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:
ought to be valued above punishment in the U.S. criminal
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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