Frankly, however, on an emotional level, I will never understand the death penalty. I can, in some ways, understand killing as an act of vengeance, an act of passion, but I just don't get it as a matter of rationality or dispassionate justice. I certainly can't see it as an act of civilization.I said...
Perhaps capital punishment is an act of survival by the society? It is a civilized action if you consider the society to be civilized. A killer (or other form of "bad" person") is deemed to be a danger to the society as a whole. They've got a societal screw loose, and they will kill (or harm in general) the society if left free to roam. The level of harm is determined by the society as a whole. The society also gets to decide how the best remove the harmful element from it's midst. Two alternatives are life imprisonment and execution. The former is expensive and a burden to the society if the definition of "harmful" is too broad. The latter is permanent, at the risk of executing an innocent person.
Societal survival removes the true concept of punishment. People have very wide views on what proper punishment is. The views are informed by life experience and (continued) exposure to the harm represented by the harmful element. IMO there is very little rationality when punishment is discussed. For rape, some people say, "cut it off!". For sexual abuse, some people say, "throw away the key!". Meanwhile, the white-collar criminal, bankrupting thousands of people, is given a short and cushy punishment. Why these differences? I believe it gets back to the society protecting itself. It may not be "fair" to make a eunuch of the rapist, but it would keep them from performing the act again. It may not be fair to lock away a child predator forever, but it would remove the danger from society’s offspring. The danger these two types present is the very immediate to the human psyche. We don't ask the repeat bank robber to have their private parts removed, or thrown in a dank hole forever? Their crime of robbing Federally insured money does not activate our primal fears. Is it fair? Perhaps not, but then again, in the end the survival of a society seems to have little to do with rationality or dispassionate justice.
(as a side note, consider wars, removal of human rights, abuse of freedom, and so on. All stem from a society protecting itself. None of these can be very rational)