Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vengeful Instinct

A couple of nights ago, I had an interesting dinner-time conversation with Mia on the topic of capital punishment. It all started with the case of the guy who murdered the girl—I think it happened in Menggatal (yes, to the West Malaysian friends, that is really a name of a place here in Sabah). Well, Mia said that the fellow has been found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

At first I merely said, "Well, if he really did it, I suppose he deserves the punishment lah."

Then we talked about other forms of capital punishments, i.e. the lethal injection, electricution, poison gas chamber etc. Well, I'm not trained in the legal profession, and I know hardly anything about these punishments. But if I'm not wrong, many of them have been abolished. In fact, I don't know if they have ever been used here in Malaysia.

Now, when a criminal has been found guilty and is given the death penalty, does it make any difference how he is executed? Whether he dies of the hangman's noose or the lethal injection or the firing squad, in the end the objective is to execute him. The point is he ends up dead anyway. The end result is the same, but the methods adopted leading to that end are different in a few ways. Does it not make sense that we keep things simple and give the criminal, say, sleeping pills in large doses so that he will peacefully fall into deep slumber and die without actually suffering a lot of pain?

But our punishment system is not like that at all. It seems that we want the criminal to suffer first before he dies. I think the most striking factor is the pain that the criminal has to suffer; and the duration of that pain before his death. It is in this sense that I feel we are playing God to a fellow human. Not only are we assuming the right to kill—albeit legally—a human, but we also decide on the manner in which he dies. We want so much for him to suffer; to experience the anxiety; the fear of death etc. And it is here that I feel we're giving rein to our vengeful instinct against those who have wronged us.

We are not willing to let the fellow off the hook so easily—we want him to pay for what he did. And paying with his life alone isn't good enough! He must suffer first! And then I suppose at the end of it all, we are happier that he suffered the torture before his death; we have satisfied our vengeful instinct.


Moon said...

I think u only think of the criminal's side. Have u ever think of the victim? The victim also dont deserve what was done to them, isnt it???

Cornelius said...


I was merely pointing out the vengeful nature of the punishment. I did not say that I disagree with it! I can just imagine that if my loved one is murdered by someone, I would probably want that someone to suffer too. Hence our vengeful instinct. We are psychologically "happier" if the murderer dies a painful death eventhough we know that that won't bring our loved ones back to life.

delurk said...

death sentence is not only to punish the wrong doer, it's to send a message (pr/ad tool) to the public not to get on the wrong side of the law.

thus the method (and the mental image) of painful death. It's meant to shock or scare would be criminals.

imagine a drug trafficking poster, instead of showing a man got hanged, now it's man lying down sleeping to his death!

Cornelius said...

Yes, delurk, I have heard of that explanation before. The nature of the punishment to send a strong message to the would-be criminal. I'm sure there are probably other justifications too.

I'm just saying that somewhere in the punishment, there is a reflection of the human vengeful instinct. In some cases the victim's family is allowed to view the execution process from a gallery. That must have something to do with some sort of satisfaction of actually seeing how the criminal dies.

And by the way, this thing about sending a strong message to the would-be criminal is also interesting. We would like to believe that the harsh nature of the punishment can be a deterrent to the criminal, but in reality, most criminals when committing the crime are always convinced they can get away with it!

Over the years, we have been increasing the severity of the punishment for, say, rape. A maximum of 20 years imprisonment and liable to whipping. And recently, I was given to understand that there is now no longer the 50-year age limit for the whipping. But rape cases appear to continue increasing anyway.

The criminal will only regret (if any) and fear the punishment after he is caught; but not before. While in the process of committing the crime (or while planning for it), he probably can't be bothered what the punishment might be. There need not be any punishment if he's not caught, what?

So yes, we're trying to instill a bit of fear in the would-be criminal. We're saying, "Look, if you commit the crime, we're going to punish you like this." But to what extent such warning actually works is not really clear.

Cornelius said...

Oops! It seems that some of my readers spend all the time visiting my blog!... hehehe. Just shortly after I posted the above comment (in response to delurk's), I received a text message from a friend to point out a small error.

Well, I'm feeling a bit embarrassed right now. Actually, it's 20 years imprisonment and liable to caning, not whipping. I'm not sure which one is more painful. Maybe I should go rape somebody to find out... HAHAHA!

