Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2007: Full-Colour Black and White

Well hello there! How've you been? How's your year starting out?

Chances are, if you're reading this, it's going better than his--er, so far at least.

I hate to start off with talk of executions, but this,'s hard to ignore. I didn't watch the cell-phone coverage. I refuse to watch things that I know I won't be able to un-see once I've viewed them. I've made that mistake before. But judging from the fallout, it was an awful scene.

It's funny how this event pulls one in so many moral directions. On the one hand, the man was a known mass-murderer, found guilty of the crime of mass murder, and sent to his fate and punishment by people representative of the murdered masses. On the other hand, capital punishment is flat-out bizarre. To sit there, in full foreknowledge of the time and location of someone's death, and watch it unfold: it's like having access to Hell's Time Machine. We're not meant to have foreknowledge of death. It's unnatural.

On yet a third hand, there's the inner tug-of-war over the whole taunting-on-the-gallows aspect of this story. I'll sidestep the messy ethical debate about whether someone who has done what he has done deserves a dignified death and observe that in a way, watching the cell-phone video must be like having a portal into our own Western past, say about 300 years ago when public hangings were all the rage. Our ancestors stood in front of gallows, thinking murderous thoughts or possibly even hurtling their own taunts at the walking dead. This thought makes it exceptionally hard to pass judgement. But for the grace of God, cliche, cliche...

And then there's the fourth hand: the entertainment aspect. The rope, the neck, the taunts, the laughter, all available for graphic full-colour online viewing...

Makes me wonder, is the Internet a civilizing force or a regressive one or both or neither? I guess it depends on whether this thing (the Internet, in case you're still a little murky from all that holiday drinking) that is quickly becoming a kind of pan-human Group Mind is conscious and self-aware, or unconscious and amoral like the trees or the ocean or the weather. Or is it unconscious now, with the potential to become conscious later?

When I hear stories like this, part of me sure hopes so.

Ah, life. In the end, maybe it all goes back to free will. Maybe we have it, maybe we don't. One day the world's a modern place, the next day we're a bunch of rubberneckers gathered round the computer to watch a man be taunted on the gallows. Well, at least it's never boring.

Maybe 2007 will be the year that it all finally makes sense.



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