Sunday, February 27, 2011

Preferences vs principles 2: the other side of the coin

As I said previously, most of my personal preferences could be said to be "conservative". But not all. There are a few things that could be seen as "liberal".

For example:

I despise religion of any sort. It's your business if you want to worship something/someone as long as you don't try to coerce anyone else to go along. That means you don't base "laws" on your superstitions.

I also have a lot of skepticism of "traditional morality" when it comes to sex and "family". I don't think the traditional family works too well for a lot of people. Maybe most people can force themselves into that too-round hole, but in a lot of cases it isn't a comfortable fit.

I also doubt that punishment does much to change behavior. Instead I'm afraid it simply reinforces an "us vs them" mentality in those who are punished- especially when the punishment is out of proportion to the act (such as in the case of ALL counterfeit "laws"). And I trust no State enough to give it the "authority" to kill people for any reason. (The ONLY legitimate death penalty is carried out at the time and place of the attack, by the intended victim or a rescuer.)


  1. "especially when the punishment is out of proportion to the act"

    This part is correct. There was a recent study I could try to dredge up if you want.

    "I also doubt that punishment does much to change behavior."

    I think this part is you projecting too much.
    At first, punishment does create an us-vs-them dynamic. However, most accept authority implicitly, which leads to two further stages - first is accepting the inevitability of the punishment, and the second is internalization.

    That is, punishing a human, in most cases, ends up directly creating the belief that the punished behaviour is wrong. (You can also do this to chimp groups.)

    For example, look how closely beliefs about 'pedophilia' track the official age of consent. Even though there's a bit of dissent in the form of the 'jailbait' concept, most believe that nailing jailbait should actually result in jail. Or more generally, only the Amish think the age of majority isn't exactly what the government says it is.

    Tragically, it seems to me that it is this dynamic that causes the acceptance of authority in the first place. They can't fight authority, so they simply accept it, and then rationalize the acceptance, and then think accepting it was their own idea all along.

  2. "I think this part is you projecting too much"
    That is always a possibility.

    I'm not sure how that meshes with observation, though. I think if people actually did change their behavior when facing the possibility of punishment (other than trying to hide it better) things that are punished would decline in frequency. I don't see this happening with any behavior.

    After a century of "drug laws", the same percentage of people have an addiction problem as before drugs were criminalized. For any "illegal" behavior I can think of, the same observation holds. Including "age of consent". I'm not talking about what people say they believe, or their enthusiasm for punishing "the other guy" when he is caught, but how many ignore the "law" when it comes down to their personal life.

    I don't usually fight authority; I just ignore it when I can.

  3. Victorian England had a crime rate 1/50th of current England's. This is including the several-day jail terms for 'public swearing.' Punishment definitely works, even if only by sheer Pavlovian aversion.

    It's just that the current legal system barely pretends to be punishing to anyone who isn't 'racist' or 'sexist.'

    When the law fails to punish, then it loses its ability to create rationalizations.
    I've seen a version of this personally, where I was first told I was morally obliged to obey one teacher, then that I was not morally obliged to obey the next, less strict teacher, by the same person.

    The reason I brought up chimp groups is that they created an aversion to climbing a stair set with a banana at the top by blasting them with a fire hose. They got them to internalize it: they would prevent new arrivals from going up the stairs. This continued even when they replaced every individual that had been blasted.

    It's pretty much the same thing with Christians and abstinence: none of them have really gotten blasted - syphilis responds to antibiotics, babies don't die of starvation anymore - but they're still paranoid about it.'s the same thing again with taxation. Everyone enforces it on each other, because it was internalized by their ancestors.

  4. Victorian England also had armed good guys everywhere, raising the actual risk of being a bad guy to proper levels. When left to The State there has never been a very good correlation between actual harm done and the punishment meted out if you are caught. Even today bad guys claim they fear armed targets more than they fear arrest. As well they should. "The Law" does more to protect them from the normal consequences of their behavior than anything else.

    Which brings up another point- I don't think there has ever been a very high certainty of being caught and punished for "criminal activity". Plus, every bad guy seems to think he'll never get caught anyway.
    It is also safer for "The Law" to come down hard on people who are only violating counterfeit "laws". Real bad guys shoot back.

    The chimp experiment brings some questions to mind- Were the chimps blasted with water every time consistently, or was it random, and if random, was it common or rare? I've read where if a consequence or reward happens every time, it fades from the mind quickly once it stops. If it happens more randomly, it can stay on the mind longer. There is always the hope (or fear) it will happen just this time. I guess the chimp experiment is a good look at how a religion begins.

  5. Ah, yes.

    The chimp experiments should have made me wonder that myself, but didn't. I usually just wait till I run across it again, so that is probably what I"ll do this time.

    Where I'm going with this is basically that I like the idea of a court system. Evidence and argumentation and so on. I think such a thing can be done through contracts. And I bet the market would punish things like juries. Indeed, the common law system was originally neither official nor centralized, and had no powers of enforcement.

    It would be funny to see a system that required the customers to be disarmed compete against one that didn't.

  6. I think courts, or arbitration, will always be a part of any justice system. I just don't think allowing a government monopoly in that area works very well. If any justice occurs in government-owned courts, it is purely by accident.