A few weeks ago I went to the dentist. The presumed fairly mundane task escalated in my mind to high philosophical conundrums flowing from comic book based TV. As the technician cleaned my teeth he inquired whether I had watched the most recent season of Daredevil on Netflix. I had not seen most, yet. I had started it but not progressed deeply. Tastefully consuming rather than excessively binging. As I lay back in the chair, sharp metal tools in my mouth, he went on to express his understanding and eventual support for the Punisher’s character. Learning the story of the Punisher helped persuade him. Given the situation, I lacked the ability to express any type of question. Nodding and gargled mumbling amounted to the extent of my response.
There’s a scene in Season 2 of Daredevil between Daredevil and the Punisher where they discuss and defend their own philosophies, with Daredevil chained to a brick chimney. It’s not the typical setting for an ethical debate or any debate at all. I don’t think I’m spoiling too much by the revelation. The gist of it is already in the trailer. But you don’t really need to have Netflix or even watch the show to understand.
The Punisher kills. Often gruesomely. Mercilessly. Coldly. Almost mechanically. Yet as you learn his back story he’s almost sympathetic. He only kills the “deserving.”
Alternatively, Daredevil refuses to kill. While he internally battles the decision he ultimately sees even the tiniest possibility of redemption in almost everyone. His mantra involves letting the legal system mete out the appropriate punishment.
Undeniably, one person choosing to “punish” evil doers, especially someone so good at it, appeals. But, bestowing such ultimate power on any one person also implies almost infallibility. What if they punish with death and are wrong? Whoops? It’s difficult for a corpse to respond to, “my bad.”
So, while in theory a punisher inflicting death on the “bad” sounds great, in reality it necessitates a tremendous level of faith in one person that I certainly don’t possess. To me it also means zero possibility of redemption (unless the redeemable should also suffer death but that’s a different debate). I don’t find absolutes very appealing.
Take another example from popular culture, Darth Vader (or I guess it would be Anikan Skywalker) saved his son, Luke, from death in Return of the Jedi. I realize that it’s both fictional and mostly unexamined in the film, but Darth Vader was one bad dude. And the point of examining fictional scenarios, like Return of the Jedi or Daredevil, is that they aid in examining and settling real life (IRL) points of view.
I’m NOT saying not to punish bad people. What I am saying is stop them, stop their bad actions, and let society determine the appropriate punishment rather than one individual. Also, killing implies zero positive potential in a person (again if you care about redeem-ability at all). Having been a living person I understand how one moment can differ from the next. Sure it’s fine for society to respond to an action, I’m just saying that a response short of death allows more for fallibility, a common and overwhelmingly present characteristic in all human people.
The dental technician even stated how his opinion of the Punisher changed after learning more. But, applying the Punisher’s mentality would not afford him the opportunity to learn more. As so eloquently put by a former POTUS, the decision is up to the “decider.” Here the decision is life or death. Immediately, in the squeeze of a trigger, life or death. No chance or opportunity to learn about the past or the reasoning. The Punisher’s backstory holds no water.
As a human person, one who believes in at least the possibility of personal evolution and change, I think that I share Daredevil’s perspective in the debate.