[INSIGHT]With Dominance Brings the Need to KillMahatma Gandhi declared that the love Jesus Christ preached included abstaining from eating meat. Mr. Gandhi meant that we cannot experience true love in the world if we fill our stomachs with warm-blooded creatures that we have killed. But an African cannibal would sneer at such an idea. Why do civilized Europeans kill people, the cannibal might ask, but not eat them? This question thoroughly makes Mr. Gandhi's drive to expel meat-eating appear a joke.
Postmodern philosophers proposed an answer to the cannibal's question. Civilized people kill in quest of power. Any murder done by individuals or groups, and the resulting capital punishment executed by state authorities in revenge for the murder, is a realization of a will for power. Michel Foucault, a French sociologist, said that time served in prison is done for power, not for edification.
The death penalty serves the political purpose of delivering domestic power. A war breaks out in the course of a power struggle in international arena. To deprive a person of his life is the ultimate expression of power － for an individual and a state. Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization attacked the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the World Trade Center in New York City, with the cruelest scheme imaginable, and killed 6,000 people in minutes. The United States is waging a war against Afghanistan in the name of a war against terrorism. Both acts involve taking people's lives for the sake of political power.
Advocates of capital punishment say that the death penalty equalizes justice and puts order into society. Progressive groups urging to repeal capital punishment refute that assertion, saying that there is no evidence to prove that the crime rate has been decreased by the death penalty. Opponents add that the death penalty is murder committed by the state. At this level, the discussion may easily lead to tit-for-tat, if it goes on. If murder doesn't turn from a will to a taking of power, the death penalty will not disappear.
Animals also have a will to take power. A tour of the island of Bali, in Indonesia, always includes a stop called the Monkey's Forest. In the forest, male monkeys fight one another every year for the right to claim female monkeys. The male monkey that wins the fight becomes their king. We can easily spot the king because his fur shines with a bright golden color that may or may not be caused by some powerful hormone. Just as cannibals kill people to eat them, monkeys fight with other monkeys to propagate and to attempt to take over a pack. In other words, they happen to grab power while struggling to secure food or reproduction rights. But civilized people struggle to seize power itself, unlike monkeys and cannibals.
Some scholars maintain that the goal of power should be purely power itself. A powerful man who seeks wealth will be blamed for his corruption, as former presidents of South Korea have been. A powerful man who chases sex may face impeachment, as former President Bill Clinton did in the United States. A murder for murder, a war for war, a death penalty for death penalty; that's the purity of power. With this logic, and with the death penalty the original aim, it becomes a secondary issue to clarify if the death-row convict is the true culprit or not. Even European countries that abolished capital punishment in their legal system will, I think, surely reinstate the penalty if terrorists attack them with suicidal airplanes and anthrax spores, as happened in the United States.
The current campaign to repeal the death penalty will then be in vain, I suppose. We are living in a land where a hostile North Korean regime is in existence. China executes Korean criminals without hesitation. Korean society can be thrown into turmoil at any time. We have a government that is traditionally fond of Hobbesian utilitarianism. It is foolish to expect that men of power in the legislature, judiciary and administrative branches will abolish the death penalty, their power base.
We must remember that we are mortal, our memento mori. We must keep working to oppose any kind of murder by individuals, groups or states. If we do that, we will, in the long run, find that the will for power can evolve into a love for human lives.
The writer is the editor of Millennium-Emerge, a monthly magazine.
by Kang Wee-seuk