Back to previous post: Meteor Over Russia

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Open Thread 181

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

February 19, 2013

Civilization
Posted by Patrick at 07:32 PM * 116 comments

Death penalty world map. From Wikipedia. Accurate as of 24 September 2012.

Death_Penalty_World_Map.png

Legend

  Abolished for all crimes (100)
  Abolished for all crimes except under exceptional/special circumstances (such as crimes committed in wartime) (7)
  Abolished in practice (under a moratorium or haven’t used capital punishment in at least 10 years) (48)
  Retainers of the death penalty (40)

“America is the greatest country in the world.” Discuss.

Comments on Civilization:
#1 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 08:15 PM:

There are more detailed versions of this which break down the US by state.

#2 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 08:49 PM:

The death penalty is gone, here. It will never return while we are a nation and a democracy, no matter what letters are published in editorial columns.

Twice here in recent years, men who were charged, tried and convicted of wilful murder had their convictions overturned after years in jail, on new evidence. Compensation for wrongful imprisonment could be, and was, paid to them. It did not remove the injustice, nor the injury, but it was better than saying "sorry" to a corpse.

The United States is the world's most powerful nation, and it is sovereign, the creation of its citizens alone, who alone may direct it. It is certainly not for me, a foreigner, to criticise its internal administration. However, it does also assert a right to apply the death penalty abroad, to citizens of other countries, on the order of its Chief Executive, for raison d'etat, without charge, trial, or public disclosure.

Me, I think that's worse than the death penalty applied judicially, after charge and trial. And that it is something a foreigner has a right to protest about.

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 09:08 PM:

Dave, it's even worse than that.
We're not allowed to know what the basis for those decisions is, nor the reasoning behind it. Even the judges that are supposed to rule on it are not allowed to know. And while we're supposed to be thinking that the president makes the decision, all we're told is that it's made by a very-high-level government official who's familiar with the intelligence reports, which could as easily be, for a not-at-all-random example, John Brennan.

#5 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 09:58 PM:

The big swathe of red across the center of the right side of the map represents approximately half of the world's population. The three most populous democracies in the world are all in red. There's a lot of barbarity still to go around, alas.

#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 10:25 PM:

By "three most populous democracies in the world" I presume you mean India, Pakistan, and the United States. As ever, Kevin Maroney, bless you for noticing the stuff nobody else does.

(Also the three largest sources of English-speakers...an interesting, if perhaps meaningless, correspondence.)

#7 ::: between4walls ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 10:28 PM:

Kevin J Maroney: In (mild) defense of India, while it does have the death penalty, it's used very rarely compared to the USA or China- the legal standard is that it can only be used in the "rarest of rare" cases, and most people sentenced to death aren't actually executed.

Only 3 people have been executed since 2000.

Of course I think India should outright abolish the death penalty and don't defend executing people. I just wanted to point out the difference between how the death penalty is applied in practice in India vs. the US.

#8 ::: between4walls ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 10:36 PM:

The splotch of red in the middle of blue Europe is Belarus, which has been ruled by a dictator since 1994.

The blue dot along the Horn of Africa is Djibouti, which abolished it in 1995.

#9 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 10:47 PM:

I think there is a kind of feedback loop in US criminal justice. Our crime rate is quite low by historic levels (though shockingly high compared to, say, Japan). And yet, there is political advantage in running for office on "tough on crime" policies. In many places, the death penalty, sex offender mark of cain laws, mandatory minimum sentences for various (often pretty low-level) crimes, all end up being politically popular.

I suspect our "tough on terror" policies have a similar root. It's not like Americans are at any substantial risk from terrorists. It's just that fear of terrorists sells somehow, and so the president can look bravely strong and presidential by claiming ever more scary powers to fight the terrorists, and it's apparently a popular position that accused terrorists don't necessarily get a trial or normal rights as accused criminals.

There is a common root here, I think. Perhaps TV driven misperception of risks, perhaps just a thread of US culture that responds to that which frightens us by demanding that the frightening thing itself be terrorized and mistreated, anything to keep us safe from it.

#10 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 10:52 PM:

between4walls, Somalia doesn't have a single central government that either does or doesn't have a death penalty. It does have an ongoing civil war between groups that would like to be a central government, and there's a recent government in Mogadishu that has some international recognition but nothing resembling universal assent within the country. (I don't know if the new quasi-government has a death penalty or not. The Islamic Courts, who are the other main contender for governance down in the south, does.)

Traditional Somali societies had family and tribal judges, and most conflicts were resolved relatively peacefully, usually with some payment in cattle for larger offenses (and the offender's family was responsible for paying it if the offender didn't or couldn't.) Occasionally, as might be expected in a nomadic herding society, somebody's family might not agree to resolve conflicts peacefully and there'd be a fight, but that's not the same as the death penalty.

#11 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 10:55 PM:

Dave Luckett@2, of course it's appropriate for you, a foreigner, to criticise the US's internal administration. If we're not civilized enough to fix the problems ourselves, we ought to be taken to task for it. And the International Criminal Court in the Hague probably has jurisdiction, even though the US doesn't think it applies to them.

#12 ::: between4walls ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 11:05 PM:

Bill Stewart-
I don't think I mentioned anything to do with Somalia, aside from the fact that Djibouti's in the Horn. I'm aware that Somalia doesn't have a central government and never suggested it did.

#13 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 11:39 PM:

Some thoughts:

1. In my opinion, no country displayed in red on this map can justifiably consider itself civilized. Yes, that's just another way of saying that for me not having the death penalty is an essential characteristic of civilization.

2. A state-by-state breakdown of the US would be interesting, but not really definitive as long as there's still a Federal death penalty, which last I looked there was (Tim McVeigh was executed under the Federal statute, if I'm not mistaken).

3. People often go to prison here for long periods of time. DNA evidence has exonerated many people; states routinely refuse to do it for people who've been convicted (so once again, the best justice money can buy), and always refuse to do it for people who've been executed.

4. People who are released from prison after exoneration are rarely compensated here.

5. Prosecutors who do terrible things, like coercing false testimony from children and teenagers and withholding exculpatory evidence, are very rarely penalized.

#14 ::: thelibrarian ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 12:16 AM:

PNH@6, actually the three most populous democracies are India, USA, and Indonesia (which also has the death penalty). Indonesia had a larger population than Pakistan - it is the world's largest majority Muslim country. It has been somewhat more democratic in the last few years, since they managed to get rid of Suharto in the late 90s.

#15 ::: thelibrarian ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 12:25 AM:

Another thought on the justice system of the U.S., compared to that of the British Commonwealth:

In the U.S., your defence cannot make use of what you tell the police. It is regarded as evidence when used by the prosecution, but is considered "hearsay" and inadmissible for the defence. In the U.K. and other Commonwealth nations what you tell the police is evidence for both sides, and if you fail to tell the police something, it can be difficult if not impossible to introduce it as evidence for your defence.

#16 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 02:11 AM:

The problem with the death penalty is that it is irreversible.

There are going to be mistakes made.

I am not going to try to argue that there are no sufficiently heinous crimes deserving that penalty, but a part of the motive for change in Europe is the reaction to what Nazi Germany did, all with at least some veneer of law.

And when you look at US policies today, and the way German industrial power supported the Nazis, and the way that US industry behaved at the time, and behaves now, there seem to be plenty of ugly possibilities for the USA.

The death penalty is a useful marker for civilisation, but would getting rid of it in the USA change anything that mattered?

#17 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 03:15 AM:

PNH@6, I would debate your comment that the US, Pakistan and India are the three largest sources of English speakers. They may be the three countries with the most English speakers; but surely the sources lay further back in time, and elsewhere on the globe?

#18 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 04:07 AM:

They are thus the largest sources of current English speakers. And don't call him Shirley.

I *am* a bit surprised to see Japan and Taiwan in red.

#19 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 04:13 AM:

Also from wikipedia, a murder rate map for comparison.

#20 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 05:13 AM:

5, 6:The three most populous democracies in the world are all in red.

Yes, but that's the USA, India and Indonesia, not the USA, India and Pakistan. Slight nitpick.
Brazil (which is in the almost-abolished category) is also bigger than Pakistan.

I notice, from Wikipedia, that China enforces the death penalty for poaching. The place gets more and more like Regency Britain the more I learn about it...

#21 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 05:21 AM:

Wrye @ 18:
The death penalty is rare in Japan since it has a very low violent crime rate, but it is still in active use. Japan hanged seven people last year and around 130 more are on death row, including 13 members of Aum Shinrikyo. A death row prisoner only learns of the date of execution on the morning of the hanging. Family and counsel are notified afterwards. In 2005 Amnesty International estimated 1 in 10 death row prisoners in Japan were wrongfully convicted, though I suppose that isn't too shocking for a country with a 99.7% conviction rate.

#22 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 07:27 AM:

The very good film "Pierrepoint" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0462477/) is relevant here - in particular, it makes it clear how quick British hangings were. Normally there would be a lapse of just a few weeks between conviction and hanging. I know that in the US the delay is normally several years or decades - I wonder what it's like in other death penalty coutnries?

#23 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 08:32 AM:

Dave Bell: "The problem with the death penalty is that it is irreversible. There are going to be mistakes made."

Like so many Republican policies, "being tough on crime" works against its stated goal. If you put the wrong person behind bars, and refuse to consider new evidence in the case, then you've guaranteed a criminal goes unpunished.

#24 ::: Doug Hudson ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 08:35 AM:

Depends on what one means by "greatest". "Most capable of instilling fear and unease in other countries?" Probably, though the Chinese are certainly doing their best to take that title from us in Asia.

"Best place to live"? For some people, sure. "Best example to other countries"? Oh god no. "Most civilized?" Not even close.

But in terms of imposing its will on other countries, the US is pretty great. In the same sense that, say, the Romans were great. But the Romans had better roads.

#25 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 08:35 AM:

I understand that this map represents some of the places the U.S. President can murder someone without due process.

But why would there be any coloring to the map? There are no distinctions that could matter.

To the U.S. President, that is.

#26 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 09:37 AM:

Dave:

I would be a lot less comcerned with the death penalty as a practical issue if not for the mounting evidence of how often we get the wrong guy.

Re Japan: How do they get the high rate of confessions? I've always assumed there must be some level of coercion going on, beating a confession out of them. But I don't know.

Japan and Singapore look to me, as an ill-informed outsider, like places that have made a pretty straightforward tradeoff between tolerance of crime and tolerance of some innocent people going to jail. Both places are, by all accounts, very safe, low-crime countries, and I don't think either one comes close to our rate of incarceration, so it's not clear that's exactly a bad tradeoff they're making, though the cultures are different enough from ours that it's hard to know if we even could make a similar tradeoff for at all similar results.

#27 ::: Joerg R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 09:39 AM:

There should be a SF story how the benevolent aliens come and share their powerful goodies (FTL spaceships?) only with those native factions (nations) that have formally given up CP. All others must go through a rather long and complicated rehabilitation procedure before they may attempt to settle other systems.
The greatest benefit goes to the largest nation without the death penalty. That would be Russia.

A good description how this might play out politically and culturally would be very interesting.

++++++

Another remarkable fact for bar bets: Of all nations in the world, Venezuela abolished the death penalty for all crimes before the United States completely abolished slavery. (1863 vs. 1865)

#28 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 10:12 AM:

The well-documents rate of wrongful convictions is one argument against the death penalty, and it definitely resonates with me. The other one is that is that it makes killers of us all. I feel so sorry for the jurors, prosecutors, judges, jailers and on down the line. Requiring people to participate in the process of killing someone — regardless of how awful the crime that person committed — is wrong.

I've been called for jury duty about 4 times. I only ended up on a jury once. One of my nightmares is ending up on a panel for a murder trial. I imagine that I could behave erratically, rant and such like, in order to get kicked off and spare myself the stress of the trial, and of watching the news for the sentencing, and then years of appeals. But then I'd have the guilt of leaving only the more bloody-minded on the jury.

#29 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 10:30 AM:

We also have the world's highest incarceration rate (Russia, in second place, has one 22% lower). A quarter of the world's prisoners are in the US, and as many as 80,000 are in solitary confinement at any given time.

We are not a humane country here. Not surprising that there's so much support for "targeted killing".

#30 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 10:47 AM:

Joerg @27 -- That's sort of the idea (or one of the many ideas) behind James Allen Gardner's League of Peoples stories, although taken to extremes (anyone who has killed a sentient being is defined as "non-sentient," and any attempts be non-sentients to travel the stars result in them being killed themselves).

#31 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 11:09 AM:

Doug Hudson @24: But the Romans had better roads.


<irrelevant_digression>

Oh, they're very impressive, but when hiking along the remains of some Roman roads I've thought many unkind words about their persistence. For that one purpose I'd have much preferred roads that crumbled to dust in a couple of centuries. (Of course nothing but the romance of walking on ancient roads was making us take that route, and we did make other choices after we and our feet had had the experience.)

