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Topic Overview
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TOPIC OVERVIEW

 

The Life of David Gale, a recently released movie that did not live up to its publicity, is one of the latest in a string of anti death penalty/life imprisonment movies.  If you do not want to have the ending revealed to you then I suggest that you skip this next opening paragraph. 

 

Through second-hand knowledge I learned that the final plot twist of the movie is when death row inmate, David Gale, reveals to the get the story at all costs reporter, Kate Winslet, the rape and murder he was convicted for was staged so that he would be sent to the electric chair and become a martyr of the death penalty system.  You see, the character David Gale is an outspoken opponent to the death penalty system and would feel that the strongest way to get his message across is to sacrifice himself for the cause.

 

The raging debate concerning the death penalty is part of a larger, broader discussion about the purpose and methods of the United States criminal justice system.  A discussion that all Lincoln-Douglas high school debaters are invited to participate in with the recently revealed 2003 Nationals topic:

 

Resolved: Rehabilitation ought to be valued above punishment in the U.S. criminal justice system.

 

The position that The Life of David Gale takes on the death penalty is not a unique one in the realm of cinema.  The much more popular The Green Mile also points to the possibility of executing innocent people as well as the inhumane nature of execution on even those that are guilty.  The Shawshank Redemption contextualizes the term institutionalization in reference to incarceration to mean a prisoner who has been locked up so long that they could not function in society if they were let out.

 

With this trend in American movies, it would be easy to assume that the affirmative would have the easier position to defend on this topic.  But it was not long ago that the emotions of the movie industry sided with the negative.

 

The award-winning movie One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest dramatized the ills that happen in so-called psychiatric hospitals aimed at rehabilitating criminals.  These methods of rehabilitation included overwhelming medication and electroshock therapy.  With these methods, it was not uncommon to cause a patient to become catatonic, or what some people call a vegetable.  Furthermore, even if this intense physiological harms did not happen to a patient, there was no guarantee that a patient would ever be set free because there was no standard to determine mental health.  In short, psychiatric treatment for criminals was considered a life sentence.

 

These arguments are implicitly echoed in another movie released at relatively the same time: A Clockwork Orange.  The psychiatric treatments were equally intense with the goal of removing all criminal motivation; otherwise known as brainwashing.  The treatment achieved its goals.  The criminal would mentally break down if he tried to commit a crime, but this resulted in a living hell once he was released.  The treatment caused the patient to be unwilling to defend himself if he were being assaulted.  I short; he could no longer function in society on any level, even as a criminal.

 

The changing sentiment within the community of movie producers does not mean, in any way, that either side has the easier position to defend.  Recent writings in philosophy, psychology, and law mean that there are enough arguments out in the world of academia that building cases to support either the affirmative or the negative position.

 

The purpose of this overview is to lead debaters in the direction of building a case.  Whether it be through discussing what the values, criteria or definitions should be, or shelling out case areas, or just listing some books that may assist in the construction process, this overview aims to be the launching pad that debater will use to explore some or all of the arguments in depth.

 

Post this overview; there will be one case with several argument extensions for the affirmative as well as the negative.  These cases are just a scratch at the surface of specific writings that support or oppose the resolution.  You are welcome to incorporate these arguments into a case that will be used in an actual round, but, chances are, there are even better sources of evidence that could be seamlessly incorporated into a case that will make the overall performance tighter and more difficult to respond to.  Let this be a guide, not a bible.

 

VALUES

 

It has become the norm in Lincoln Douglas to establish a value that one or both debaters attempt to rhetorically capture through their arguments.  This value is something that the debater considers inherently good.  As long as there is more of whatever this value is the world will be a better place.  Any of the following would be a good value, but there are many others that are not mentioned in this book.  To evaluate what a value is, simply put the word or phase that you are considering in place of x in the sentence X is good.  If most people would respond to your value in this sentence with a well duh, it is most likely a value that could be used within a round.

