Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

How many innocent people do you figure it is reasonable to execute, say, per year?



This needs qualifying with "vs subjecting to death row", where the average tenure is 15 years. I think I'd personally rather a speedy execution for a crime that I didn't do rather than 15 years on death row and then exoneration. In addition: 25% of death row prisoners die of natural causes (via Wikipedia).

I think if I supported the death penalty, I think I'd be comfortable finding out that 5% of executions were of innocent people. If I was religious, I'd be willing to accept a much higher number.


That position is appalling to me, but I’m impressed by your intellectual honesty and how you answer the question head on.


I am always mildly surprised to find out how much my opinion on the sanctity of life (eg: a low regard for such) differs from other people's. Making someone suffer unnecessarily seems unconscionable to me, where being dead doesn't seem like a huge big deal.


So you're saying if you torture someone until they hit the breaking point it is morally the right thing to kill them? Some people's tolerance level is much lower than torture. Would it be acceptable to kill rape victims? After all, being dead doesn't seem like a huge big deal.


I'm not sure I really follow your reasoning in any of those, sorry. What I will say is: I firmly believe the dead do not care that they're dead, are explicitly not suffering, and that we're all going to die.

The suffering associated with death is the suffering associated with the survivors and the suffering in being told you're going to die.


This reads like what you really mean is "it's never ok to execute an innocent person".

How much money do you figure it is reasonable to spend to avoid the risk of killing one innocent person?

How many people is it reasonable to let be killed/raped/etc because guilty people were kept alive?

I don't think "it's never ok to sacrifice an innocent person" is the right answer.


> How many people is it reasonable to let be killed/raped/etc because guilty people were kept alive?

You need to show a strong deterrent effect of the death penalty for this to be a reasonable line of argument. In addition, you'll find that almost all of the rich democratic world, except the US and Japan, have answered this with "nobody is allowed to be put to death by the state" as per the article.


There death penalty isn't about deterrent: bad people rarely consider punishment when making the decision to commit a crime.

The death penalty exists so the decent don't have to suffer the truly evil to live.

This is why arguments weighing pros and cons fall on deaf ears.


> There death penalty isn't about deterrent

This ^. I don't want to end someone's life because they did something bad. I want to end it because it's too much of a cose to keep them alive. Most importantly, the risk they will do something horrible again. If a given person has shown themself (grammar?) to be a severe risk to society, then ending that person may be the right solution.


So being alive is a privilege that can be taken away?


There is no such thing as absolute rights and privileges in nature. Just like any other laws or norms, they are a human invention, used as a tool for facilitating large group social organization.

Thus, it makes no sense to ask what is or is not a "privilege that can be taken away", since this is a question with no logical or scientific meaning.

The only thing you can ask is "given a specific set of criteria we are trying to optimize for, is it better or worse for this to be a privilege that can be taken away". Which, of course, depends on the criteria.


There is a code to living that cannot be violated. If we live in a civil society, we all have a personal mandate to be civil. Laws exist to act as a hedge against evil. They don't always work. There are some brands of evil that need to be purged. Everyone knows there are people who are so evil they need to go. The Mansons, Escobars, McVeighs, John Wayne Gacey (spelling?) and all those types.

A civil society breaks its pact with law abiding people people when it allows these people to go on living when they've not only broken the social compact, they've destroyed it by dint of murdering, raping, selling drugs, ruining the lives of others, some of whom were parents who have left a child parentless, sometimes orphans, who then become a burden on the state (albeit a worthy burden). Actions like these are grounds for state-sanctioned execution of the offender.


A civil society also breaks its pact when it commits the murder of an innocent person in the name of those law-abiding people. Further, the list of things that "ruin the lives of others" is pretty arbitrary---there are certainly people here who would debate the proper legal status of "selling drugs".


That's false, otherwise any activity which has a chance for an innocent person to die would be a violation of the social contract to that dead person regardless of the benefits to the public.


Your comment is being pummeled with downvotes because the human psyche finds it disgusting and offensive to think about human lives in such cold and calculating terms.

However, that's an irrational cognitive bias like any other, and I wish people wouldn't succumb to it on HN.

Whether I agree with it or not, your comment is an interesting and rarely-heard perspective, and rationally argued.


While it's generally true that people tend to allow emotions to contribute too much to opinions on society-scale decisions, which should of course be driven by objectivity, I also think it's a mistake to disregard emotions entirely, as the rules we make are meaningless without them.

