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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ritual Human Sacrifice In the Modern USA

The firing squad has a long history in the state of Utah, with some tracing its preservation to the concept of blood atonement found in Mormonism and wider cultural traditions and Christian doctrines. Most states in the US abolished firing squads in favor of the gas chamber and electric chair, finally (for the most part) phasing those out in favor of lethal injection.  Many citizens do not realize that the last execution by firing squad in Utah occurred in 2010.  Within this context it is little surprise that with current controversy over the process of lethal injection, some lawmakers want to revive the firing squad in Utah. (Though for people unaware of this history, especially the European drug manufacturers who boycotted sales to the USA, it must be quite shocking.)

The evolution of the death penalty and its eventual abolition in many countries is a fascinating study of memetic adaptation and extinction.  Of equal value is the study of how the death penalty persists as an acceptable state action in the USA.  This murder of a citizen is viewed as a deterrent to other criminals, although studies have demonstrated deterrence is ineffective.  It is viewed as justice even though studies have shown inequality in its application and faults within the judicial system.  In a land which adores the ideals of personal conscience and the ability of a person to reinvent themselves, people actively and passively play their part in a social machine which annihilates someone.

The actions of European drug manufactures are a form of selective pressure against the death penalty in the USA.  This action has stirred up controversy and consciousness, but that wasn't the main objective.  The initial goal was the same objective as boycotting sugar, tea and coffee during the slave trade (a concept which was tied to personal purity and influenced some of the prohibitions within Mormonism, btw).  It is a disruption of energy flow in the economic ecosystem.  It creates a decline in resources, placing pressure on the executioners to slow the schedule of executions or perhaps even halt their action.  But execution is a resilient memeplex in the USA.  It has many pressures feeding it (social memes, laws, institutional policies, pensions, etc.)  It will not die easily when faced with one single resource challenge.  Instead it adapts, using other forms of execution or going forward with botched lethal injections. 

But the boycott of the drug companies is an important innovation.  Instead of consumers boycotting a product to protest corporate production practices, this is a supplier refusing to provide a commodity, decreasing revenues and exposing themselves to some financial loss.  In an age where the drive for profit seems to be the ultimate moral law, the European manufacturers are making a statement that the value of human life is even greater. 

Though American culture has adapted the "humane" meme from Europe, it has simply integrated "humane" with the "execution" memeplex.  We can kill someone as long as they feel minimal or no pain, or as long as they are unable to show pain, as long as suffering is unobserved.  Yet if a man were on trial for vivisecting victims would he be exonerated if he could demonstrate that he took inordinate care that they were anesthetized to the whole experience?  Of course not. 

It's a matter of who has a right to be violent.  The violence of individual humans can be at times gruesome and horrifying, motivated by fear, hatred, self-defense and social conditioning.  Sometimes individual violence is the result of frustrations and survival instincts, motivated by memeplexes.   The collective violence of groups is even more frightening with its feedback loops and mob mentality.  Science is just starting to understand these processes of the human experience, allowing us to develop rationally based interventions.  But more horrifying than human violence (because our minds and bodies do not react viscerally to it) is the methodical and mechanical destruction of an individual caught within the legal machine.  We are unwittingly complacent and trusting until such violence hits close to home.  We can participate in it and rationalize it as "duty".  Just as we should be wary about granting human rights to corporations, we should be concerned over any institution claiming a right to violence.  Corporations, laws and other complex memetic machines should be in the service of humanity.  The European drug manufactures understand this well. 

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