Commentary - #12 March 13, 2005

Two Variations on the Theme of Life

1) The Death Penalty

Well, the Supreme Court finally passed down a welcome, long-overdue decision on whether teens can be executed. The answer is ?no? if you?re under the age of 18; otherwise, yes. Contrary to logic, the decision indicates that it?s possible to reach the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. Press treatments indicated that custom and international law figured in the decision. Conservatives properly criticized the latter. No one mentioned, however, what, in my judgment, is the most important factor favoring the decision: research on the development of the teenage brain. The results are unmistakable: the brain is still developing throughout the teen years. The lack of its completed development opens to very serious question the ability of youth to distinguish right from wrong.

Most conservatives would also question reliance upon scientific findings to make decisions that, according to their view, are to be based strictly upon the Constitution. This view is wrong for two reasons:

  • Most of our nation?s founders, as followers of the Enlightenment, were scientists, familiar with science or respecters of science ? Franklin and Jefferson, for example.
  • The founders could not have anticipated the great scientific discoveries that followed them; yet, given their knowledge and respect of science, it is reasonable to assume that they would have wanted scientific knowledge to figure in judicial as well as other decisions affecting the American Republic.

The founders were way ahead of their time in many ways. They realized, as leaders of other nations at the time did not, that science and technology is a prime driver of progress and national well being. This understanding is exemplified by their establishment of the U.S. Patent Office, an innovation unmatched by other countries for decades.

Eventually, the deeper and broader understanding of the nature of human life that is emerging from science will need to be introduced into cases challenging the death penalty so that it is eliminated altogether. The moral challenge has proven to be insufficient, even though ancient admonitions such as ?Thou shalt not kill? and ?There but for the grace of God go I? argue against putting someone to death.

2) Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The specter of terrorists possessing WMD provided the most important argument for our invasion of Iraq. It is still a frightening prospect, as illustrated by a picture showing a mushroom cloud over Manhattan in the Jan.-Feb. Atlantic Monthly (page 81). In an excellent article on the issue entitled ?Success Without Victory,? James Fallows shows how:

  • The prime danger is that of nuclear weapons (?nukes?) being developed and/or acquired by terrorists.
  • The ?frightening prospect? will be with us for many years to come but we need to take action to reduce the prospect, not hand terrorists a victory by giving ourselves over to fear.
  • We are wasting or misusing billions being spent on ?Homeland Security.? In particular, the amounts being allocated for control of nuclear arms and nuclear materials are very small parts of the total, out of all proportion to the grave danger they represent.

Write Members of Congress on this issue. Try to get them to focus on what is most crucial for our future security ? the danger that nukes could fall into terrorist hands. This is much more important than their efforts to make sure that their Congressional Districts get fair shares of Homeland Security ?pork.?

Your views? Peter Bearse, 3/13/05

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