Trigger warning: discussion of rape, rape culture, ableism

“He killed someone. In my opinion he shouldn’t have any rights.”

“When she decided to take a life, she decided to give up her rights.”

I see this attitude a lot. A lot more in pagandom than I’d like to, frankly. I guess people don’t realize how many things are so incredibly problematic with that idea.

For one, you can’t shade it. The idea that committing a crime causes someone to forfeit their human rights requires black and white thinking.

But the people who say this don’t want to admit that, oh no. If you question them on their position — “Do you think the same way about someone who robs a bank?” — they’ll evade, hem and haw. “Well it’s not that simple; nothing’s black and white; it’s a situational thing.”

Yet every time someone gets killed, you see this same attitude get trotted out by the same people.

Because all deaths are exactly the same. Because murderers don’t need help. They’re just evil. Or mentally ill, and obviously mentally ill people shouldn’t have rights. Like you, Morag. You shouldn’t have rights.

Do you see this slippery slope we’re on?

That’s not all, though. There’s more wrong with this picture.

“When she decided to take a life, she decided to give up her rights.”

Oh, so she’s no longer entitled to a fair trial, in a court of law, by a jury of her peers? She’s no longer entitled to due process

Well that makes things simple. Just throw her in the electrical chair! Don’t have to pay to feed and clothe her or rehabilitate her. We’ll just kill her, so people know that killing people is wrong, and you get punished for it.

Of course, this is what people are getting at when they say criminals have given up their rights. They are saying that murderers should not go to jail, because it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. They’re saying we should just kill these people.

Still want to tell me it’s not black and white thinking?

But wait. There’s more.  What most people who spout this idea don’t realize is that when you say someone doesn’t have any rights anymore, you are saying they don’t have any rights anymore. 

Aside from right to live or right to due process, what other rights might be gone now? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

How about the right to bodily autonomy?

No? Murderers shouldn’t have bodily autonomy? So they shouldn’t be able to decide whether or not to have sexual intercourse with someone? They should be raped?

That is what you’re saying, oh high-minded so-not-black-and-white freethinking pagans. You are saying that there are people who deserve to be raped.

And when you say that, you are supporting rape culture.

No one deserves to have their rights taken away. No one. I don’t care if they killed one person or a hundred; I don’t even care if they killed an animal (and believe me, I have some very creative punishments in mind for those people). They still have rights, because they’re still human beings.

And a lot of them need our help.

From a spiritual perspective, this sort of black and white thinking seems profane to me. I belong to Morrigan, and She hates lazy thinking. She cuts away what doesn’t belong, and lazy thinking is pretty high up on the list.

As a person on a warrior path, I must always be ready to seek the right answer. I must be ready to engage in battle when it is right, and to know when to retreat when I am beaten. If I give in to lazy thinking, I am already beaten. Black-and-white morality weakens true conviction, because it is weak.

There’s more to it, too. I must be willing to face monsters, and furthermore — to embrace them as part of me.

The truth is that murderers and rapists and criminals are not monsters. They’re human. They may do monstrous things, but — as the word monster comes from the Latin monstro, to show — this only serves to show us what all humans are capable of. Yet we make them monsters; we lock them away; we deny them their humanity.

Is it any wonder there is so little rehabilitation in our punitive “justice” system?

Every person has within them the capability to murder. The capability to rape, to abuse, to violate and destroy. This is part of humanity. This is how and why we’ve created a culture that glorifies so many of these behaviours, while at the same time vilifying those who do these things. This is how and why so much of our history is strewn with bodies.

If we’re going to declare murder and rape and abuse as wrong — which they are, if you believe that each person has the right to themselves — then we need to be more flexible when we judge those who perpetrate these crimes on their fellow humans.

Because they are a part of our human family. They share the same DNA we do — 99.9%.

How can we take away their humanity and keep our own? 

We can’t.

This isn’t easy. There are hard questions here. Questions such as “What do we do with murderers, rapists, then? If not jail, if not the death penalty, then what?”

I don’t think there’s any one answer, but I think a tremendous start would be to change our entire justice system. Instead of basing it on punitive measures, let’s focus on rehabilitation. We can look towards other countries for ideas — Norway is a thought — and plenty of cultures have systems that deal with crime in a manner that doesn’t dehumanize criminals. Indigenous Hawaiian culture has Ho’oponopono, which many modern-day lawyers in Hawaii have taken to adopting parts of in their practice. As well, until the governor started sending criminals to big jails out of state, Hawaii had a very high rehabilitation rate.

In the end, separating ourselves from fellow humans because they did something wrong doesn’t make us any better at being human; it doesn’t make us closer to the gods; it doesn’t solve the problems of murder, rape, and abuse that still plague us.

It just supports a system that will continue to churn out more people who do these things. Obviously what we have now isn’t working. What can we do to change it?