I seem to be in a phase of life somewhere between the naiive optimism of youth and the overall cynicism of... not youth. As a result, the news upsets me a lot. A whole lot.
But Troy Davis' execution affected me more. It upset me on a visceral level, despite the distance I tried to put between me and him. At first, I thought it was because although he may not have been innocent, he certainly hadn't been proven guilty.
At its core, I believe the American justice system is beautiful and sound. I believe the idea that someone must be proven guilty is better than the idea that they must be proven innocent. That it is better for a guilty man to walk free than for an innocent man to rot in a jail cell. Surely, I thought, that is why this execution hit me so hard.
But then I thought harder, further, psycology-er. In short, I got Freudian with this shit. In Psycoanalysis in Culture, Freud says of ritual sacrifices:
the sacrificial animal had itself been sacred and its life untouchable; it might only have been killed if all members of the clan participated in the deed and shared their guilt in the presence of the god....Each man is conscious that he is performing an act forbidden to the individual and justifiable only through the participation of the whole clan.
The death penalty is at its best a ritual sacrifice which the nation participates in as a whole to assuage the guilt of the individuals involved. At its worst it is murder. Freud also says that the guilt of killing a man* brings about an adaptation of the slain's values that is stronger than anything that can be preached or taught. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that was the case with Troy Davis? As he was led to his death he prayed for the souls of his murderers and I, in turn, pray that his unbreakable mercy is integrated into our societal moral code.
*ok, he actually says the guilt of killing the father by the "primal horde" brings about the adaptation of the father's values but it's late and I just can't with that Oedipal shit right now.