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Reaction, Twice Removed

First off, this post is not an argument for or against the death penalty.  This post is not arguing that criminals are products of society.  This post is not making any sort of statement about the incarceration systems in this country.  This post is not holding up death-row inmates as martyrs.  This post is not denying or glossing over the heinous things that have been done to innocent victims.  I just want to make all of those things clear before I begin.

If you have any inkling of current events you know that earlier this week a convicted felon, scheduled for execution, died in unintended circumstances.  These circumstances are currently under investigation, so I will not dwell on them.  Suffice it to say, witnesses to the execution report that it was uncomfortable and unsettling to watch, and that this felon was not sedated when he should have been, resulting in an inhumane death.

That is still not what this post is about.  This post is a reply to the vitriol that I witnessed in my social media feeds on Wednesday.

I am referring to posts that read something along the lines of "he got what he deserved," "he got better than he deserved," "karma's a bitch," and "bring back the firing squad and gallows."

This is what this post is about.  I would like to state that this topic is difficult for me to speak to, because it is so easy to agree with some of the above sentiments, especially when considering the crimes for which this man was being punished.  It is difficult to argue for fair treatment of those that have done wrong.  But we absolutely should.

The social contract roughly states that, in order to coexist as a society, we give up some of our individual rights and in exchange get some benefits.  I trust your ability to click the link and read further if you are unfamiliar with this concept.  When a person breaks the social contract in our nation by committing a crime, they are held responsible by society, for the protection of society and the social contract itself.

Criminals in our country are still protected by some parts of our social contract - accused are protected by half the Bill of Rights alone!  Why is this protection important?  Because it keeps those in power from abusing those not in power.  Because it keeps us as a society from acting on whims that we feel we can justify.  Because it is a reminder that we as a society keep to our social contract.  If we did not, we would be no better than the criminal we are punishing.

We can't say that we are glad that someone died a terrible death at our hands.  We can't say that we wished it was worse.  We can't thump each other on the back and be glad we aren't the only ones that hold these opinions.  When we do this, we nullify our part of the social contract and make way for any number of terrible acts, the same ones that have been committed by societies that felt they were justified in their actions.  History is rife with them.

That doesn't even touch on arguments I could make because I define my morality based on a deity.  However, not everyone does, and if you can't agree on your premise, you aren't having an argument, you're having a shouting match.

So, what does this have to do with writing?  Speculative fiction has always explored the question, "What if?"  The more I grow as an author and a reader in this genre, I see that we have a responsibility to ask this question not just with strange new worlds or mystical old ones, but with social issues in our present day.  Discussing troubling topics through the lens of speculative fiction is a long tradition, one I try to honor in my writing.


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