Thursday, December 23, 2004

Revenge and the Psyche


People, especially stupid people, regard the satisfaction of revenge as some kind of legitimate goal in itself. Slap a murderer in prison, and you get an injection of self-righteous pride. Put the criminal on a program of rehabilitation with psychiatric assessment and people disconnect, get angry and dissatisfied, and start rumbing about lynchings.

Humans at large are highly irrational - that is to say they not only avoid thinking about things, but put a higher value in what is felt about an issue than what is thought or even known about an issue. Where our feelings are positive, they are generally thought of as good motivators. We should strive for happiness and love, for example. However where they are negative - such as in the case for revenge, they are something to be damped down, suppressed by rationality. Rational behaviour is precisely behaviour where we sacrifice the short term assauging of our instinctive appetites in order to achieve some goal which is far more rewarding in the long term. The lack of respect people have for the value of rationality is indicative of the lack hope that people hold out, as well as the natural tendency of humans to be motivated only by things occuring within a narrow context - i.e. close to home both temporally and physically.

Essentially, this is wired into our brains by evolution, where presumably it played a useful role first in individual survival and then later in group dynamics.

Game theory basically tells us that the best kind of societal re-enforcement learning is a quick and precisely even response to all unfair unjuries. Players in those ideal games quickly reach an equilibrium nearly as useful as if people always played for mutual benefit. In real life however, the rush gained from revenge can outweigh the pain of the original crime.

It strikes me as odd that humans have evolved a revenge mechanism which is so clearly less efficient that a fairness mechanism, and it worries me.



Anonymous Ronnie Sanzo said...

This is very informative. I hope to see more in the near future

12/11/2005 05:06:00 AM  

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