PUNISHMENT AND REVENGE
Let's say it again. The only requirement to be a Humanian is having as one's ultimate ethical principle the REUEP, which is:
WE SHOULD DO THAT WHICH WILL PROMOTE NOT ONLY THE SURVIVAL OF OUR SPECIES, BUT ALSO THE GOOD LIFE FOR EVERYONE, NOW AND IN THE FUTURE, "THE GOOD LIFE" MEANING AS MUCH JOY, CONTENTMENT, AND APPRECIATION (JCA) AS POSSIBLE AND AS LITTLE PAIN, SUFFERING, DISABILITY, AND EARLY DEATH (PSDED) AS POSSIBLE.
But having this ethical principle as your ultimate ethical principle means that you are committed to striving to have all of your ethical beliefs (about what you should and should not do), and therefore all of your behavior, consistent with it. And it is exactly because of this that your life, your basic way of living your life, is likely to become so different. That is my opinion. Being Humanian does not mean that you have to agree with me, but I predict that, with thought, you will.
So why, according to me, will your life be so much different if you are or become a Humanian? It is what is discussed in this chapter that will best clarify the answer to this question.
We are basically chimps. We are of course a different species, but with regard to our basic nature, we are most like chimpanzees. Yes, we are able to talk, and we are able to use the rules of logic and the rules of evidence to give ourselves science and technology, but all of this is in the service of our basic chimp-like nature. We are talking, hi-tech chimps. So we behave as chimps do, in our own human way. We have the same emotions, the same basic motivational states, hunger, thirst, the urge to play, the sexual urge, the wish for closeness, jealousy, envy, the tendency to fight, etc. Our ways of behaving, of manifesting our motivational states, are more complex and sophisticated, of course, because we use our language, our more accurate understanding of the world, and our many tools and gadgets as we live out our motivational states. But look beneath the surface at what we are doing and you will see that chimps do the same.
And nowhere is this more significant than in our motivational state of anger.
And there is, I will maintain, no other aspect of ourselves that produces as much human-induced PSDED.
In order for me to start to make my case, I would like to quote the third and fourth paragraphs of the chapter on Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention in the freely downloadable textbook at HomoRationalis.com (For Everyone: Rational-Ethical Living and the Emergence of "Homo Rationalis": The Most Important Book). Those two paragraphs are as follows:
It is my contention that the motivational state of anger and the behaviors (decisions) that are produced in response to it play the primary role in most of our human-induced hardship and tragedy, from the personal, interpersonal, and family level all the way to the global level. They are operative in most instances of breakdown of marriages, parent-child relationships, employer-employee relationships, and intimate relationships in general; "sibling rivalry"; meanness, teasing, bullying, and scapegoating; destructiveness; "adolescent rebellion"; child abuse and elder abuse (by both children and adults); rape; cruelty to animals; sadism and torture; self-injurious behavior and suicide; harassment (sexual and other); discrimination, "bashing," and persecution; conflict, inefficiency, passive aggression, underachievement, and absenteeism in our schools and in the workplace; lawsuits and protests; theft and vandalism (including production of computer viruses); public and domestic violence, battering, and murder; "wilding," rampaging, and rioting; serial killing, mass murder, and assassination; and revolution and war (including terrorism, purging, and ethnic cleansing).
It is also my contention that anger and related phenomena are an underlying factor in much illness and premature "natural" death. Anger has been shown to have deleterious and potentially fatal effects on the cardiovascular system and the immune system. Anger also produces fear, or anxiety, in others and in self, and this anxiety produces many of the other symptoms and complications seen in some of the psychiatric disorders, which may in turn carry a substantially high mortality rate. And since the status of our primary relationships is one of the most important determinants of our physical and mental health, the appearance of anger in those relationships, heralding potential or actual relationship breakdown, represents a major threat to our physical and mental health.
Well, the above two quoted paragraphs certainly call attention to the extremes of the consequences of anger, but I would also like to call attention to the ubiquitous suffering related to anger.
