Thursday, March 22, 2007

Is It Better to Receive or Dispense Injustice?

It is better to receive injustice than it is to perpetrate injustice. This can be explained using abstract models, as well as cultural and historical references.

Game theory simulations of the Prisoner’s Dilemma using computer programs over many iterations suggest that the tendency to forgive and refrain from retaliating or initiating harm may be advantageous. Of all the particular strategies, the most adaptive and successful algorithm was known as “Tit for Tat”. The program would abstain from the betrayal option until it had become a victim. It would retaliate in the next iteration, and, if the opponent did not betray that turn, would forgive. This approach was very successful against the other ones, including the completely ruthless and completely altruistic algorithms.

Many cultures endorse a policy of pacifism. Christ supposedly stated in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;” and: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Metta and Ahimsa, non-violence, are core tenets of Buddhism and Jainism, respectively. As social creatures, it may be an evolutionary trait to forgive or abstain from (retaliatory) violence because doing so contributes to the cohesion and thus survival of the group.

Past instances of this situation can be found throughout history. Recent and egregious cases might be the concentration and death camps of Nazi Germany or the gulags of the U.S.S.R. Although Stalin and Hitler approved of the killing, they personally did not commit each act of violence. Somewhere between the desires of these dictators and their realization, several people were offered this simple choice: perform some violent act on someone else, or have violence visited upon you. Every higher-ranking person threatens the lower ranks, and, perhaps in fear of their lives, goons and lackeys all down the chain of command obey orders to harm other people. Thus miserable acts are committed. Were each underling to make the choice to refrain from violence, the cycle would stop entirely, as every higher rank (save the very top, i.e., Hitler, Stalin) would no longer threaten the lower ranks. Unfortunately, this ideal is not always practical or achievable. Self-preservation and a groupthink mentality undermine otherwise forgiving and pacific behavior. Relying on situational ethics to determine a suitable course of action would therefore be preferred.



Post a Comment

<< Home