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In this world, since there has been writing, when someone dies unless they are pregnant, they kill themselves on purpose, or they die while asleep, they will respawn where they last slept, just like in Minecraft. People also don't age past the age of 25 years old.

When they die their body turns to dust and they appear back where they last took a nap, but no scars and if any brain damage happened then they will be healed of it. (Only their body respawns - not clothing nor anything they were carrying on them.)

The problem is that when someone dies they feel all the pain they have ever felt both physical and mental between the last time they died and when they died again, so murder is still a awful crime according to their beliefs. If a person kills on purpose someone who is asleep or is pregnant they also die that instant forever.

If they killed the person who killed someone else it might seem like a good idea, but they believe that whoever killed the murderer would also be a murderer and equally as guilty, so killing them for that crime isn't an option. What other ways could murderers be punished?


(This takes place in the 3000s and 4000s B.C.E. Wars would still be a thing because some tribes don't consider other tribes as equal. When I say tribe I mean a group of people, cities, kingdoms, or hunter-gatherer societies.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 6 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ If someone loses consciousness before the moment of "death", does that count as being asleep? i.e. if someone is stabbed and left to bleed out, is there a chance they might not respawn? Or does intent matter there, too, with "going to sleep" for an intentional nap being different from not being able to stay conscious after an injury. $\endgroup$ Jun 6 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ Right now, most First World countries already abstain from using killing for punishment, using money damages and loss of freedom (imprisonment, etc) instead. Those will work perfectly fine in your world as I understand it, so do I misunderstand your question? Why are they not adequate? Kill someone who respawns, spend 5 years in a plain old prison. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ Also, what's controlling who respawns? Is there a "God of Death" with a sense of humour? $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ Prison is a fairly modern thing, and requires that a society is able and willing to feed someone who is doing no useful work. Nobles at least administrate the state and/or are the military. Prior to the existence of prisons, I believe common punishments were mainly corporal, monetary, capital, exile or enslavement of some sort. $\endgroup$
    – AI0867
    Jun 7 at 15:44

19 Answers 19

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It would be treated as equivalent to assault, if the person respawned. After all, assault is defined as causing someone pain or injury without killing them, so it seems pretty much equivalent.

If they did not respawn, it would be manslaughter or murder depending on whether their killer had reason to believe they would die permanently. Manslaughter is causing someone's death when you intended to cause non-lethal harm. And murder, of course, is intentionally killing someone.

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    $\begingroup$ wouldn't it be robbery instead of assault, because now the killer can loot freely? $\endgroup$ Jun 5 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak It would be robbery if the killer robbed the person afterwards. I am not automatically a shop lifter just because I am in a store. $\endgroup$
    – Lucius
    Jun 5 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucius so what does the murderer do with the loot then; keep it on the street? Place it in a loot box? Mail it to the victim just to keep the charges low? $\endgroup$ Jun 5 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak I could be mistaken in what robbery means in legal terms, but if no property is taken, I don't see why it would be robbery. Are you aware of a legal technicality that would make it so in any case? What if the murder happens at home and the victim can easily retrieve everything? It would probably depend and not be a default charge, is what I am saying. $\endgroup$
    – Lucius
    Jun 5 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak If you physically attack someone, incapacitate them and take their stuff, it wouldn't just be robbery, it would be robbery and assault. $\endgroup$ Jun 5 at 12:45
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First, it is going to be easier to convict someone of murder. The victim will respawn with their memories of the event, and will be able to testify against the perpetrator. Killing off the witnesses isn't going to work anymore, either.

Incarcerating someone for murder will still be the standard punishment. However, respawning gives a person a certain kind of immortality, so an inmate will eventually finish their sentence, instead of dying in prison. This might actually encourage inmates to reform themselves (i.e. they no longer misbehave because they had "nothing to lose"), which might in turn actually lead to shorter sentences.

More drastic measures would be needed for heinous crimes or repeat offenders. Longer sentences, isolation, or a medically-induced coma could be used. (The latter may not be possible in the era specified in the question.) However, capital punishment won't work.

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  • $\begingroup$ Since they respawn at the last location of their nap however, at least they won't escape through suicide (at least after they slept once), so suicide watch would not be a special thing for a few people in prisons but the absolute norm $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Jun 7 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, weird thing / workaround: capital punishment is still possible: 1. make the convicted as sleepy as possible 2. put them (toe to shoulder) into quick hardening cement. They will wake up (= have set their spawnpoint), and then be there to starve to death, to respawn. As opposed to eternal regular prison they don't need constant supervision or aid (=cost). It would absolutely be horrible torture however $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Jun 7 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ Respawn would be a great way for escapes. First get some drugs like coffein to stay awake as long as possible after you have been captured (if they manage to capture you at all without killing you. You would try to get killed!). Next get someone to kill you before you fall asleep. Either pay another prisoner or cause an accident. $\endgroup$
    – T-Me
    Jun 7 at 15:18
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Build a really tall platform.