 

JUSTICE: The idea of justice, one the whole, is one that revolves around fairness.  How does a person, or a society, right a wrong?  Or, more accurately, how would they make something more right after it already achieved wrongness.  If this seems obscureit is.  The idea of justice, at least in my opinion, doesnt even have areas of black and white; its just a great big grey blob.  There are some terms that could clarify what this value is supposed to mean.  Consider these subcategories of justice.

 

PROCEDURAL JUSTICE: This principle is based on the theory that a decision is just if the process of making that decision was just. Simply put, the rules should apply equally to all people.  Similar crimes should have similar consequences.  At first glance, this value could benefit the punishment side of the debate.  It would be unfair for someone to go through three moths of rehabilitation and be set free if it took another person three years to be considered rehabilitated for committing the same crime. 

 

Yet, the rehabilitation side has some teeth as well.  Specifically considering the death penalty, an obvious for of punishment with no rehabilitative characteristics.  There have been several cases where DNA evidence set free a person on death row.  Consider the possibility that some of the people already executed may have been innocent.  It is kind of hard to file an appeal when you are dead. 

 

DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE: As opposed to procedural justice distributive justice says that if everyone gets what they need or deserve then an outcome is just. Distributive justice focuses on just outcomes while procedural justice talks about just process.  It is an almost biblical eye for an eye mentality.  It is safe to say that this value would be much more favorable to the punishment position than the rehab position.  If someone kills another, they deserve an equal punishment in response.  Therefore, the death penalty is just.

 

SOCIETAL WELFARE or COMMUNITY: These values, on the other hand, seem to be much more evenly sided than the ones above.  These values consider the peace of the local environment to be most important.  This would make sense considering the societal nature of most human beings.  People seem to congregate around other people, rely on other people, and, inevitably, fight with other people.  One of the drawbacks to being so social it that disagreements arise and stability is jeopardized.  Since so many people are part of a community, it is their duty to maintain the cohesion of that community.  Not just for their benefit, but the benefit of all. 

 

The debate would revolve around the issue of whether rehabilitation would produce a better community.  The reason this differs from justice is that the issue under this value is which method is more effective, as opposed to which reaction is most appropriate.  What this means is that each debater will have to discuss what happens to a community when rehab is instituted versus when punishment is instituted.  Whichever one produces the better community (in the confines of the round) should theoretically win.

 

LIFE: Ah, the staple value in the world of LD.  This value is fairly simple to understand.  Life is good.  Whoever shows that there side of the resolution preserves it best wins.  This value has an obvious, initial leaning toward the side of rehabilitation.  The whole notion of rehabilitation is to instill to appropriate means for a person to reenter a society.  I think it is pretty safe to assume that being dead would make it difficult to reenter society, so rehabilitation looks to at least preserve life, and at most improve it.  Punishment, on the other hand, allows for retributive acts such as execution.  Not all punishment leads to death, but some of it does.  When comparing the two, the possibility of advocating the punishment of death is enough to vote against in contrast to the impossibility of advocating death as a form of rehabilitation (which just makes no sense).

 

QUALITY OF LIFE: Ah, the staple response to the inherent value of LIFE.  In the simplest way, life is not worth living if one is miserable the entire time.  People risk their lives on a daily basis in order to improve the environment they live in; whether it is joining the army, staging protests, or eating fast food.  This still seems to favor the side of rehabilitation.  It might, therefore, be strategic to lay out the value of life expecting the counter-value of quality of life.  If your opponent bites, then just claim that rehabilitation improves the quality of life for the criminal as well as the rest of society.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS: Yet another affirmative biased value.  It is often cited that the United States is the last industrialized nation that still has the death penalty.  Many international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have proclaimed the death penalty to be an inherent violation of human rights.  Rehabilitation could easily be considered an alternative to this type of punishment.  Just remember to have evidence specifically claiming that the death penalty is a violation of human rights.