One of our most common forms of suffering is "worry," the emotionally painful, repetitive imagination and/or prediction of potential bad situations. Of course we worry about finances, health, weather, etc. But one of the especially painful kinds of worry has to do with the reactions of others to ourselves. And this worry is often at least partly connected to our worry about what we have done or what we might do, and the consequences of that. We worry about offending others, and we worry about what others are likely to do if they feel offended by us, whether our intention was to offend or not.
We generally take many precautions against offending. We engage in tact, diplomacy, apology, mediation, "forgiveness," and many specific behaviors designed to get around, minimize, and neutralize the anger of others toward ourselves and of ourselves toward others. (Unfortunately, these precautions don't seem to work all that well.)
And much of our conversation with others is about interpersonal situations in which there is personal worry related to anger-containing interactions with third parties.
And then there is the anger that we have toward ourselves, our guilt and shame, our mortification, our putting ourselves down, criticizing ourselves, and wishing we would die, and even sometimes our purposeful self-injurious and self-destructive behaviors, consciously motivated or not.
That's a lot of suffering, a lot of PSDED.
And I think that many would agree with me that we are actually worse than chimps. We have more problems with anger than chimps do. We are of course able to do worse things than chimps can do because of our language and science. But my impression is that more of our mental activity is consumed with anger-related phenomena than is true for chimps. And I think there are good reasons for this.
But first I want to clarify two important anger-related phenomena that are specifically the focus of this chapter, punishment and revenge.
WE BELIEVE IN PUNISHMENT AND REVENGE.
I think that if you start making specific observations regarding this issue, you will become as impressed as I am about this fact about ourselves.
Let's take a closer look at each of these two phenomena.
Let's start with REVENGE.
Revenge is the anger-motivated causing of PSDED in another or others who is/are believed to have purposefully caused PSDED in oneself or those one cares about.
So right away we see that revenge adds more PSDED to the world. This would make any Humanian immediately question whether revenge is consistent with the REUEP. I myself believe that revenge can probably never by justified (shown to be consistent with the REUEP), or at least that the circumstances in which it could be justified would be highly unusual. Thus, my opinion is that an important ethical rule of conduct would be that one should never engage in revenge.
(A rule of conduct is a device to make one stop and think before acting, the thinking being the effort to see if the contemplated behavior would be an appropriate or justifiable exception to the rule of conduct.)
But as I have stated, WE BELIEVE IN REVENGE.
There is hardly any question in anyone's mind that if somebody purposefully does something harmful to oneself, the appropriate action is revenge. Or even if perhaps it is not considered appropriate, it is at least expected and understood. This is true from the international or global level to the interpersonal level.
On the interpersonal level, if someone speaks in a hostile manner to another, the other is almost expected to speak in a hostile manner back, or at least to give the person a hostile look. When one person raises his voice, the other usually does also, this response sometimes being referred to as a "shouting match." And this happens all the time. You have seen it. You have done it (or the equivalent).
On the international or global level, just recall images of mobs of people with their fists or guns held high, shouting angrily about what has been done to them. When we are crying out for "justice," it is seldom that we are referring to fair distribution of resources, but instead to fair distribution of punishment and revenge. (If justice is so wonderful, why don't people want to be brought to it?)
We freely recommend revenge. "I'd get him back." "You ought to show him." "Are you going to just take that?" "Stand up for yourself." "Give him what he deserves." "Don't be a wimp." "I'd tell him off." "You've got to fight back." "I'd make him sorry."
We freely report revenge. "He hit me first." "I told him off." "I made him sorry." "I showed his ass." "I got him back." "I got even." "I made him crawl."
When we are born, it will not be long before we manifest our built-in capacity for revenge, while we watch those around us to see what are the most effective ways of achieving it. (We usually learn techniques of revenge especially from our parents, who serve as models.)
And we engage in revenge physically, verbally, nonverbally, legally, illegally, and militarily.
Now, to be sure, the behavior that we are calling revenge may, at the same time, be self-protective or deterrent. However, the fact that revenge is also an important component of the motivation is apparent from the frequent infliction of much more PSDED than would be necessary just to produce deterrence, and from the observation that the behavior we are calling revenge may be undertaken when there is no likelihood of repetition of the behavior that precipitated it. And rather than actually producing deterrence, what one frequently observes is a worsening of the situation, with no one willing to "back down," meaning that deterrence is much less likely. Yet, this lesson is seldom learned.
And our using the phrase "getting even" almost seems to imply that revenge is necessary and right in order to achieve some sort of balance, rather than necessary just to deter repetition.
And there is indeed some degree of ambivalence about engaging in revenge. There is some tendency to recommend refraining from revenge, usually by someone not centrally involved in the conflict. It's just not a very effective recommendation, and when someone engages in revenge, people tend to be "understanding" of the behavior, and may even secretly (if not openly) enjoy it. "Serves him right." "He got what was coming to him."
So the bottom line is that, even if we sort of believe that revenge is not good, we also, as is evidenced by how we actually live, do indeed believe strongly in it, and we believe in it strongly enough that we endure enormous amounts of predictable PSDED.
And even more, WE BELIEVE IN PUNISHMENT.
Punishment is the infliction of PSDED in response to the belief that the recipient of the punishment has done something wrong.
In the case of child rearing, punishment is usually administered by someone in a parental (or supervisory) capacity, in response to the belief that the child has done wrong, probably by virtue of the child having done what the parent didn't want the child to do, the child sometimes even having been told not to do it (called "disobedience").
In the case of adults, punishment is usually administered by some individual or group that is above the individual in the social hierarchy, again in response to the belief that the individual has done something wrong.
Even though punishment is thought of intellectually as a necessary method of deterrence, the most prominent component of the motivation for punishment is frequently actually revenge. Revenge is its driving force. In fact, even when what is happening is revenge against a peer, the behavior may be referred to as "punishment." "I will punish him for what he did to me." (Referring to the revenge as "punishment" has the added vengeful motivation of proclaiming oneself as being in a superior position to the other.)
Punishment works very poorly as a deterrent. Otherwise, we would have just about eliminated undesirable behavior long ago.
Even more obvious, however, is the observation as to how much people expect punishment, even when repetition is extremely unlikely. Every "crime" must be punished. The idea of someone "getting away with" something is extremely unpleasant. A person who did something bad early in his life but has led an exemplary life since then, when his past is discovered, must have his life ruined in the name of justice, in no way deterring him from repetition but providing that sense of evening the score through the administration of PSDED.
Perhaps nowhere is it more evident that punishment is primarily revenge than how punishment is depicted as administered by a deity. The deity is always depicted as administering punishment because of wrath, rather than as an effort to correct something or make something better.
I believe that punishment and revenge tend to make things worse. I believe that we should never punish and never engage in revenge.
But I have to modify what I have just written to say that I know that we cannot simply make a decision to eliminate all punishment. We cannot, for instance, pass such a law. Why we can't is that we have not yet changed ourselves such that we all agree that we should not punish. I believe that the time may come to pass when, globally, we will have as an ethical principle that we should refrain from punishment. But this will be as the culmination of a process in which more and more individuals change in this direction and advocate for the change on the part of others. The change will not come down from above, but instead will be the result of what you and I, and others like us, decide is the right thing to do.
Also, we will not be able to alter our current approach to unwanted behavior until we find alternative methods of approaching such behavior that work better than what we have currently. We have to be able to deter future acts much more effectively.
But what we have to realize is that our motivation to punish (vengeance) will tend to undermine any efforts to bring about beneficial changes in those who have acted inappropriately. When parents punish children, children come to regard the parents as enemies to be feared rather than allies and coaches in the effort to improve and grow. They therefore tend to deny and minimize what they have done, thus interfering with motivation to get the most learning from the analysis and understanding of mistakes. The same may be observed in adult penal systems, programs, and processes.
In the textbook mentioned above, the awful effects of punishment during child rearing are spelled out in the chapter on Rational-Ethical Child Rearing. And an effort is made in that chapter to outline a different model of child rearing (than what comes naturally), that is not based upon the ideas of obedience, disobedience, and punishment.
I believe that as our religions improve, they will gradually move toward benevolence, understanding, and non-punitive approaches to inappropriate behavior. And for those religions for which the concept of a deity is important, there will be an increasing tendency to view the deity as not engaging in punishment and revenge.
I wrote earlier that I thought that we have more preoccupation with anger than do chimps (in the wild). The reason for us being an angrier species is, I believe, that we are so extremely punished. There is not much that the young chimp, in the wild, does that has to be responded to with efforts on the part of the parent to change such behavior. But we humans have to undergo a tremendous amount of molding of our natural behavior into what is accepted by our cultures. And our parenting individuals, responsible to a great extent for such molding, are forced into the position frequently of regarding our children as "disobeying." Our natural response to disobedience is anger and punishment. And the response of our children that is most expectable is anger and some sort of rebellion (overt, passive-aggressive, or sneaky) as a kind of revenge. Escalating cycles of punishment and rebellion are quite frequent and well-known, some of them even making the newspapers.
We have to remember that punishment is any purposeful infliction of PSDED as a response to unwanted behavior, so that even without formal punishment (spanking, standing in the corner, taking something away, grounding, etc.), there is an enormous amount of informal punishment administered by the hurtful things we communicate to children, called "shaming" and "scolding," including both verbal and nonverbal behavior of a demeaning or threatening nature. Many of our children receive thousands of tiny verbal and nonverbal emotional lacerations and bruises, despite a presumed non-punitive approach to child rearing.
So it is not surprising that so many of us have so much anger and even paranoia toward authority, and so much internal resistance to cooperation, contribution, and conformity to expectations that are desirable and necessary for the benefit of all. "Self-interest" becomes the understood philosophy of life, and successful rejection of social expectations often leads to a kind of admiration that is elicited especially by many of our fictional heroes, in addition to our real ones. Indeed, much of our entertainment in the media comes from the depiction of rebellion and nonconformity.
(In no way am I saying that all expectations of conformity and cooperation are good and should be obeyed. There is much that is conducive to PSDED that is required by social groups, cultures, leaders, and individuals in authority, and efforts to call attention to and change such nonoptimal expectations are of course consistent with the REUEP. But I believe that it is easy to see much rebellious behavior as being productive of PSDED, rather than as ultimately reducing it.)
There is so, so much that we do that we shouldn't do (assuming the REUEP). And this has always been true. Will it ever change? Will we ever start living the way we know we really should? If so, how will this come about?
It will have to come about through our learning to be better than chimps. We will have to learn to do what works best (to promote the REUEP). Chimps can't do it. But we are able to understand much more accurately the probable outcomes of our behavior, such that we can develop ethical rules of conduct that will help us to change our behavior from that which comes naturally.
And so, here is one such ethical rule of conduct, which I believe you, as a Humanian, can accept, namely, that we should never engage in revenge, nor therefore in punishment that is for the sake of revenge.
Also, we should seek alternatives to punishment as methods of improving behavior, alternatives that do not produce anger but instead produce motivation for self-improvement through analysis of mistakes and the development of wisdom as to what the outcomes of our various contemplated acts are likely to be.
We will not change in the above manner just by believing we should and wishing we would. We have to know how. This means that we have to study. We have to have models and paradigms that tell us what to do (rather than what we will just naturally do). And yet this is exactly what we don't have, that is, a globally understood and agreed upon set of such models and paradigms.
In the chapters on "Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention" and "Rational-Ethical Child Rearing" (in the freely downloadable textbook from HomoRationalis.com), such models and paradigms are presented for consideration. There is no reason to assume that these are the final answers to any particular questions or to our effort in general. There may indeed be even better. I don't believe there are, but that is because I have developed these and are most familiar with them. If there are better ones, then those should extend, modify, or replace what I have offered.
But as a Humanian, can you conclude that the REUEP is promoted most by refraining from studying, understanding, and using, if not improving upon, such efforts? As a Humanian, can you simply say, "Well, I'll think about that tomorrow"? Can you say, "Well, it sounds interesting. It's something to explore when I have nothing better to do." Can you say, "Sounds good to me. Hope someone starts doing it."?
I believe being Humanian involves studying.
And at the beginning of this chapter I commented on how different your life will become if you are or become a Humanian. It will be different because you will do different.
Humanianity is a religion of action.