</irrelevant_digression>

#32 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 11:46 AM:

Albatross @ 26:

In Japan after being arrested you can be held without charge for up to 23 days pending police investigation. During that period you do not have the right for your attorney to be present while being interrogated, and before 2006 the indignant did not have the right to a court appointed attorney before being charged.

My understanding is that the high conviction rate is due to prosecutors only pursuing cases they can win combined with many crimes being dealt with informally by the police or the yakuza.

#33 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 12:22 PM:

janetl, I was called for jury duty last year, and made it as far as voir dire that time. During voir dire, they specified what the trial was about. If you live in a state with the death penalty, all you'd have to do is mention your opposition to the death penalty at voir dire, and I can pretty much guarantee you'd never be empaneled for a murder trial. You'd still have the trouble on your conscience of leaving it to the more bloody-minded... but it's more likely you'd have to actively conceal your opposition to the death penalty to get on a capital murder trial in the first case.

At which point, the tactic to employ wouldn't be ranting and getting kicked off. It'd be sitting very quietly and stubbornly and immovably opposed to convicting. Then there'd be a hung jury, and a mistrial, and they'd have to start the whole damn process over again. It would still be a ghastly emotional toll, most likely, but that outcome is exactly why they don't want anyone who's opposed to the death penalty sitting on juries for murder trials.

#34 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 12:24 PM:

First of all what I am about to point out is *not* an argument for the death penalty.

Looking at that map I am struck by a number of nations in the blue area where the justice system has a reputation as being less than fair and the prison system has a very bad reputation, Russia being the most obvious due to size and the frequency of reporting on its "justice" system. If I had to pick between being put on trial with the possibility of being put to death in the US vs the same charges without the possibility of death in Russia I think I would pick the former as safer and a great deal nicer. Not to mention if one runs afoul of the wrong people in Russia there seems to be the possibility of extra judicial execution even if you are not living in Russia, for example the case of Alexander Litvinenko.

This is not to say that the death penalty is right. I am writing this because I think the "Civilization" title of this post is unjustifiable and not particularly persuasive to the people who need to be convinced that the death penalty is wrong in order for that map to change in places like the United States. Also I think as far as pressing problems regarding justice in the United States there are a lot of problems beyond the death penalty and that in a fair ranking on the total quality of justice the United States would still rank fairly low.

Again, I repeat, that this is not a justification for judicial execution. I am saying this because I think for a divide between civilized and not would be on an evaluation of the whole of the judicial/political practices of a country.

#35 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 04:03 PM:

Xopher, at 13:

According to http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Compensating_The_Wrongly_Convicted.php

it is now the case that the feds and 27 of the 50 states now have statutes requiring them to compensate people who are wrongly convicted.

Te compensation may or may not actually be sufficient; I haven't done the research, but I strongly suspect that it isn't.

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 05:30 PM:

The US is in some interesting company. That is most certain.

#37 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 05:35 PM:

Dave Bell, #16:

"The death penalty is a useful marker for civilisation, but would getting rid of it in the USA change anything that mattered?"

I'm just going to let that one sit there.

#38 ::: Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 05:40 PM:

"Yes, that's just another way of saying that for me not having the death penalty is an essential characteristic of civilization."

I don't support the death penalty, but that's an odd definition of "civilization." When did civilization first exist, then?

Or, more likely, since the abolition of capital punishment is necessary but not sufficient, what countries are "civilized"?

#39 ::: Incognito ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 06:52 PM:

Rikibeth @33 (with regard to being chosen for a jury in a murder trial): "At which point, the tactic to employ wouldn't be ranting and getting kicked off. It'd be sitting very quietly and stubbornly and immovably opposed to convicting. Then there'd be a hung jury, and a mistrial, and they'd have to start the whole damn process over again."

Um. I get that this particular issue hits a lot of folks in a very sensitive spot, and I don’t mean to put my thumb right in it, but how exactly would that lead to justice of any sort?

If Patrick’s request is for us to reconcile the US’s use of the death penalty with the concept of being a great country, if we can, how does refusal to participate on a jury square with the “justice to all” credo that, I would suggest, does make this one of the world’s great countries?

There’s a reason we use juries. It’s so that actual human beings can consider the specific evidence of a specific set of criminal events and determine (a) if the accused actually committed a crime and, if so, which one; and (b) to what extent he ought to be held accountable. I personally think those are extremely valuable parts of what makes a great nation.

#40 ::: Incognito is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 06:53 PM:

Have some Starbucks hot cocoa, oh gnomes, and release my post!

#41 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 07:29 PM:

Thanks for posting the map, Patrick.

#42 ::: Leigh Kimmel ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 08:12 PM:

Also, movement toward the abolition of the death penalty isn't always one-way or permanent. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet Union abolished capital punishment, and using Marxist theory shifted the focus of the criminal justice system away from retribution to rehabilitation and reform of the criminal as an "erring fellow worker" who should be shown the light. This lasted through the NEP period, but by the early 1930's there was a growing sense that going easy on criminal behavior wasn't resulting in the criminals seeing the error of their ways, but instead telling them they could get away with it, and there was a demand for harsher punishments, including hard labor, lengthy prison sentences, and the restoration of the death penalty. This shift in the focus of the criminal justice system came shortly before the Great Terror, and historians have used a lot of ink discussing the exact chains of cause and effect linking them (was it Stalin deliberately setting up the necessary elements for a premeditated bloodbath directed from the top, or was it a sea-change of the climate of opinion that also fed a sense of general paranoia about threats to the integrity of the body politic that ballooned into a moral panic, and Stalin's actions were at most throwing gasoline on a fire that would've burned no matter who was on top?)

Even in the US, there was a moratorium on executions between 1967 and 1977, and the first few executions afterward were of prisoners who actually asked to be executed rather than spend their lives in prison. At about that same time there was a strong sense that crime was out of control, that heinous crimes were on the rise, and that if we as a society didn't Get Tough instead of coddling criminals, the criminals would rule the streets and honest people would be left cowering in their homes.

#43 ::: Rick York ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 08:16 PM:

Such lovely company we keep.

#44 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 09:01 PM:

My position here is not quite opposed, but askant. There are perfectly good reasons to have a death penalty, in that for many societies, there just aren't the resources or capabilities to support long-sentence prisoners -- or at least not in humane conditions: in some cases imprisonment is pretty damn close to a death sentence. Notably, I recall that in living memory in "death-penalty-free" Mexico, at least some prisoners simply weren't being fed -- those who had family who could come bring them food, lived. (This was from 20 or so years ago, I don't know how much things have changed since then.)

Being able to afford to abolish the death penalty is indeed an expression of a society's advancement... not its moral standards, but its wealth and power, including social power and control of the citizenry. The Scandinavian countries can do it because they have a lot less serious crime, thus proportionately more resources to deal with it. Japan can do it because they have a lot more control over their people.

