[Buddha-l] Ethical Dilemmas

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sun Jun 13 07:00:30 MDT 2010

> I  was aiming at all the Western judicial systems I am aware of, but the 
> US do
> still have the particularity of the death penalty.

Since death would have been the linchpin in the analogy, and was included in 
your (non-)description, I assumed that was your primary target. Thanks for 
the clarification.

I was trying to point out that an alternate view might be this, from a 
Pakistani source:


>Any system that isn't
> infallible itself, doesn't have the right to impose punishment that is
> definite and can't be made undone. It thereby makes itself into an
> illegitimate judicial system as far as I am concerned.

I am not for the death penalty. Only a handful of the 50 states have the 
death penalty, and among them only a few actively use it (Texas, Florida, 
etc.). States like California have it on the books but have suspended it 
practice. New York banned it for many years, and then brought it back. 
Absolutists on both sides of the debate prevent a fully rational discussion 
from taking place.

>   (Note
> Putin's defying sitting posture).
> "Il faut d'abord balayer devant sa porte" he seems to say to the French.

Yes, we also have the expression "First put your own house in order." I've 
grown tired of this sort of fingerpointing and exploitation of hypocrisies, 
since it often comes from those more guilty than the ones they accuse, and 
are designed as diversionary tactics. (though Richard applauds the 
Ahmadinejads and Chavezes of the world as long as they trash the US).

> I have worked for years as court translator and have seen the French
> judicial system and prisons from within. You can't imagine the gaps 
> between
> theory and practice. Sacrifice is a word that will spontaneously spring to
> mind at one point or another. Again I am not saying this out of some sort 
> of
> righteousness. I don't know the US judicial system from within, so I take
> you on your word when you say this is NOT the ethos, both in theory and
> practice.

And I take your word for the condition of the French judiciary. The gap 
between the ideal and the practice in the US can sometimes be quite wide as 
well. Lenny Bruce, who had his own misfortunes with the system, once noted 
that "In the halls of justice the only justice is in the halls."

One can't fairly judge a system run by humans on a standard of 
infallibility, but one can judge it by the seriousness of the effort it 
makes to prevent and redress misuses. it could always be better...

>Sarkozy has also adopted the
> American system of the possibility to plead guilty, offering more clemency
> in exchange for less hassle. Does a guilty plea *prove*
> anything?

Does a decision reached by a judge or jury "prove" anything? They make it 
official, supposedly by following specified standards of evidence and proof, 
but they make mistakes. The plea bargain -- as it's called -- is designed as 
an expeditor, and has come to have many uses. Both sides -- prosecution and 
defense -- have to agree to it, so at least in principle it should provide 
opportunity for some equity (whereas a trial might not, since the state may 
have more resources to pursue a conviction than a defendent would have to 
mount a defense, though in cases of celebrity defenses, or the wealthy, the 
balance often tips the other way). Prosecutors fearing they might not get a 
conviction for a stronger charge, may offer the defendent a deal for 
admitting to a lesser charge, with a lesser sentence, etc. Smart defense 
lawyers can use pleas to get good deals for their clients. And, yes, people 
innocent of the crime for which they are being accused may plead guilty to 
get a smaller sentence when it looks like trying to prove their innocence 
may be hopeless. And incompetent lawyers can get their clients bad pleas, 
etc. In the end, the main thing it seems to do is move cases more quickly 
through the system, since preparation for trial and trials and appeals, etc. 
can drag out for years and cost both the defendent and the state huge sums 
of money. It's cheaper and faster to plea. Like most things, it's something 
that can be useful or abused.

Incidentally, as a book review I commissioned of Jerryson's _Buddhist 
Warfare_ -- to appear soon on H-Buddhism -- will point out, Buddhism has 
condoned the death penalty since its inception in all Buddhist countries.


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