyo, lots of details. Nothing obvious... except that the upper right hand corner of the page reads "November 1931." --- Simon_Jester

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-28 09:42am
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Skgoa wrote:
HOW do you ever make that distinction?
The only plausible way would be by legislator fiat. That is you codify the legislator's opinions on "when enough is enough" into law.

Quote:
BUT it's still not anybody else's choice but the person's who has to live through it (or not).
Technically there is also the issue of costs. The nation still has to protect its citizens and going broke isn't a good way to do so.

I'm talking of imprisoning a marvel-like superhero that had clearly attempted to do serious shit (and was actually able to do it), or a very very influent criminal that will either keep doing its businnes from within the prison and you cannot just live with it like with gang and mafia shit.



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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-28 11:39am
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Captain Seafort wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:
I'll say it again. Which is more humane? The death penalty, or a prison so torturous that the inmate stays there for years and finally starts begging us to kill them?
I've already given the answer - prison because the probability of an individual recovering if it turns out you've lock the wrong person up is non-zero, unlike the death penalty.
So... would you then say any amount of torture is more humane than killing someone?

Because I'm really having trouble with this. I imagine just how bad the treatment of a human being can get, and I hear you saying "always better to keep them alive on the sliver of a chance that they might possibly be innocent and MAYBE if they were we'd find out."

And I just cannot square the words coming from you with what I know of how miserable and mistreated human beings can be.

Quote:
Quote:
By the way, what's your position on elderly people with terminal illnesses deciding they'd rather die of a painkiller overdose now, rather than slowly from Alzheimer's or cancer later?
Not relevant to the discussion.
Why is it not relevant?

I don't agree. I think it's very relevant. Because that decision is all about the conflict between a quick death versus a long, slow, degrading, painful death stretched out over weeks, months, or years. The problem being that the fast death puts some of the responsibility for a death in our hands. While the slow death lets us say "we did all we could to keep them alive."

And the question again becomes, are we always doing someone a favor by trying to keep them alive as long as possible? Is living another week always a net positive no matter what your life is like?

If the answer you'd give to that question is "yes, obviously," or something like that... I'd really like to hear your reasons for saying so.

Skgoa wrote:
Ahriman238 wrote:
I wasn't suggesting killing people just because prison conditions aren't perfect. My question is, how horrific would conditions have to be (to hold an otherwise incontainable prisoner) to make death a preferable option? Or just something worthy of serious consideration? Would it be kinder to kill someone than to lock them in solitary forever with no human contact, no chance of appeal or release? Would death not be preferable to Azkaban?
The problem is: HOW do you ever make that distinction? HOW can you justify making ANY such choice? You can't get a little bit pregnant, deeds can't be a little bit illegal and states can't be a little bit killing their citizens. And on a morality/ethics level, it MIGHT be kinder, it MIGHT be preferable. BUT it's still not anybody else's choice but the person's who has to live through it (or not).
Take a prisoner who is essentially mentally healthy. We're talking about prison conditions that will predictably drive that prisoner into suicide. Or into such crippling neurosis that they never really recover inside their head, even if their body is intact.

At some point (say, solitary confinement with no human contact ever, under extremely restrictive conditions like being shackled to a wall), we're getting into territory where that does become predictable. I can imagine a combination of conditions so horrible to live through that I would say with confidence "yes, it would be kinder to kill someone than to put them through that until the day they die."

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-28 01:04pm
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Simon, you are still missing the point completely. This thread is not about willfully torturing someone, which *cough* is still not ok, either. *cough* This is not about keeping someone alive who would want to die. This is (at least by the way the OP phrased it) about whether a society should decide that some kind of punishment is to harsh for anyone to endure and just go and kill the poor sucker, because it is what's best for him.
Even though several posters have now tried to move the goalposts, this still remains a debate about forcing euthanasia on people seen as not being able to enjoy live sufficiently.


someone_else wrote:
Skgoa wrote:
HOW do you ever make that distinction?
The only plausible way would be by legislator fiat. That is you codify the legislator's opinions on "when enough is enough" into law.

Which is no answer at all.


someone_else wrote:
Quote:
BUT it's still not anybody else's choice but the person's who has to live through it (or not).
Technically there is also the issue of costs. The nation still has to protect its citizens and going broke isn't a good way to do so.

Because an entire state is going to go bancrupt by imprisoning someone? :lol:

someone_else wrote:
I'm talking of imprisoning a marvel-like superhero that had clearly attempted to do serious shit (and was actually able to do it), or a very very influent criminal that will either keep doing its businnes from within the prison and you cannot just live with it like with gang and mafia shit.

