Saturday, September 12, 2009

Neuroscience: You can't have a second chance if you never had a first one

Here is a really interesting newsletter from the US state of Illinois where some lawyers battle to prevent poor wretches from execution. (We don't have the death penalty in Canada.) Some of the lawyers concerned are not happy with "neurolaw" theories, according to which the defendant had no free will and thus couldn't help it.

I'm on their side. When we abolished the death penalty in Canada, about forty years ago, it was NOT because we thought people couldn't help it. In those days, most people went to church, and we assumed that people could in fact help it.

But what did capital punishment contribute to our society, besides gruesome and distressful scenes, and terrible memories for the survivors? Most Canadian murder cases - quite rare - were just the sort where punishment as such is a meaningless deterrent. You know, the guy kills his girl (who is seeing another man) and then shoots himself, but misses. Or an old woman kills her demented husband and then attempts suicide but fails.

I sure won't vote to finish the job for them. I think it is better they spend some years in prayer and reflection.

Claiming that people can't help doing what they do just makes everything worse, because those who can't help their behaviour also cannot - by definition - reform later. So there is no such thing as a second chance, because there was never a first one.

How that helps a justice system, I will never know.