Speaking of the death penalty, our Justin Smith in Counterpunch:
The French historian Robert Muchembled has chronicled the changing attitudes towards execution in Europe from the 15th to the 18th centuries. In certain times and places, we may discern a desire for exacting vengeance on the condemned in the cruelest and most painful way possible. At other moments, the criminal is accompanied to his death by throngs of weeping nuns, who sprinkle him with holy water, and whisper to him reassuringly of God’s love and of the promise of redemption, and who ensure that death arrives both swiftly and gently. Yet the more compassion is showered on the condemned, the more his death takes on the character of a human sacrifice: the pagan Greeks wept too as they led bulls to the altar, though they refrained from offering fellow humans for the appeasement of their gods. One may be touched by the nuns’ compassion, yet wouldn’t true compassion require simply canceling the whole affair? You can sprinkle a man’s path to the injection table with rose petals, but he will hate it just as much as a gauntlet of jeers. The problem with execution is the death that results from it, not the etiquette of those who carry it out.
It can only be concluded that the logic governing the periodic changes since the 18th century, from one method of execution to another, is rooted not in science, nor in moral progress, but in fashion. What dictates hanging this season, and lethal injection the next, is the same illusion of real change that makes the style-conscious now disdainful of bellbottoms, now covetous of them. We do not like to think of our moral standards as comparable to sartorial whims.