Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Not Retarded Enough?

A retarded man in Virginia appealed his death sentence conviction up to the Supreme Court. Surprisingly, the Supreme Court actually ruled that it wasn't okay to execute retarded people in the US. But, it seems, the defendant's IQ score has gone up from all the work he did on his own case.

So, now, ironically, he is being tried again and may be executed now because he scores a 74-76 on IQ tests and the legal limit in Virginia is 70.

First off, if we weren't the only barbarians in the Western world, we wouldn't even be discussing whether or not we should be executing the retarded. We wouldn't be executing anyone. But we're not only still imposing the death penalty despite volumes of evidence that it does not deter crime, that there is bias in how and when it is applied, and that innocent people have been executed, we are such goddamned barbarians that we're still trying to execute people who we think are only borderline retarded.

Secondly, as anyone who has read Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man, or who has ever thought about the nature of intelligence, knows that it is impossible to gauge a person's intelligence in such a way that it can be defined as a single, monolithic number. Intelligence tests measure certain types of intelligence, even if their designers don't realize it. Each "intelligence" test defines intelligence by the very nature of how the test tries to measure it. But we all know that some people are really good at, say, debate and rhetoric, while being miserable at math. Others are wizards in science class but can't construct a philosophical argument to save their lives. Some people are genuises at theoretical physics but don't have the common sense to feed themselves. Which of these "intelligences" is the one by which we should measure whether people are retarded enough not to be executed?

It's a farce. A joke. Whether a person scores a 69 or a 71 on some standardized intelligence test tells us only how good that person is at taking that test. It's ludicrous.


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