70 Execution. – How is it that every execution offends us more than a murder? It is the coldness of the judges, the scrupulous preparation, the insight that here a human being is being used as a means of deterring others. For it is not the guilt that is being punished, even when it exists: this lies in educators, parents, environment, in Is, not in the murderer – I mean the circumstances that caused him to become one.
This is an aphorism from Friedrich Nietzsche from his book Human all too human. I agree with him, executing someone is wrong, I see it like playing god, or pretending to know what we are and judge others according to your believe. As far as I know we are all clueless on why we are here. If you accept that than it should be obvious that you cannot decide to remove someone from this life. I know that the people that are condemned to be executed have often taken lives and should be restrained from doing that again, but it speaks for a society that condemns executions, that they admit that we are all in it together and that life is secret. Most countries that still have a death penalty are religious or have a strong ideological government like in China. These countries follow strict written rules that define the world like the rules you find in the bible or Koran or within a rigid ideology like communism. For people that follow these rules (maybe because their society tells them to) it’s much easier to ignore their guilty conscious and point at the specific chapter in their rule-books for confirmation, they can hide behind there believe without taking personal responsibility for their moral choices. Having a believe on a personal level might not be a choice, but a society can steer away from archaic believe systems.
But more important than Nietzsche opposition to the death penalty is his questioning of a personal responsibility for our actions. That is of course a topic he writes about in many places and this aphorism is just a little prick, to let the reader no what is important to him. Simply set: do we have an independent soul that is responsible for our actions or are we just a complicated machine that gives different outcomes depending on what you put in to it. Is the character you have at birth, your upbringing, environment, schooling, and other experiences define you in such a way that you don’t have much of a choice in what you become?
You can come up with all kinds of scenarios where people get chances or not, are born at the wrong time, at the wrong place, you can make it as complicated as you want but my best guess is that there is only a small part of you that is so unique (because of all the specific circumstances in your life) that you can call it you. But this you is like a person on a rudderless oil tanker drifting at sea and the only thing you can steer this 300ft ship with is an paddle.