The U.S. could do it. (And the U.S. section of the map really should how the states which have done so.) Because we do at least have the wealth to build the prisons, and if we could get the "privatizers" squelched, we could probably run them humanely. The problem in the U.S. isn't the death penalty itself, it's that our legal system and our courts have become racialized, turned against the poor, and corrupted into the service of political oppression. Blaming the death penalty for this is letting the hundreds of people on death row hide the hundreds of thousands locked up for using the wrong drugs, for being in the neighborhood of a murder, or just for Failure to Cringe.

#45 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 11:12 PM:

Xopher Halftongue @ 13:
The death penalty in the US is very much a regional thing. Nineteen states have abolished the death penalty. The federal government does have capital punishment on the books, but it's been carried out exactly three times since 1976. The most (in)famous of the three was of course Timothy McVeigh. About 80% of the executions carried out since 1976 were performed in the former Confederacy. 492 or 37% of all the executions since 1976 were performed by Texas alone.
Here's an interactive map from The Guardian from 2011 that shows the differences in the use of the penalty in different states.

#46 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 11:14 PM:

Dave Harmon, #44: "The problem in the U.S. isn't the death penalty itself, it's that our legal system and our courts have become racialized, turned against the poor, and corrupted into the service of political oppression. Blaming the death penalty for this is letting the hundreds of people on death row hide the hundreds of thousands locked up for using the wrong drugs, for being in the neighborhood of a murder, or just for Failure to Cringe."

This is a magnificent piece of arguing with a suite of things that nobody here actually said. Who asserted that " the problem in the U.S." is the death penalty? (As opposed to asserting that the death penalty jolly well is a problem in the US.) Further, who "blam[ed] the death penalty" for the fact that "the legal system and our courts have become racialized, turned against the poor, and corrupted into the service of political oppression"? Nobody, that's who. But props to you for an impressive, if somewhat non-sequiturish, rhetorical performance.

#47 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 11:21 PM:

To be clear, I'm opposed to the death penalty because I think it's wrong for the state to kill people, even if and when a majority of citizens approve of the killing. I'm not actually interested in having a recreational argument about this, fannishly sparring over counterfactuals and edge cases. Yes, I also think it's repellent for the state to run around assassinating people with drones or by other means, whether or not they're American citizens. Yes, I know this sort of thing has been happening for a long time. Yes, I know there are few things more ruthless than a state, when it feels itself existentially threatened. Yes, it's still wrong.

I think the death penalty, and our willingness to countenance it (and remember, it's not just a state issue; we have a federal-level death penalty), is a real indication of a level of coarse and bloodthirsty brutality in American society which is quite literally unmatched by much of the rest of the world, including many places and cultures we like to look down upon. I have more theories about why this is the case, but that's enough for now.

#48 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 11:45 PM:

What truly disturbs me is that I have heard China does organlegging a la Larry Niven's stories. You can go there, and pay enough money, and get a kidney or a liver from a freshly executed criminal.

#49 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 11:49 PM:

It is possible that I may someday be murdered.

If so, I do not desire that the perpetrator be executed, or that the death penalty be considered at his or her trial.

Consider this a living will.

#50 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 12:57 AM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 46: I think the fact that, as a democratic* society, we countenance the death penalty is an indication of a sad failure of empathy. Another poor indicator is the lack of universal access to health care. As the provisions of Obamacare come into effect, our "civilization score" improves!

*Yes, many of us disagree with the law of the land, and the effectiveness of our political & voting system in enacting the will of the people is considerably less than 100%.

#51 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 01:50 AM:

Albatross @9:

"War is Peace"

Scarily prescient, Georgie-boy was.

#52 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 02:30 AM:

Patrick 46: You speak for me here.

Jim 48: I've often said that there should be a legal way to specify this and have it be binding on the state.

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 04:37 AM:

PNH @46 speaks for me as well. Particularly this: I think the death penalty, and our willingness to countenance it... is a real indication of a level of coarse and bloodthirsty brutality in American society

In other words, the presence of the death penalty (and its popularity) is symptomatic of a flaw, or possibly a lacuna, in those components of our culture that comprise "civilization". It's not the only symptom. The prison population, the shaming of the poor, the long and tangled history of health care, and the readiness to lash back savagely at quests for equality are all pieces of the same puzzle.

I have a growing belief that trolling on the internet is a piece of it too. Not that denizens of other nations don't troll, but as the internet started in the US, so did the particular, pervasive style of misbehavior on it. I think other cultures have learned it from us. (I do think had the internet started in Britain, or the Netherlands, there would still be bad behavior. People are people. But its character would be different. The gleeful-bloodsport stuff and the mindless partisan crap has a peculiarly American tang.)

What is the underlying malaise? I don't know if I have a single word for it. Authoritarianism without noblesse oblige. Hierarchy without solidarity. Happily vindictive competitiveness, like Monopoly in a dysfunctional family. A vision of the world as a test, fair but harsh, sorting out the winners from the losers. And underneath it all, a fearful dissatisfaction, a deep insecurity, and a dread that there's not enough of any good thing to go around, so one's neighbor's gain is one's own loss.

#54 ::: MinaW ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 05:18 AM:

Dave Luckett #2 Yes.

Among the over 300 convicted people whom the Innocence Project has proven innocent, mostly by DNA evidence, are many death penalty cases, but also many who have spent decades in prison before being released, often with no compensation, or very little.

Frequent causes of conviction of innocent people are eyewitness error (major - see book The Invisible Gorilla), forensic evidence processing errors, police or prosecutor misbehavior.

Prosecutors' offices often try to deny access to DNA evidence. (Well, of course, who's going to ask for it, if they don't think it will prove them innocent?) But that they would deliberately try to keep innocent people in jail is immoral.

Former Chief Justice Rehnquist said "Factual innocence is not a Constitutional question" [and thus does not require judicial review of a request for consideration of new evidence].

I'm guessing that those 300 represent far fewer than all the cases from half the states. And DNA evidence is only available/applicable in 5-10% of total cases. So the actual number of convicted innocents is 10 to 20 times those they've found, even in places like Illinois where they have worked a lot. Innocents with no redress, unless the real criminal confesses.

I did a poster on this subject for a class last semester.

Our judicial system has many ills, but with this high number of errors made, even those who might have believed in the death penalty should reasonably be ready to change their minds.

#55 ::: MinaW has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 05:23 AM:

Leftover apple-crisp? Hot chocolate? Some toast from bread that didn't rise very well, but is good anyway?

