I have been thinking about this question: Are there universal values? And if the answer is positive, how should we uphold such universal values? Do we rely on the goodness of human or do we enscribe such universalistic values in our common law.
This is just asking this question in reverse: "Are our laws based on universal values"? Defnitely not all. But there could be some laws that are based upon universal values that everyone in every spatial context (and perhaps even temporal context) will agree upon.
However, even such unviersalistic values cannot be hold to be absolute.
What a roundabout way to open my real intent of this post which is to talk about the death penalty.
Now, clearly the death penalty contravenes a value. This value is the idea that life is sacred and must be preserved. Now, even though I think this is a universalistic sort of ideal (in theory), I don't think that in practice this should be an absolute value because for example I think that there are strong arguments for euthanasia.
But euthanasia is not the death penalty.
Yet, even for death penalty, I can allow it to occur judiciously (thereby contravening the value of sanctity of life). For example, a cold blooded murderer who kills a woman's husband and all her children right in front of her eyes. If the woman desires retribution on this murderer in order to move on with her life. I say why not? Hang that bloody murderer.
Here, we see an obvious victim who deserves the right to call for retribution. Such retribution of course does nothing to rehabilitate the murderer (unless you count dying as the supreme rehabilitation). It also does nothing in terms of deterrence. No would-be murderer would be put off by supposed punishment nor indeed would they even think about what the punishment entails.
That is murder.
What about drug trafficking? What are the differences between a drug trafficker and a murderer. Most would say that there are none. But there really are two significant ones:
1) The supposed victims of a drug trafficker is not direct. We cannot, as in the case of the murder, point to any one person as a victim. So retributive justice is diminished.
2) The supposed victims are not helpless. Murder victims hardly wished themselves to be murdered. but junkies took steps to sustain their addiction even as other junkies take chrage of their lives to clean themselves up.
The problem of drugs is complex (just watch Traffic). You cannot claim that a hike in a region's incidence of drug addiction is due to a increase in supply to the drug market just as you cannot claim that a corresponding improvement is solely the result of better enforcement over at the supply side.
Demand and supply are the two sides of the same problematic coin.
And then there is the mandatory aspect of death penalty for drug trafficking. I disagree fundamentally with mandatroy death sentence because it disallows any room for mitigation and compassion. Simply put, when a life is concerned, I would always err on the side of caution.
And the saddest thing is that we have not made use of the death of Van Nguyen to reflect upon the value (or lack thereof) of mandatory death sentence.