That's not what we were talking about, though.



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This is pre-WWII. You can sort of tell from the sketch style, from thee way it refers to Japan (Japan in the 1950s was still rebuilding from WWII), the spelling of Tokyo, lots of details. Nothing obvious... except that the upper right hand corner of the page reads "November 1931." --- Simon_Jester

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-29 01:46am
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Skgoa wrote:
Simon, you are still missing the point completely. This thread is not about willfully torturing someone, which *cough* is still not ok, either. *cough* This is not about keeping someone alive who would want to die. This is (at least by the way the OP phrased it) about whether a society should decide that some kind of punishment is to harsh for anyone to endure and just go and kill the poor sucker, because it is what's best for him.

Even though several posters have now tried to move the goalposts, this still remains a debate about forcing euthanasia on people seen as not being able to enjoy live sufficiently.
No, I agree, it is.

But I'm hearing responses to this that are very, very absolutist. And I look at those and think: "How could this person support a right to die with dignity, and yet not think there was something very wrong with 'super' imprisonment under horrible conditions?"

If I can predict in advance that the vast majority of people placed in Condition X will suffer and scream and finally go mad and beg for death, I just... I cannot call it "humane" to subject them to that experience of being utterly broken before I consider whether they might be better off dead.


Hm. For that matter, if you do think this way, shouldn't you be opposed to having 'suicide watches' in prison to prevent inmates from killing themselves? You've basically decided to take the decision of whether the prisoner is better off alive and dead, and put it into the hands of the prisoner. Can you then justify turning around and stopping him from making that decision?

Quote:
someone_else wrote:
I'm talking of imprisoning a marvel-like superhero that had clearly attempted to do serious shit (and was actually able to do it), or a very very influent criminal that will either keep doing its businnes from within the prison and you cannot just live with it like with gang and mafia shit.
That's not what we were talking about, though.
Actually, it was. That underlined part? That was the original post.

Please try to understand what you, specifically, here, now, are discussing. Don't just blindly decide it's a Fully Generic Death Penalty Thread and use your Fully Generic Death Penalty arguments. It's a waste of your time and ours.


Incidentally, that also affects the "but they might be found innocent" argument. A normal convict has a distinct chance of being innocent. But if a flying bulletproof man is found committing a crime, and we arrest a flying bulletproof man... a competent judiciary should have a lot less trouble identifying the guilty party beyond any plausible doubt.

Is this an unrealistic concern? Yes. But the argument was about this hypothetical, counterfactual case from the beginning, so that's not a fair criticism in itself. Although I'd be sympathetic if you said "then this should be moved to Fantasy..."

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-29 05:52pm
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Why is there an aweful lot of straw lying around all of a sudden?



http://www.politicalcompass.org/test
Economic Left/Right: -7.12
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.74

This is pre-WWII. You can sort of tell from the sketch style, from thee way it refers to Japan (Japan in the 1950s was still rebuilding from WWII), the spelling of Tokyo, lots of details. Nothing obvious... except that the upper right hand corner of the page reads "November 1931." --- Simon_Jester

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 Post subject: Re: When is Imprisonment worse then Death? PostPosted: 2012-07-31 02:47am
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I wouldn't know. I don't think I'm making straw arguments here. I think you may have honestly misunderstood what the question was in the first place.

The arguments against the normal real life death penalty are quite reasonable. I think decent people can disagree about it, and I think it's badly off base to say that any country that practices the death penalty is "barbaric." But on balance, I'd rather repeal it than keep it.

When we start talking about weird fictional prisons that keep incredibly powerful beings confined, and really only exist so Superman or whatever can say he "never kills anyone..." you get a different moral question with a different answer.

If we lock up a three meter radioactive giant for mass murder, we can be pretty sure we've got the right radioactive giant. So the "what if they're innocent" argument matters less.

If we have to do terrible things to the radioactive giant to keep him imprisoned (say, chain him to a slab of reinforced concrete with an IV running into him and a couple of bomb-disposal robots to change IV bags)... it calls into question whether keeping this man alive really is more humane than killing him, for a reasonable definition of "humane."

That was the whole original point, and I really don't think it's been adequately addressed except for very dogmatic "killing is always wrong no matter what" responses. Which... I don't think really fit well with a working moral philosophy. Once you've decided that someone is so far outside moral consideration that they can be subjected to horrible pain or permanent psychological damage as a routine part of imprisonment... What do they have left, what have you not stripped them of, that explains why in your eyes they should be kept alive even over their own objections, as a prison would normally do?

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