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 05:57 AM:

me @52:

I hasten to add that I think the death penalty is also an objective evil in itself. Not only because we don't do it cleanly or justly, nor simply because the way we do it is another example of the almost actively anti-empathic strain of our national culture, but also because I don't think that a state should be killing its citizens.

(I, personally, also don't think a state should be killing other people's citizens, but let's boil one ocean at a time here.)

#58 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 06:41 AM:

Anderson @ #38: When did civilization first exist, then?

Mu.

(To put it another way: Legend has it that Mohandas Gandhi was one asked by an English reporter his opinion of modern civilisation, and replied that he thought it would be a good idea.)

#59 ::: Phlop ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 07:09 AM:

And it appears that Japan has just executed three people.

#60 ::: Phlop is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 07:10 AM:

First post, first gnoming. Might as well get it all done at once.

#61 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 07:41 AM:

PNF #45-46: ...arguing with a suite of things that nobody here actually said.

Which is why I said "not opposed, but askant".

Who asserted that "the problem in the U.S." is the death penalty?

Well, you did put up a death-penalty map and label it "Civilization" -- as if that were the only thing that mattered in judging a nation's qualifications for the term.

As so often, Abi has far better clarified what I was trying to get at:

Abi #52: In other words, the presence of the death penalty (and its popularity) is symptomatic of a flaw, or possibly a lacuna, in those components of our culture that comprise "civilization". It's not the only symptom. The prison population, the shaming of the poor, the long and tangled history of health care, and the readiness to lash back savagely at quests for equality are all pieces of the same puzzle.

MinaW#53: Former Chief Justice Rehnquist said "Factual innocence is not a Constitutional question"

How does it go? <googles> "What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer".

This gives some hint as to what I think the "real problem" is... basically, our national character has always had deep flaws, and now that we're exiting our "frontier" period of cheap resources and unlimited land (that is, we're now in "distress" from intractable factors) those flaws are coming to the surface and flailing about. There's a DFD take to this as well, but in that picture we're not even close to transcending the dysfunctional dynamics of our national birth. Or it can be looked at simply in terms of Good vs. Evil... I've said before that positing the presence of demonic possessions would explain a lot of our recent history.

And in particular, in the past few decades, we've progressively lost the public ideal of demanding moral character from our leaders. Instead of demanding that business leaders act in the public interest, we're telling our political leaders to make us a profit, and warping the laws to suit that. And that sort of rot has long-term consequences -- e.g., we used to have civics classes teaching how the government was responsible to the people, with history of same, and often involving actual contact with officials and/or volunteer activity. But with NCLB putting schools in a Red Queen's race, suddenly there's no money or time for "frivolities" like that. And then the younger generations don't get taught that government obeys the people, instead they learn "when a cop comes by, keep your hands in view and do whatever the cop says".

#62 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 09:27 AM:

Paul 58: You misquote the question asked of Gandhi and therefore miss his point: he was asked what he thought of Western (i.e. European) civilization.

I think the definition of 'civilized' should be updated for the time in which it occurs. Ancient Egypt was certainly a civilization, but if such a state existed today it would not be counted among civilized nations; slavery, autocratic god-kings, a system of internal passports, and the death penalty for forging documents would pretty much rule it out. Yet it was more civilized than most other places, especially in early times.

#63 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 09:51 AM:

Xopher Halftongue @ #62:

Like all legends, there are variations in the details. Both forms of the question have been attested.

#64 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 11:25 AM:

Welcome, Phlop!

#65 ::: Phlop ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 01:28 PM:

Thank you, Cally!

[Waves politely all round.]

#66 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 02:17 PM:

#58: The ancient Judean civilization.

#67 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 02:25 PM:

#53 ::: abi

People who talk as though lack of empathy is a valuable achievement is a sign of the pathology.

#68 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 03:03 PM:

Jim McDonald @48, Xopher @52,

Be careful what you wish for. I've read people who advocated the same idea, with the one difference that they intended to demand, not prohibit, the death penalty.

Allowing the one, but not the other, would seem to me to be no less difficult, or problematic, than getting rid of the death penalty altogether.

J Homes.

#69 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 03:16 PM:

J Homes, it doesn't seem to me that that should be at all true. Prosecutors can decide not to seek the death penalty; they can't decide that no other penalty will do.

Why do you think those two kinds of requests (which can't be made binding by any legal theory I'm aware of (though of course IANAL)) should be at all similar, or similarly hard to establish? I'm honestly not following that.

#70 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 03:22 PM:

#61: basically, our national character has always had deep flaws

I agree, except that I would describe it as our species character, instead. I see no evidence that nations have characters that can vary from one to another; ISTM that every nation is a mixed bag of all possible sorts of personalities, having in common only what we all have in common.

Especially, fear has a strong tendency to make humans violent and stupid. (As Altemeyer put it, we really do need to fear fear itself.) If this is applied to a large number of people at once, some may resist the effects, but most will not. The present-day US is an especially fearful nation, partly because of its place in the world (of which 9/11 is one manifestation) and partly because of its racial dynamics. But I think that if other countries felt similarly threatened their citizens would react the same. Why wouldn't they?

The very-long-term trend toward what we are describing here as greater civilization, I ascribe primarily to the triumph of technology over privation. Which is, unfortunately, piecemeal. Other things being equal, a more securely fed, housed, educated, and medically cared for human is a more civilized human.

I've said before that positing the presence of demonic possessions would explain a lot of our recent history.

This I have to disagree with completely. Good people and evil people are born into every nation -- but a potentially important difference is whether the nation's circumstances make it possible for the evil people to reach positions of power, or whether they are successfully blocked from them (and thus can commit only small-scale evils; not that those aren't bad enough to their particular victims, but there are a lot fewer *of* them, which is pretty important).

On top of that, truly inherently evil people are (IMO) rather rare, while people who will do some evil if their personal circumstances impel them to it strongly enough (i.e. corruptible people) are unfortunately rather common.

It may even be that inherent evil doesn't exist at all, some people just learn to be evil because of the surroundings they grew up in, but I'm not certain of that one way or the other. It's not like you can raise the same person again in different surroundings to see if they turn out different.

Supernatural causes aren't IMO necessary to explain evil in humans, and therefore shouldn't be introduced unnecessarily. (IOW, I have no need of that hypothesis.)

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 03:47 PM:

chris @70:
I see no evidence that nations have characters that can vary from one to another; ISTM that every nation is a mixed bag of all possible sorts of personalities, having in common only what we all have in common.

I see lots of evidence. I've been observing it all of my adult life.

