The Republican presidential debate on Sept. 7 exposed an unsettling side of our society – our trivialization and abstraction of death.
The catalyst of this telling event was Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Moderator Brian Williams mentioned that since Perry became governor in 2000, the state of Texas has executed 234 prisoners, more than any governor in modern times has ever approved.
Before Perry was even able to respond, the crowd broke into spontaneous and instant applause. The audience was so eager to show its appreciation for Perry's hard line stance that they cut Williams off in the middle of his question.
This unanimous celebration is chilling to say the least, showing a disturbingly gladiatorial attitude toward the calculated killing of a human being. Williams, seemingly the sole voice of sanity in the room, aptly asked, "What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here: the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?"
Perry's assertion that the applause signified moral righteousness in the audience could not be more wrong. You can be morally right without celebrating the death of other living people. Whether or not you believe that capital punishment is effective or just, the loss of human life is at best a necessary evil and at worst a horrible tragedy.
The response of the crowd shows the same collective bloodlust that emerged after Osama Bin Laden's death. Facebook statuses all over the United States overflowed with patriotism and supposedly righteous satisfaction over the death of another human being.
Even if killing Bin Laden was the right thing to do and saved lives, it doesn't change the fact that he was a living person who was shot to death and dumped into the ocean.
The problem is that we've managed to abstract the concepts of justice and morality to the point that we overlook the very real humans caught in the crossfire of our crusade.
Those people in the audience may have believed they were clapping for the punishment of criminals. On the basest, most human level, however, they clapped for a living person with a family and a story sitting in a jail cell, counting down the days until he or she's strapped down on a gurney and a technician, separated by a curtain or wall, administers chemicals precisely designed to kill this person cheaply and efficiently.
This isn't about whether the death penalty is right or wrong. Regardless of what path we take, we have to be aware of the human consequences of our actions.
Every time we cast human beings as quotas and high scores we become less human ourselves. For the sake of the 234 lives scratched out by a cold, depersonalized system, think before you clap.