Place food, water and bare necessities like shelter at the top of the platform. The platform is designed so that they can only jump from the edge and cannot reach anything to climb down.

Upon conviction the murderer is sentenced to the victim's fate, death. They are then sent to the top of the platform.

It is their choice, they can jump off the platform at anytime to experience the pain of death and fulfill their sentence or they can continue to live at the top of the platform and put off the inevitable for as long as they like.

Either way they experience the same pain as their victims with no-one else actually killing them or they stay removed from society.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a really good idea. I would check this but one problem When the murder jumps down to his death, he causes his death on purpose there for he will die forever. I was just about to check it. I really love your answer $\endgroup$
    – user85825
    Jun 6 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ If used as punishment, the convicted murderers permanent death could deter others from committing murder. A crazy person could kill over an over and if allowed to respawn then "they feel all the pain they have ever felt both physical and mental between the last time they died and when they died again" may not be all that bad if it was only a couple weeks since the last murder/respawn event. $\endgroup$
    – your mom
    Jun 6 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ The question is how big of a platform. I thought of a similar way of a plank barely big enough to sleep on it hanging under the roof of a large tower. Causing the murderer to accidentialy fall down a lot because it is so smal but letting you respawn on it again... $\endgroup$
    – T-Me
    Jun 7 at 15:27
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They could socially avoid them, they won't trade with them and will not talk to them. This would make the person feel lonely and maybe they will kill themselves because no one loves them. So they would have a social punishment worse then death for some.

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    $\begingroup$ Well that got dark quick. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Jun 5 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ @NotThatGuy Yep I'm not SuperWarm for nothing. Also this would be a good way to stop people from killing others, without killing them. Loneliness was evolved by shunning others who hurt the group so if it was in the far pass, then not trading nor talking to them would make them go crazy plus they would need to defend themselves which no one would give them anything. $\endgroup$
    – SuperWarm
    Jun 5 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ You're just making the killer want to kill more. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 14:47
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You don't need to punish murderers at all.

When a murderer dies, it's over. Everybody else will respawn, but they don't.

Doesn't matter what the murderer has done to atone. Doesn't matter how the murderer has matured or changed. Doesn't matter if the murderer has saved fifty other lives or founded a university or donated blood every week or anything else. For the murderer, it's over and everybody knows it. Them's the rules.

If you REALLY want vengeance, then everybody should honestly try to wound the murderer instead of killing them. Somebody will fail and the murderer will die, but as long as death honestly wasn't the intent then it doesn't count. Them's the rules.

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    $\begingroup$ this is an awesome way! they wouldn’t mean to so why not. $\endgroup$
    – user77135
    Jun 5 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ The first part of this highlights what is likely to be real problem in a society like this. Hired killers. $\endgroup$
    – Jontia
    Jun 7 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Jontia maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the employer counts as a murderer, too. This universe seems able to detect murderous intent. Folks must decide if petty vengeance and a short life shunned with no hope of forgiveness is worth giving up eternal lives. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jun 7 at 13:05
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Battle Royale

When the number of prisoners (convicted of murder) hits 24 they are all put into an arena, given weapons, instructed to kill each other. The survivor who is chosen as the champion kills the previous champion. Everyone is told that the champion lives the rest of their life in luxury but it is up to you what happens to them.

Pros

  • No innocent becomes a murderer
  • You can allow the public to spectate this event (as a sport or as an execution)
  • If someone is innocent but wrongly convicted of murder, they will try to get themselves killed so they can be born again thus proving their innocence
  • If the result is ambiguous (more than one survivors) you can call the champion to kill everyone

Cons

  • If there are no new prisoners, the champion may live years
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    $\begingroup$ That's more complex than it needs to be. You have a jail, you provide enough food for one person. Two people in jail? Let the fight over the food. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel You are right. "Making prisoners kill each other" resonated with the popular "battle royale" concept but it doesn't need it at all. I blame the popular culture for hacking my mind :) $\endgroup$
    – pilgrim
    Jun 7 at 18:59
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Retribution Killing.

If you kill me the punishment is that I am allowed to kill you once in retribution. This will of course be overseen by the Justice Department, and can only be legally done at one of their secure facilities, where they make sure you are awake when I kill you.

This is not seen as murder, rather it removes your murderer status and makes us even from a moral point of view. The crucial fact is that I was the one who was killed and I am also the one doing the killing.

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One thing that is important to take into account is how redefining "death" will ultimately redefine notions of personhood, violence, & self. We don't think about it because death is such a constant but the fact that our lives have a definite end plays a major role in defining what those things mean.

Different Ethical Views on Killing

Would mere violence be as heinous to a culture where violence has never been associated with the destruction of a person like it has in our time? Assault had several clear reasons why we think it is bad, but the fact that a serious assault could potentially kill someone is one of those reasons for us. In a culture that doesn't associate violence with the end of life, they'd probably have a similar but inevitably different view.

Killing someone might actually be a lesser offence for them than maiming someone. The latter could definitely have a more "permanent" impact than their very temporary version of death. This society would see it as infinitely more cruel & evil to NOT kill someone that you have paralyzed in a physical altercation.

Different Forms of Punishment

The other major difference that comes to mind is what the transgressors would actually feel "punished" by. The fact that we & our loved ones (also important here) don't really die would have a profound impact on our sense of self. Given human propensity to understand ourselves collectively, the persistence of those collectives in this undying culture, & no looming end to someone's conscious experience would likely mean that they have a MUCH stronger collective identity va individual compared to what a modern, western person in our world would.

Executing someone for a serious offense? You let them off easy. You're just inconveniencing them.

Prison? Probably worse than death but time served won't waste your life away like in our world. Treatment within prison & the social stigma would be worse.

Solitary confinement? Outlawry? Exile? Now THOSE are severe punishments. They strip you from what makes you you in this society: the social fabric you're embedded in.

Granted, you probably wouldn't prescribe them for the lesser offense of a single murder. However, a serial killer who terrorized a community with frequent & brutal killings would definitely warrant a harsher sentence than death. In general, people like serial killers or bandits who use murder as an instrument to commit anti-social crimes would likely find themselves facing fates worse than death.

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They could imprison them for a year in a deep dark hole. They would sleep there so they can respawn when they die from hunger and they will be punished by dying a few times. No one killed them so it should be fine.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah but they would be purposely killing them through hunger and they could die with hunger while asleep, if you die every week from hunger then you would have fifty something weeks to die and have a chance of dying forever every week! While the other person died and respawned once. $\endgroup$
    – user85825
    Jun 5 at 0:21
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I think there is a simple solution to this. they can’t kill the person because they believe it makes them also guilty so make the person they killed kill them so the punishment of dying already happened so the person. they already died from the other’s hands so no more death needs to happen.

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If killing them so that they suffer as their victim did is off the table then I'd suggest something that would better the world they live in.

This would probably be forced labour, they could be made to build houses, clean the streets or anything that would help them atone for their crimes.

You need to ask yourself if murder would even be a serious crime if people respawned. The crime might even be known as respawning.

"Leave me alone or I swear i'll respawn you"

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What constitutes killing someone?

What happens if you tie the murderer to a raft and send them out to sea? You inflicted no harm--but by the time they work themselves loose they're too far away to swim to shore.

Or you take them up a mountain in the winter and take away their clothes. Unharmed, but they'll die of exposure.

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firing squad:

A group of people have to execute the murderer at the same time. Half of them have blank ammunition or something that is not deadly while the other half is shooting sharp. No one knows who made the fatal blow. You could have hit the wall next to the murderer or had blank ammunition...

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It really depends on what your endgoal here is.

Do you want to educate the murderer into not doing it again? Then you need to ensure that all murderers are caught (easier when most victims respawn), then have a punishment so horrible that you'll drive the fear of god onto their souls. For example, you can imprison them and then do experimentations on them. You can take a page from a guy called Galen of Pergamon, who was born around 129... He did experimentations on monkeys and pigs:

For 400 years before Galen’s research, it was believed that the arteries carry oxygen rather than blood. Through his vivisection practices, Galen also proved that the voice was controlled by the brain. He did this through tying off the recurrent laryngeal nerve. He used the same method to tie off the ureters to prove his theories of kidney and bladder function.

You can handwave that this level of knowledge exists in your world (a bit of anachronism, but it's forgivable). In this manner, criminals are not only get reeducated, they also contribute to the advancement of science.


If instead of reeducation you just wish to enact revenge, you can also conduct the Galen experiments on them too. This works both ways, so you can kill two ostriches with one boulder.

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Make that pain-of-previous-death thing cumulative. Every time you die, you feel all of the pain from not just the last time you died, but the accumulated pain of every time you'd ever died. And the amount of time you feel it for adds up as well. Quick deaths might hurt a lot but be over fast. Long, slow deaths would be the worst. The first few might be not so bad, but if you get killed over and over again, especially in a particularly slow and agonizing way, it gets worse and worse every time. If a murderer is torturously executed repeatedly for their crimes, each one would become more and more unbearable than the last, until it became so traumatic you'd never want to experience anything like it again.

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State-sanctioned lynching.

The murderer is put into a room with a dozen people, which beat him to the death. The murderer respawns, only to be killed again the next day. Repeat for a month or more, until the murderer's mind gives out.

If the murderer is already insane, or actually likes being killed (there is such a kink), give him a self-inflicted hanging: if he lets go of a cord, he falls and is hanged, thus dying permanently.

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@Daron's answer made me think of this one:

Instead of having the victim kill the murderer, how about the murderer gets some kind of mark and everybody can freely kill them without getting the murderer mark. Once they die, the mark is removed. This way they murderer should always be on the lookout and can never really function normally (at least not without constantly looking over their shoulder) until they are killed themselves. They should be prepared to die (and thus experience intense pain) every moment of every day. Maybe they get lucky and get killed quickly or maybe the community agrees that they should suffer and let them live like that for a long time.

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This takes place in the 3000s and 4000s BCE

We do not have any known legal systems dating back that far. The oldest known legal system was Hammurabi's code from 1754 BCE; so, it is the best indication we have of what laws may have looked like that long ago. Back then there were no such things as a jails, trained police, lawyers, etc. The law was very straight forward in regards to committing a crime against a person of equal status: whatever you did to a person was done back to you. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", etc.

Every punishment was something that could be carried out quickly and be done with, there was not community service, jail, etc like we have today that would require an infrastructure to make sure the sentence is being upheld.

This should make punishing murder pretty easy to interpret according to primitive law. If you killed a person while they were awake, and they respawned, then you would be killed while awake in the same fashion. If you killed a person while they slept, then you would be killed while you slept to make sure you were likewise perma killed.

But... of course it always get more complicated than that. Most privative legal systems also had complexities based around class systems. If you killed a person of a lower social class, you would often receive just a fine, but harming a person of a higher social class normally involved highly disproportionate torture. So, if you punched an equal in the face, he would be allowed to punch you back, but if you punched a superior in the face, your hands would be cut off. Taking this back to your scenario, it is likely that killing a superior would get you permakilled, and killing an inferior (regardless of permakill or not) would result in some small form of financial restitution.

The hardest part would be punishing a pregnant woman who kills a non-pregnant woman of equal status who then respawns... in this case, it is most likely the pregnant woman would be put to death permanently rather than allowing the baby to be born before exacting justice. I only say this because privative legal systems like Hammurabi's code generally prefer greater punishment than the injustice done when there is no clear equivalent exchange, and always prefers punishments that can be carried out right away (which is necessary when you have no prison system).

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this would be most realistic, Though if you purposely cause perma-death you would also die that instant so it's not a possible punishment, but everything else I think is most likely to be how it would work. $\endgroup$
    – user85825
    Jun 8 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ Something else you see in ancient legal codes is trial by hardship. When a person is accused of a crime without enough evidence they would put the them in a situation where they would only probably die. So, they could lock a person in a cell and wait for them to go to sleep before releasing hungry lions or something of the sort into the room. If the lions attack and kills him, then bad luck for him, but if the gods so choose to spare his life, then the lions won't attack, so the execution can not be described as deliberate murder, but deliberate endangerment. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jun 8 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ I like that this because it's a flip of a coin "basically" they wouldn't be 100% responsible. $\endgroup$
    – user85825
    Jun 8 at 22:03
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Sanctioned executioners in prisons.

So, in the prison system there is a job for a sanctioned executioner. These are people who's identities are unknown and who's faces are masked. These people are allowed by law to kill a prisoner under this specific circumstance. It is their job.

No one knows who they are so they are not persecuted for being killers. Though some people do protest out front of the prison building.

The executioners take the criminals into a prison cell, kill them, and then lock them in before the criminal re-spawns. This way your criminal always re-spawns in that prison cell.

The rest of the prison guards are tasked with making sure the prisoners do not kill themselves outside of their cell. Your prisons might actually be the safest place in your universe. Except for that first death!

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