 

AUTONOMY: I saved this one for last because it always intrigues me as a value.  Autonomy is an easy concept to understand, but if you ask me, nearly impossible to articulate what it looks like in action.  Autonomy, of course, is the ability to make and act on decisions that were freely formed by an individual without using coercion.  The difficulty is determining when this actually happens in the real world.  When does social influence become coercion?

 

All of that aside, the debate might look something like this: the affirmative sets up the value of autonomy claiming that the criminal motivations were either caused by socioeconomic pressures, or mental deficiency.  Using the method of rehabilitation would attempt to remove the shackles of these hindrances and all the treated individual to freely make decisions once released back into society.  The opposition may then argue that these so-called methods of rehabilitation are only terms that mask the true brainwashing nature of psychology.  The only fair way to maintain autonomy is to make clear the consequences of inappropriate social interaction.  If those societal norms are violated, then we should assume that the violator freely made the choice to commit to such an action.  If we are going to truly believe that autonomy is something to be valued, we should treat people as autonomous agents.

 

               


CRITERIA

 

A criterion (the singular of criteria) is a mechanism to determine when one has achieved their value.  Case in point: if both sides agreed that LIFE is the value being debated for, then the obvious criterion would be to count up the number of lives rhetorically saved throughout the debate and whoever has the most live bodies wins.  In this case, the debater is comparing which side is more advantageous in saving lives.  Which is probably why many refer to this criterion as COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES.  Consider this the first possible criterion.  It is a nice one because it merely asks the judge to determine advantages base solely on the two debaters and not some arbitrary standard outside the round.

 

UTILITARIANISM: Much like comparative advantages, this criterion asks the judge to determine if the case positively affects as many people as possible.  The similarity to COMPARATIVE ADGANTAGE is the quantitative perspective it takes of the value.  The difference is that the debater must argue that the case in question positively affects the majority of the population mentioned in the case, not merely more people than the opponent can claim to affect.  This criterion could be used with any of the values, but works particularly well with LIFE and QUALITY OF LIFE. 

 

CONSTITUTIONALISM: The judges should ask themselves, which better upholds the constitution, rehabilitation or punishment. This would be a good criterion for a debate where the value is JUSTICE, and especially PROCEDURAL JUSTICE.  As long as the constitution has not been violated, then justice is upheld.  This places the judge in the paradigm of a Supreme Court judge.  This also means that the debater should have a solid background in constitutional knowledge.

 

More specifically, this resolution has components that are within the constitution such as the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  While this term is ill defined and changes meaning with our growing society, it only means that there is a debate to be had as to what is cruel and unusual.  Arguing that the death penalty is cruel and unusual in-and-of-itself is one way to argue.  Arguing that life in prison is comparatively worse than death is another way to illustrate what is cruel an unusual.

 

DEONTOLOGY: This criterion asks the critic, when presented with two options, rehabilitation and punishment, for which one would they have a moral obligation to vote?  This criterion also asks the critic to not consider the specific, unforeseeable negative outcomes in exchange for the moral principle being advocated.  The reason for this is that the future is always uncertain and it would be impossible to determine all of the infinite possibilities that could occur.  Once again, any form of JUSTICE would fit well as a value, but so would AUTONOMY.

 

Unfortunately, this as a criterion is that it is unclear as to what is and is not moral.  Many people have attempted to clarify what universal morality is, and perhaps the most famous deontologist would be Immanuel Kant.  His formulation of the categorical imperative is an attempt to clarify universal moral standards is a mechanism that would solidify ones position.

 

PRAGMATISM: Nearly the opposite of deontology, this criterion asks the critic to judge to decide which solves the problems in a way, which suits the present conditions rather then obeying fixed rules or theories. So is it pragmatic to use rehabilitation or punishment?  The outcome of an action is specifically what will be weighed in order determine the value of those actions.  This criterion is, in its simplest form, the ends justifying the means.  The ends in this case would be whatever value you set up at top, and the means would be your evidence and case.  Pretty much any value could work with this criterion

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