Whether you want to call it character or culture, different nations do have different principles, characteristics and behaviors that they collectively value. The place to look is the stories they tell themselves about themselves—particularly their founding myths.

American narratives at the moment have a lot of Rugged Individualist in them: we tell stories where the cowboy, the frontiersman, the entrepreneur, and the iconoclast are the heroes. Our founding myths are about rebels and settlers. We talk a lot about freedom and rights.

By contrast, the Dutch (to pick an example with which I am very familiar) have a founding myth about working together against the relentless sea. The culture values cooperation, collaboration, honesty, and respect for the beliefs of others.

These principles are taught to children from earliest childhood. I've watched my kids pick them up alongside math and spelling in school. They affect whom people respect, and what behaviors are rewarded. (And that which we reward, we get more of.)

In other words, nations may start out with a mixed bag of all sorts of possibilities (nature), but how those possibilities are expressed (nurture), and what sorts of people succeed within those nations, is not homogenous.

Especially, fear has a strong tendency to make humans violent and stupid. (As Altemeyer put it, we really do need to fear fear itself.) If this is applied to a large number of people at once, some may resist the effects, but most will not. The present-day US is an especially fearful nation, partly because of its place in the world (of which 9/11 is one manifestation) and partly because of its racial dynamics. But I think that if other countries felt similarly threatened their citizens would react the same. Why wouldn't they?

Fear that is sharpened like a goad, and reapplied by those individuals who are using their freedom in entrepreneurial ways causes people to act badly. Fear that is faced collectively, by people who are raised to trust their neighbors and work together works very differently. The Dutch are afraid of the water, deeply afraid of it, but it's not a terror that tears the country apart.

And the US is partly in its place in the world because it has acted like an individual rather than a member of the community of nations. We brought some of this shit on ourselves, and we've allowed ourselves to be maneuvered into digging ourselves deeper in by people who are profiting, in money and in power, from our fear.

The very-long-term trend toward what we are describing here as greater civilization, I ascribe primarily to the triumph of technology over privation. Which is, unfortunately, piecemeal. Other things being equal, a more securely fed, housed, educated, and medically cared for human is a more civilized human.

That doesn't explain why the richest nation in the world can't, or won't, provide health care for all of its citizens, while poorer ones do. It doesn't explain why we don't maintain our common infrastructure, so that the lights go out and the schools crumble.

General progress is not inevitable. It's a choice, and the US is not consistently making that choice for its citizens.

#72 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 06:37 PM:

Xopher @69,

I may be thinking from a New Zealand perspective. We have not had the death penalty for a long time (the last hanging was when I was still a child, and I am not a young'un), and it's the people who want it brought back who are making the fuss.

So people like you effectively get their wish by default. It is the pro-death penalty people who would want to override that default.

As the OP makes clear, the US is different. In this case, not in a good way.

J Homes.

#73 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 08:20 PM:

Following abi on cultural and national characters; this is about cricket, but you might get the idea:


Cricket in Australia

We say, "we play the game", but that's half-true.
It's not one game. It changes as the cast
Requires. It can be English through and through,
As grim as bulldog, straight as frigate's mast -
But India has made it something new,
All subtle elegance. Then comes the blast
Of hot South African simmoom; and do
Calypsos help the Windies bowl so fast?

And us? We change the game, and like the rest,
We play ourselves as how we'd like to be:
With lurking humour, dryly unimpressed,
Because our land requires that irony.
We match her iron with our own, and Test
Ourselves; fail sometimes. But not easily.

#74 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 09:07 PM:

chris #70: Good people and evil people are born into every nation -- but a potentially important difference is whether the nation's circumstances make it possible for the evil people to reach positions of power, or whether they are successfully blocked from them

It's not just about circumstances... the national mood can certainly be affected by those, but governance and social temper are also very "stateful" -- and U.S. has got problematic "state" left over from its founding, let alone the Civil War. Among other issues, we never did fix the flaws in our electoral procedures, which is why we're stuck with our two-party system.

#75 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 09:53 PM:

Historians' definition of a civilization is a technical one, a measure of social, political, and economic complexity, of economic and technological development as measured in archaeological remains and the historical record. It says nothing about moral development. The most technically advanced civilizations have perpetrated some of the worst atrocities in history (the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, etc.)

The lay definition of "civilization" confuses the term with its cognates "civil" and "civility," implying moral behavior (at least towards citizens, cives in Latin).

Many imperialistic civilizations, of course, were happy to confuse technical civilization and "civility," the less developed being "barbarians," justifying their conquest (la mission civilisatrice in French)

That's why I don't like throwing around words such as "civilized."

On this debate The Better Angels of Our Nature (and Pinker is somewhat stumped by the American exception, too).

#76 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2013, 11:50 PM:

Abi @ 71:

I'd say that slavery and the legacy of violence and racism it produced is even more important than the rugged individualism myth. 35% of the defendants executed since 1976 were black. As of June 2009 39% of American prisoners are black. By contrast according to the 2010 Census 12.6% of the population is black. Slavery required constant violence and the threat of violence to keep slaves in line, and that seeped out into the broader culture. I think a telling historical example is the incident in which Senator Charles Sumner was beaten half to death on the floor of the Senate by fellow Senator Preston Brooks. Brooks was celebrated in the South for almost killing a slanderous Radical Republican, and well-wishers sent Brooks replacement canes. Lynching would be another example. It clearly was a way to enforce Jim Crow, but once the powerful get a tool they'll start using it anywhere it seems useful. Lynching wasn't confined to the South, and even in the heart of darkness of Mississippi whites were lynched.

As for America's comparative lack of a safety net and public services, it's generally been because of fears the wrong people would benefit. The lazy and undeserving. You know, those people. The most obvious example I can think of is Prince Edward County in Virginia closing down its public school system rather than accept an order to integrate it.

#77 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2013, 09:04 AM:

abi@53

(I do think had the internet started in Britain, or the Netherlands, there would still be bad behavior. People are people. But its character would be different. The gleeful-bloodsport stuff and the mindless partisan crap has a peculiarly American tang.)

There is a considerable British tradition of verbal abuse. If the internet had started in England, it might be just as nasty, but with more complex sentences and a larger vocabulary.

#78 ::: Brad Hicks (@jbradhicks) ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2013, 01:49 PM:

Any time I hear "greatest country in the world" I think of this exchange from one of my favorite films, Thank You for Smoking:

Joey Naylor: "Dad, why is the American government the best government?"
Nick Naylor: "Because of our endless appeals system."

America will be the last country in the world to give up the death penalty, because the true god of America is Moloch. Human sacrifice is our preferred solution for any problem. Stock market underperforming or prices rising? It must be because not enough people are dying under overpasses. Mediagenic people are afraid for any reason? They need to make sure that they have a gun with them at all times in case they need to a shoot a brown person; that may not be what's threatening them, but you can never be too sure. A rare crime makes the news? Increase the death penalty. Foreign policy setback of any kind? Time to go overseas and kill tens of thousands of somebody's, anybody's civilians, plus thousand of our own troops. Just keep marching people into the flaming belly of Moloch until the problem goes away.

What's that you say? We marched lots of people into the belly of Moloch and the problem didn't go away? Well, I guess we could try something else. But first, let's trying marching more people into the belly of Moloch, because that should have worked - maybe we just didn't kill enough!

#79 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2013, 02:03 PM:

abi:

I wonder how much of the dysfunction is about US society, and how much about our institutions and their incentives. For all that Americans are willing to accept a lot of awful behavior from our government, there are also some powerful institutions that guard a lot of that misbehavior from any effective feedback. There was a fair bit of opposition to the bailouts and the wars and the impunity of the powerful over the years, and a lot of the established institutions in the country, especially the big media companies and the big political parties, kind-of seemed to close ranks to keep that opposition from having much effect. If you wanted to vote against that stuff in the last presidential election, your only choice was to vote third party and accept that your vote would in practice have no impact on the outcome.

I also wonder about the feedback between broken institutions and broken culture. For example, I think a lot of the dysfunction in poor black neighborhoods probably is driven in part by the war on drugs. That's a broken institution (police, prisons, politics) driving a broken culture (gang membership, kids growing up without their fathers). I imagine there are a lot more things like that.

#80 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2013, 05:38 PM:

Brad Hicks @78: Your imagery reminded me of a book about the Aztecs I read years ago — a little google-searching on the partially remembered title got me to The Hummingbird and the Hawk: Conquest and Sovereignty in the Valley of Mexico 1503-1541 by R. C. Padden (link to an Amazon page with a few reviews here).

In it, the author described an Aztec ruler in the decades prior to the Spanish arrival, who decided what his society needed was more sacrifice (in the literal sense of the word). Prior to then, human sacrifice was only rarely carried out in religious rituals — this ruler championed a revival and a return to the traditional religious practices, which was done on an unprecedented scale.

I think it had been during the Reagan administration that I'd first read this book, but since then when a leader said our problems stemmed from a lack of religious fervor, I'd remember that old-time religion.

#81 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2013, 06:39 PM:

If I recall correctly that Aztec ruler got his sacrifices from the local non-Aztec villages, so that when the Spaniards arrived the locals figured they had nothing to lose and joined up with the invaders rather than resisting them.

#82 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 06:16 AM:

I was about to chip in to the effect that American social structures seem designed to inculcate a sense of insecurity, and insecure people are fearful, and fearful people are violent and stupid, but I see that Abi got there first at #71.

(No free healthcare, a cruel and punitive system that can be used for political oppression by ambitious prosecutors, crap social security, and a general lack of social support that is justified in the name of "freedom" but actually contributes to personal insecurity. It' almost as if it was designed to scare people into petty acts of defensive cruelty.)

#83 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 07:24 AM:

Abi @ 71... American narratives at the moment have a lot of Rugged Individualist in them

"If we do not hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately!"

The myth of the Individualist really is just that and I'm not sure it has much to do with actual History. America was born because people came together. Me I prefer the American tales about itself as examplified by comics - of a man who was willing to sacrifice his life for his country by becoming its first supersoldier, or of a immigrant so powerful he could have imposed his will upon us, but instead spent his whole life protecting us from threats foreign and domestic...

#84 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 08:59 AM:

Serge Broom @83, random musings: would Superman be covered by the Dream Act? He's an illegal immigrant, after all, who came here as a child. Unless he was formally adopted by the Kents; I'm guessing that formal adoption confers citizenship. Anyone know....?

#85 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 09:08 AM:

Charlie Stross #82: Not designed, but evolved. There is a learned component there (think of Machiavelli and his successors), but ultimately, this is a memetically-evolved social pattern, operating for the benefit of its ruling class:

Honchos who try to benefit the people at cost to their peers get punished consistently; honchos who exploit and rob the public for their own and their peers' benefit get protected and often rewarded. Even if some of the exploiters get dinged by prosecutors who won't "get with the program", guess which sort does better in the long run? Changing it would necessarily be a radical change, because the structure really does run down to the roots of our society.

#86 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 09:40 AM:

Cassie B @ 84... It depends on which version of his story we refer to. In the 1986 origin, his parents conceived him in vitro, and the ship/womb that carried him to Earth released him only when he landed. Ergo he'd be American-born. I'm not sure what his origin is in the recent retelling, but, no matter what, he is a refugee who sought asylum in America.

#87 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 10:00 AM:

Heckblazer #76: Preston Brooks was a representative, not a senator. Otherwise, you're absolutely correct.

#88 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 11:15 AM:

Serge Broom @86 -- that does raise questions of how one defines "birth". Do we know whether he was from his artificial womb untimely ripp'd?

#89 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 12:03 PM:

Englan v. France at Twickenham. And the French always sing their National Anthem as if they mean it.

#90 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 12:36 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 88... Do we know whether he was from his artificial womb untimely ripp'd?

He was.

#91 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 06:10 PM:

Adoption works now, but didn't necessarily in the past.

from the State Department
Children who were 18 or older on February 27, 2001, did NOT acquire U.S. citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act. In recent years, many adoptees have found that although they were legally adopted and have been U.S. residents for most of their lives, they do not hold U.S. citizenship. Many discovered this as young adults when applying for jobs, registering to vote, applying for a U.S. passport, or, unfortunately, when getting into trouble with the law and facing deportation to a country they no longer call home.

#92 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 06:19 PM:

Thomas 91, well, that leaves Superman an Illegal <very> Alien. Anyway, I think the Kents de facto adopted him, not de jure. (I could be wrong.) On the order of "let's bring him home and raise him as our own."

#93 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 06:30 PM:

Is it actually possible to legally adopt a child who you just kind of...find?

#94 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 06:50 PM:

Xopher @93, well, foundlings have been around since time began, so there must be some kind of process.

#95 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 06:58 PM:

Can you imagine how difficult it would be to deport Superman to his world of birth? It's not like sending someone back to a country that's changed names/rulers -- you'd have to make him go hang out around a red sun with a really nasty asteroid belt that would be seriously dangerous to his health.

#96 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 08:36 PM:

Tom Whitmore #95: as opposed to the local government and law wanting him dead or broken.

Trust me, many real-world refugees can empathize with the idea that going back to where they came from, would be "seriously dangerous to [their] health".