Anonymous said...

Just to share with you all a bit about canning, how it is done and its effect on the person being caned.Prisoners who are elderly will escape the caning. However women who are pregnant when convicted will not be caned until they have given birth and their confinement period is over.
The cane used in Malaysia is around half an inch in diameter and around 3 feet in length. The caning is carried out by a trained prison staff who underwent years of training under an expert before he is allowed to do the canning. First the person to be caned is medically examined first by a doctor to check whether he is fit to be caned. If certified fit he is then tied to a stockade with the parts to be caned exposed (usually the buttocks).The cane is then dipped in water first before the stroke is administered.Another prison officer will be standing by to keep count of the number of stroke being given.The canning sentence is not carried in one day if the number of canning is high (say 10 strokes or more). The remaining strokes will be carried on another day. I was told that the marks made by the canning is permanent and will always remain on the person's buttocks.So before anyone think of going out and rape somebody, think of the consequence including the pain and stigma of being caned. I learnt all this after watching a roadshow by the Prisons Department last year in Karamunsing Complex.

peter said...

To above anonymous,

You mentioned: '..parts to be caned exposed (usually the buttocks)."

Usually the buttocks???
Do they sometimes caned on other parts?? Where??

Cornelius said...


Wow! that sounds so horrible! Perhaps I better cancel my plan to rape somebody!... HAHAHA!


That's a good question. I wanted to ask that same question myself! Who knows, maybe if they tied up the convict the wrong way they may then wrongly cane him on a different part of his body, thinking that they're caning him on his buttocks all the time? Well, just one my idiotic ideas, I don't know. Over to you, Anonymous friend!

Anonymous said...

Your 2 lovely cheeks (of your buttocks) bah.The live demo at the roadshow showed the prison officers using a dummy with the upper and lower parts of the buttocks covered leaving the 2 cheeks exposed for the caner to aim at.I was even given a chance to try out my caning skills at the demo. Unfortunately I missed both cheeks and "hentam" the upper covered part of the buttocks.That is why a person must be very well-trained in the art of caning before he gets the job. I was told a miss is still counted as a stroke since it is not the prisoner's fault but the caner's fault.If there is another Prison Department's road show on anywhere in the city, I will let you guys know here.

peter said...


I am a human, and I supposed that you are one too. And I believed that most (not all) human would have a vengeful instinct inside of them. What you have written, seems to me, on the neutral side. I can't figure out if you are for or against it.

I personally feels that there is nothing wrong, as long as that instinct is within your control, and not the other way round.

Cornelius said...


I was afraid that someone would ask that question sooner or later. For I would have to give a "political" response. To do so, I will need to adopt a song and dance approach, so I hope you will bear with me!

As a matter of principle, I prefer to treat others the same way how I would expect them to treat me. Therefore, this thing about being cruel by administering the lethal injection, or gas chamber, or torturing the criminal before killing him is against my principle. Essentially, that amounts to bringing myself down to the level of the brutal murderer.

It's been said that and eye for an eye will result in everyone getting blind.

In the Utopian world, I would agree with the death penalty, but there is little meaning in the cruelty that goes with the punishment.

That is one side of the story. The other side is that I am only human; and my heart is filled with so many imperfections. I have hatreds; I have that vengeful instinct; I have anger; I have the innate brutal tendency. When provoked, these negative tendencies can be awaken - sometimes with minor consequences; but sometimes they may grow to colossal force.

Anger is like the burning flame. When we fail to control it, we're liable to burn ourselves in the end.

The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. I would love to treat my enemies kindly like how Jesus treated his enemies. But I know I don't have it in me to achieve that. I've said that I am a realistic person; so I know when the victims are my loved ones, my vengeful instinct will reign supreme. As you said, I am after all just human.

Well, peter, I told you this is gonna be a "political" response.

Jimmy Lee said...

hehehe...didnt know they only dipped in the water.

because from what other people told me, it was dipped in the vinegar instead. :)

Cornelius said...

Wow! vineger, huh, Jimmy? Talk about cruelty! HAHAHA!

Jimmy Lee said...

hahah...that will be cruel enough and they will taste the pain even more because of the after-effect....