WTM FAQ 1.32  What are your views on the death penalty? / Was the killing of people in war ever justified?


Jeremy Griffith’s responses:


What are your views on the death penalty?

Whilst we weren’t able to understand the human condition, society obviously had to develop deterrents to prevent the excessively destructive behaviour our condition increasingly produced, with the death penalty being the extreme deterrent. Ideally society would be sufficiently well structured to not have to employ such measures as the death penalty, but in the absence of that structure it was deemed necessary. To look at the extreme situation, back in the dark ages when there was virtually no civility and much brutal upset behaviour, extreme deterrents for such behaviour like the death penalty had to be employed. So it’s all about how well structured a society was able to be, with the ultimate structure being the compassionate and ameliorating understanding of the human condition, which we now have. So the sooner this psychosis-healing and all-relieving understanding becomes widely appreciated, the better.


Was the killing of people in war ever justified?

Again without the reconciling understanding of the human condition there was a limit to how much destructive behaviour a community could tolerate before it had to defend itself. Ideally there would be no conflict between humans but the whole point of Jeremy Griffith’s explanation of the human condition is that it explains the biological reason for human conflict and suffering. There was a reason for all the seeming madness of human behaviour. To quote from paragraph 1132 of FREEDOM where Jeremy includes the following statement by the philosopher Sir Laurens van der Post, ‘I hope a war is not declared by anybody in the modern world because I don’t see the real necessity for war, but I would like to say that I think it would be immoralit would be obscenenot to be ready at any moment to defend ourselves…​If somebody should impose war upon us, attack us, I hope that we should have the will and the power and the moral courage to realise that life, freedom, are gifts from God and creation and our duty to defend. There’s a wonderful episode in the life of Buddha where a group of villagers in the Himalayas did not defend themselves against a band of brigands who attacked and killed many of them, and he rebuked them because he said that was not what his teaching was about, that was not reverence for life of which he was speaking…it is a moral duty for us all to be ready to defend ourselves and our freedoms’ (presentation by Laurens van der Post at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 9 Dec. 1982; see www.wtmsources.com/163).

You might also like to read our Freedom Essay 29, which explains how understanding the human condition solves all our and the world’s problems, bringing an end to human conflict.