#97 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 10:20 PM:

Yes, Cassy, but the process probably involves a physical exam (bewildered doctor), vaccinations (broken needles), and perhaps a period away from the "finders," during which time everyone would know there was a superbaby. Doesn't really fit the secret-identity storyline.

Probably an illegal adoption, methinks.

#98 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 10:40 PM:

Xopher, #97: Not so much "illegal" as "informal"; remember the period and the locale. All they would really have had to do was say that he was their nephew whose parents had died of whatever the last major epidemic was, and nobody was going to question it. There was much less red tape about adoption (especially within the extended family) in those days.

#99 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2013, 11:04 PM:

Hmm, Lee, what "those days" are we talking about? If Superman is about 35, we're talking about the late 70s. Of course if you're talking about his initial appearance, there's a convenient influenza epidemic in 1918, and he can be in his early 20s.

#100 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2013, 06:50 AM:

If memory serves, there's at least one version of Superman's origin story where there was a big storm just after baby Kal-El arrived on Earth, and the Kents were snowed in at home for long enough that when their neighbours saw them again it didn't seem implausible that they now had an infant in the household.

I just dug out the issue that gives the current version of the origin. He's back to being born on Krypton and rocketed to Earth as a baby, but it ends with the night of the arrival, so it's not clear whether he was properly adopted (unless that detail got slipped in in one of the surrounding issues).

#101 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2013, 03:42 PM:

I always felt that dropping his growing up in an orphanage was a loss--you could argue that's where his strong social justice background came from...

#102 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2013, 08:00 PM:

"But the Romans had better roads."

I think the Romans had better civic architecture all around. What will the tourists visit of the American Empire once it is done. I guess New York and Washington might still make it.

Others?

#103 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2013, 10:07 PM:

Superman never grew up in an orphanage. The earliest versions of his origin had him living in an orphanage for a few days before the Kents came and took him.

#104 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2013, 02:12 PM:

Whether you want to call it character or culture

Well, maybe I'm being oversensitive, but when I hear someone talk about national character, I think they mean something innate, possibly even unchangeable. That's a heck of a lot different from culture.

In other words, nations may start out with a mixed bag of all sorts of possibilities (nature), but how those possibilities are expressed (nurture), and what sorts of people succeed within those nations, is not homogenous.

OK, now I think we're actually agreeing, only I'm saying "circumstances" and you're saying "culture".

Fear that is sharpened like a goad, and reapplied by those individuals who are using their freedom in entrepreneurial ways causes people to act badly. Fear that is faced collectively, by people who are raised to trust their neighbors and work together works very differently.

I think this may have more to do with whether the fear is of a force of nature, rather than other people. It's easier to react with hostility to a threat from people. It's sometimes said that a common enemy brings people together, which may be true for a while, but when the common enemy is other people, you're eventually going to get conspiracy theories about collaborators and fifth columns -- or maybe it's people who realize that other people can be negotiated with and it's worth trying that who come first, and then the conspiracy theories form around them. Either way, nobody (AFAIK) tries to negotiate or collaborate with the sea, or fears that their neighbor will.

#105 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2013, 04:27 PM:

David Goldfarb: Superman never grew up in an orphanage. The earliest versions of his origin had him living in an orphanage for a few days before the Kents came and took him.

That's the version from Superman #1, which came out long after Action Comics or the Siegal and Shuster daily comic strip. You might want to look at this.

#106 ::: GC80 ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2013, 02:41 PM:

The OP's map was about the death penalty, but what about life imprisonment without parole? Here in Britain it's only for the worst of the worst, but AIUI it is quite a common sentence in the United States.

#107 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2013, 05:39 PM:

GC80, it's developed as an alternative to the death penalty. Overused now, like imprisonment generally, because it guarantees a revenue stream for the for-profit prison industry (which IMO should be abolished by Constitutional amendment).

#108 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2013, 05:45 PM:

On the Superman/adoption subthread, an NYT story We found our son in the subway

#109 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2013, 07:39 PM:

thomas, that's a stunning story. That's one smart judge, with good intuition.

#110 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2013, 07:50 PM:

thomas: astounding story, and I'll bet seeing them again absolutely made the judge's day.

#111 ::: Dwyld ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2013, 08:51 AM:

I think this shows that the US hegemony has less of a cultural aspect than is often perceived. Thus demonstrating that while the US is still undoubtedly the greatest, it has not been quite as great as many of its opponents like to presume. Blue Jeans, Coca-Cola ads and Holywood movies clearly do not influence as much as some claim.

#112 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2013, 09:22 AM:

Two things I read recently seem to be bumping around witht his thread, trying to become a coherent thought. As of yet, they haven't--but they are both worth reading anyway. Maybe the thoguht will come coherent for someone else.

First, from Steve Randy Waldman (Interfluidity).
Language Coarse and possibly Triggery

Literal ass-rape is criminal because we-the-people as a broad-based mass are disgusted by it and insist upon it being a public and criminal matter rather than a quiet tragedy and struggle. When we hear about a Joe Paterno who overlooks this requirement, we literally hound the motherfucker to death. Perhaps unfairly, in any particular case — pitchforks are simultaneously sharp and blunt instruments! The sheer fear of which is why the powerful create laws. But where laws aren’t there, the pitchforks must always be. A society that expects laws to substitute for, rather than channel, public outrage, is a society not long for this world in any form worthy of the name.

And second, from Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The goal of post-war white Chicago was to keep African Americans sealed in the ghetto. Working-class and ethnic whites worked toward this goal through what Hirsch calls "communal violence," which is to say entire communities angling toward terrrorism: .... The point here is two-fold: First, terrorism in the mid-20th century, in the cradle of the North, was common. Second, the terrorism at least partially worked.
#113 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2013, 09:22 AM:

And the award for comprehensively missing the point goes to...

#114 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2013, 09:31 AM:

Oops. SamChevre slipped in. Sorry, Sam; I wasn't trying to comment on yours at all.

#115 ::: Christopher Davis was gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2013, 11:21 AM:

Cassy B. #84 et al: Clark Kent would be a citizen by birth according to 8 USC 1401(f), assuming that nobody proved that he was born on Krypton before be reached adulthood:

(f) a person of unknown parentage found in the United States while under the age of five years, until shown, prior to his attaining the age of twenty-one years, not to have been born in the United States;
Superman, OTOH, just appeared one day and would presumably need naturalization or have citizenship granted by an act of Congress or something.

#116 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2013, 12:26 PM:

Christopher #115: I can't find anything in the moderation queue or the spam filter from you. Sorry about that. Looks like your comment was entirely lost.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.