Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Honour and Revenge

Hi all, just popping in to point out a really interesting interview on Salon.com. You'll have to watch an ad to check it out, but it's really worth it - a discussion of how the concept of "an eye for an eye" has been misinterpreted, and how in some ways primitive honor-based societies had the right idea:
To get the value exactly right, we say an eye is worth an eye. You have a right to my eye. Now you can say to me, "I'm going to take your eye." Then I'm going to say, "Hey, what would you be willing to accept instead?" It becomes an initial bargaining position.

If you want victims to be more highly valued and you want real, adequate compensation, this is how to do it. Now if I offer you what some lousy insurance company says your eye is worth -- say, $100,000 -- you'll say, "No way! I would never have let you take my eye for that." Instead, you can be sure I'll put the same value on not losing my eye that you would have put on yours, and I will pay you that amount to keep my own eye. How about $5 million? Let's start there. And we'll bargain it out.

Of course there was no insurance in those societies. We like to think that life was cheap in those cultures, but the problem was that it was so expensive they couldn't get anything done. Life is cheap with us, despite all our talk about how we can't have capital punishment because human life is too valuable. Do you know there are these signs up on the Michigan highways that say, "Kill a worker, pay $7,500"?...

That's how it works. In some revenge cultures, you don't necessarily have to hit the person who did the wrong. You could hit the brother of that person, or his son. Sometimes the person who whacked your brother is not an equivalent person to your brother. If you kill him, you're devaluing your brother. Suppose the killer has a wonderful, very talented, beloved brother -- well, then you kill him.... But before we start laughing at that, consider what that means. If you know that those are the rules in your society -- that you, the cool guy, can die for the harm that your loser brother or cousin causes, you will control your loser brother or cousin. It makes for peacekeeping.

The group controls its own loser members. And here's how they do it: They whisper to the other side, "Take him out. He's free." You see this in Mafia movies sometimes. Or sometimes they'll ax their own guys. The Eskimos will kill their own guy, if he's causing too much trouble. Other societies tend to sell 'em out.
As they say, read the whole thing.

No comments: