Quotulatiousness

June 18, 2017

QotD: Punishment, Coercion, and Revenge

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Because I’m both both a libertarian and famous for conducting a successful propaganda campaign, libertarian activists sometimes come to me for tactical advice. During a recent email exchange, one of these criticized me for wishing (as he thought) to “punish” the Islamist enemies of the U.S. and Western civilization.

I explained that I have no desire to punish the perpetrators of 9/11; what I want is vengeance and death. Vengeance for us, death for them. Whether they experience ‘punishment’ during the process is of little or no interest to me.

My correspondent was reflecting a common confusion about the distinctions among coercion, revenge, and punishment. Coercion is intended to make another do your will instead of their own; vengeance is intended to discharge your own anger and fear. Punishment is neither of these things.

Punishment is a form of respect you pay to someone who is at least potentially a member of the web of trust that defines your ethical community. We punish ordinary criminals to deter them from repeating criminal behavior, because we believe they know what ethical behavior is and that by deterring them from crime we help them re-integrate with an ethical community they have never in any fundamental sense departed.

By contrast, we do not punish the criminally insane. We confine them and sometimes kill them for our own safety, but we do not make them suffer in an effort to deter them from insanity. Just to state the aim is to make obvious how absurd it is. Hannibal Lecter, and his all-too-real prototypes, lack the capacity to respond to punishment by re-integrating with an ethical community.

In fact, criminal psychopaths are not even potentially members of an ethical community to begin with. There is something broken or missing in them that makes participation in the web of trust impossible; perhaps the capacity to emotionally identify with other human beings, perhaps conscience, perhaps something larger and harder to name. They have other behavioral deficits, including poor impulse control, associated with subtle neurological damage. By existing, they demonstrate something most of us would rather not know; which is that there are creatures who — though they speak, and reason, and feign humanity — have nothing but evil in them.

Eric S. Raymond, “Punishment, Coercion, and Revenge”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-07-05.

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