I have made quite a few blogs about my support for abolishing prisons and of reforming violent offenders in more compassionate environments. I have explained both the fiscal benefits and the social benefits, namely that preventing crime and rehabilitating offenders helps protect potential victims.
However, after having discussed prison reform with people, and after receiving people’s replies to my post about executing child rapists, I realize the real issue to many people.
They seek vengeance.
Such people support the harshness of prison and the murderousness of execution not because they want to protect other people but because they want vengeance. They support vengeance in and of itself.
Regardless of whether vengeance will protect people or prevent violence, they want vengeance.
I can understand the feelings of anger and hate that can make a person want to get vengeance. We can also call it payback or revenge, but whatever we call it I understand the feeling. However, I have previously taken it for granted that other people realize the dangerousness of letting themselves act on the petty desire for vengeance. When emotions like anger overtake us, we often make stupid and even regrettable decisions because we lose control so to speak. But we generally know that. At the time, emotions can cloud our less-primitive judgment, but otherwise we know of the foolishness of acting out of those petty emotions. But some people do not seem to realize that point in regards to vengeance. Why? Why do so many people support vengeance–not only in times of severe anger but also in more typical states?
Why do these people think they have some “moral right” to vengeance? What does it even mean to have such a moral right?
Why does vengeance trump compassion for so many people? I am not a religious man, but I have accepted many of the secular teachings of Jesus, such as when he said love your neighbor and when he said let he who has not sinned cast the first stone. Whether because of Jesus or not, I figured most people supported those ideas.
By all means, I support protecting innocent people. I support the defensive use of violence and force, including forcing people to repay others to whom they have caused damages. But why do so many people support causing harm to people simply for the sake of vengeance? Why do they want to cause vengeful harm to people not to protect others but just to get payback or revenge?
More importantly, how can those of us who do not support vengeance convince those that do to stop? Like I said, I took it for granted that people had accepted compassion and rejected vengeance.
I do not know how to respond to people who believe they have some so-called “moral right” to vengeance. I do not know how to dissuade people from the “eye for an eye” code of conduct. I do not know how to convince people not to slap the man who has slapped them. I do not know how to convince people not to murder the man who has murdered one of their family members.
So I ask you in all seriousness: How do you dissuade people from vengeance? What do you see as the flaws in the philosophy of an eye for an eye? How can we convince people not to make policy choices based on vengeance? Do you have any statistics or research that shows the self-harmfulness of vengeance? If so, please post them! Do you have any quotes or advice from the world’s wisest teachers such as the ones I mentioned by Jesus? If so, please post them!
Even if you do not fully oppose vengeance, please post comments about what you see as the best arguments against vengeance. This blog will not succeed at preventing violence unless I can figure out how to prevent vengeful violence. In fact, I would venture to say that most people who commit offensive violence commit it out of a desire for vengeance. What do you think?