Say you have an opportunity to end a person's life instantly, without their foreknowledge, without pain. This person has no friends or family or responsibilities of any kind. This person is virtually guaranteed to do more harm than good to society on par over the rest of his natural life. No other people will ever know of this execution. Without emotions, there's no reason not to legally oblige such an opportunity to be taken.


Thanks. I tend to think of most things in those terms. I think it's a failing of mine when it comes to discussions. If (a mean b) and (a), then (b)... no matter how much you don't want (b) to be true. My wife gets very frustrated with me when I point out logical consequences like the above. I have a hard time understanding the emotional argument.


I'm the same way, and I do think this personality trait is massively overrepresented (though by no means universal) among people interested in computers.

I have always suspected that Asperger's and autism (full disclosure: neither of which I have) are just extreme versions of the same underlying personality trait, but I have no background in psychology so that could also just be totally wrong pop-science BS :)


One big problem with that logic is that it ignores the fact that the incentive not to go prying into a potential miscarriage of justice after an execution has occurred is much much higher than after a prison sentence (even life without parole) has been passed.

That in turn is a problem because an innocent person convicted almost always also means a guilty person left free to reoffend.


The way you are wording it to yourself makes it seem like it's impossible to avoid 100% killing one innocent person, and infinite costs approach 100% never killing one innocent person, but never reaching that perfection. That is not the case. There is a price ceiling on avoiding killing an innocent person. That is the cost of putting them in a jail cell for 90 years (upper limit) as an alternative to the death penalty. What is the cost for jailing someone for 90 years? Let's say it's 10 million dollars. That is 4 cents per person in the USA.

Jailing the offender also prevents them from killing/raping/etc because now they are in jail. Really a false comparison here. I think all the countries of the world overwhelmingly have voted in favour that this cost is worth it. The countries that did not, made it very hard to execute prisoners anyways and very rarely use it.


According to (https://www.marketplace.org/2017/05/19/how-much-does-it-cost...), it's above $31,000 per inmate per year (up to $60,000/year). That's $0.000095 per person per inmate per year. Assuming an average of 33 not-executed-but-would-have-been inmates per year, and that they actually live 45 years in jail (because they're not all going to live 90 years there), that's 1,485 inmates at any one time (my math may be wrong).

That works out to about $0.14 per year per citizen, or $0.37 per household (assuming all my math is more or less correct)

I agree with your analysis that it's not a lot of money. I will ponder this.


You first.


So answer the question. How many innocent people do you find it reasonable to execute per year?


It depends on what we would get for doing so, honestly. I don't have a good answer. My thought offhand would be...

1. How many lives are we willing to end to save one life? 1:10? 1:100? 1:1,000,000? 1.1. Does it depend on the lives (if they are kept in jail and kill other inmates, is that better than if they get loose and kill non-inmates)?

2. What are the odds that one killer that is kept alive will kill more people?

3. Etc.

There's a lot of questions to be answers, and some of them are opinion not math. However, I don't believe the correct answer is that it is never ok to end the life of another person.


I can't help but feel you are dancing around the question, and are not really comfortable with the direct outcome of your stance, which is: You are arguing that killing innocent people is OK sometimes. You don't really seem willing to examine that head-on.

If you are uncomfortable with and unwilling to examine the consequences of your stances, consider that that may mean you know on some level that they do not hold up.


> I can't help but feel you are dancing around the question, and are not really comfortable with the direct outcome of your stance, which is: You are arguing that killing innocent people is OK sometimes. You don't really seem willing to examine that head-on.

I have the totally opposite impression. That commentator is very explicitly making the point that yes, in fact, sometimes policies leading to the killing of innocent people have benefits that outweigh that cost.

Where did you see any equivocation or "dancing around" ?


That's exactly the case. I am arguing that it is ok to kill innocent people sometimes. To give a ridiculous example...

The human race is going to end on Tuesday unless Bob is killed. Bob has done nothing wrong. However, he has a unique genetic condition that means, on Tuesday, he's going to come down with the plague, and it's going to spread and kill everyone. There is no way to stop it except to end his life before that happens.

I would kill Bob in this situation. I might hate myself for it, I might even take my own life knowing I had killed someone (or maybe not, because of my religion; I wouldn't know until I was in the situation). That being said, I would kill Bob to save the rest of the human population.


5 that are innocent of everything and always were

10000 that are guilty of something else (example: they were not the shooter, but they helped)

Compare with deaths by lightening, car crash, bath tub...




Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: