The Value of a Life

I just started watching Black Mirror with my fiance. This evening, we watched the White Bear episode- spoilers ahead for this episode if you have not seen it yet and are planning to.

During the episode, you watch a young woman run and fight for her life as the world, it seems, has gone crazy. Some people are chasing her and trying to kill her. Others- the vast majority of them-  are chasing after them to catch all of this on their phone cameras. It’s really quite disturbing- especially when you see people filming others’ deaths.

At the end of the episode, you find out that it’s all a show. This woman was convicted of abducting and murdering a child with her fiance- and filming it as she did so. Apparently, as a part of her punishment, an entire facility was created where people can come and film the scene of this woman fighting for her life. At the end of the night, the person in charge takes the woman back to her room and forces her to watch the video where she murders the child as they erase her memory of the day so they can start again the next day.

It is an extremely disturbing episode. They make you sympathize with the main character- a child murderer. That feeling itself is extremely uncomfortable. To me, there is an ethical line you cannot cross, no matter how awful a person someone is and no matter how much you think they might deserve it. Torturing a person for entertainment day after day is always unacceptable, no matter their crime.

Relatedly, this made me think of the justice system and capital punishment. For a long time, I didn’t know how I felt about capital punishment. In general, think I often come across as somewhat of a cynic and a Utilitarian- finding the best outcome for the least amount. But at heart, I really am a Kantian. I believe that the value of a human life is infinite. You cannot put a price on it. If someone has murdered another person, this is an absolutely despicable crime. But ending that person’s life in return is also unacceptable.

I, therefore, don’t believe in capital punishment. Besides the fact that our justice system is extremely biased, racist, and broken in a lot of ways, I still don’t believe the appropriate action is to end another life.

Truly, I believe the best in people. I believe in their potential. I see their best possible outcomes and strive to encourage and inspire them to work towards those outcomes. Even the “worst” people, even prisoners have value.

I believe in rehabilitation rather than revenge. We can’t save everyone, but we can do a lot better for a lot more people if we didn’t throw them into a cell. I was recently introduced to Norway’s prison system and think we could serve people so much better if we aimed to rehabilitate them.

If all of us cared a little more about others and a little less about ourselves, we could truly change the world.

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