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The latest debates and debacles reveal a schizophrenic attitude toward the death penalty in general. On the one hand, the majority is for the death penalty, falsely convincing itself that it works as a deterrent and that the condemned "deserve" it. That works out psychologically to implementing the death penalty as revenge. But we as a society are not willing to state it so bluntly.

On the other hand, we are squeamish about the brutality and so have moved to the lethal injection fantasy as if it were as painless as putting down a pet. But the medical community is unwilling to play along with that self delusion.

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The United States is the only society that has moved massively to lethal injection as a means of carrying out capital punishment. That is the result of severe ambivalence toward it. For all the chest-thumping calls for (Texas-like) quick and frequent application of the death penalty, which should not shy from forms like hanging or the recent judicially recommended firing squad, almost all states that have the death penalty now prescribe lethal injection.

This is primarily to try to give the act of killing someone an air of sanitary serenity, like putting a beloved puppy "to sleep." It is, however, really psychologically in opposition to the above mentioned bravado which calls for death even though actual data that it is not a deterrent and that other societies have less violent crime without it are simply ignored in the lust for revenge. Even Texas uses injection and now we are discovering that this supposedly merciful method is resulting in equally gruesome results.

Another sign of society's reluctance is the number of actual executions that take place as opposed to death sentences given. No more is this more apparent that California, whose death penalty was recently declared unconstitutional due to the infrequency and randomness of actual executions, which take place an average of 25 years after sentencing if at all. Such cumbersome bureaucracy is a symptom of our ambivalence as a society--admit it or not--that we are uncomfortable with the death penalty to the point of self-deception.

This will not be solved by resorting back to some more "direct and honest" method, but rather by our facing as a country our true feeling about inflicting this punishment on anyone, no matter how "deserved" it may appear.

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