23 May 2007

What's the Point of Vengeance?

Two cases.

First case: A man in a heated argument with his girlfriend kills her and escapes to another country. Twenty years later he is finally apprehended, tried for murder (in a jurisdiction which recognizes capital punishment), and executed.

Now consider his punishment. It accomplishes nothing. The evil was done in the past. The punishment only adds evil to evil already done. Even apart from any objections we might have to capital punishment, we might find it difficult to approve of, or justify, his punishment. It can easily seem pointless, a mere exercise in vengeance.

Second case, taken from Monday's news:

A man trying to kill his girlfriend by stopping a car in front of an approaching train was himself killed Monday when the train hit the vehicle and launched it into him as he tried to flee, police said.

The girlfriend survived.

The man drove the car in front of a group of other vehicles stopped at a railroad crossing in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Sunland, Officer Mike Lopez said.

The driver, who was seen arguing with his girlfriend, parked the car on the tracks and jumped out, leaving her behind, Lopez said.

A northbound commuter train hit the rear of the car, hurling it into the man. The girlfriend was taken to the hospital, where she was in stable condition, Lopez said.

"She gets hit by a train and lives. He gets hit by his own car and he dies," Lopez said.

Now consider what happened to the man (not the woman's miraculous survival). It accomplished nothing. His evil act (of abandoning his girlfriend on the tracks) was in the past. His death only added evil to evil already done. --Yet, I think, we would find it difficult not to approve of and find justifications for his fate.