A Public Punishment

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These observations suggest that altruism is, at best, only a small part of the story. Moreover, even if punishment is crucial for achieving some forms of social cooperation, it might not have originated for that reason. Instead, perhaps it came about for another reason entirely, and only later assumed a socially beneficial role. O ne intriguing possibility can be found in early research on the evolution of social behaviour.

Altruism, according to him, is behaviour that imposes a cost on the actor and confers a benefit on a recipient. It fits more readily into another category Hamilton identified: spite.


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Spiteful behaviour imposes a cost on the actor and inflicts harm on the recipient. Could punishment have originated as a kind of spite, rather than as a scaffold for social harmony? Spite evolves in situations where organisms pay an absolute cost to generate a relative advantage; having one fewer offspring can be evolutionarily advantageous if it means that others have even fewer. Spiteful actions appear at many levels of biological organisation, ranging from fish , to macaques and, of course, to humans.

From an evolutionary perspective, spite is about levelling the playing field by taking everyone down, in order to get a leg up for oneself. Causing harm, based on group membership or some shared trait, might have evolved first, without a clear, tangible benefit. Once established, this sort of behaviour could then be coopted to enforce cooperation — or anything else for that matter, including bad or oppressive norms. When we survey nonhuman social behaviour, we see peculiar instances of what looks like punishment.

Consider Pseudomonas aeruginosa : these fascinating bacteria display a form of spite by producing costly and harmful toxins.

Punishment is not a Public Health Strategy: A Webinar on the Criminalization of Viral Hepatitis

There are numerous other examples. Honey bees police egg-laying. Imported red fire ants use pheromone markers to find and kill individuals that are genetically distinct. These examples suggest that there could be a wide range of punishment-like behaviours geared towards inflicting harm. A significant amount of current empirical and theoretical work focuses on the role of punishment in scenarios concerning public, shared goods. While this work is important, especially for thinking about humans, these studies suffer from a kind of myopia.

Consider a different well-studied scenario: the ultimatum game. In this setup, two players must decide how to divide a resource. One gets to propose a split, the other can accept the offer or reject it. If the offer is accepted, each gets his share specified by the proposal. If the offer is rejected, both parties receive nothing.

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The economically rational solution to this game is to offer as little as possible, and accept any offers that are made. When humans play this game, however, they frequently make offers that are more equitable and often reject those that are unfair. The Guardian. Retrieved 13 July Government of South Africa. Retrieved 18 July The Sydney Morning Herald. The Irish Echo Australia. Archived from the original on 29 September The Globe and Mail.

On the Public Finance of Capital Punishment by Alex Lundberg :: SSRN

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Georgetown, Kentucky: Finishing Line Press. Gementera " PDF. Categories : Physical punishments Public sphere Punishments Torture. Hidden categories: Articles with short description All articles with unsourced statements Articles with unsourced statements from March Wikipedia articles needing clarification from September All articles needing examples Articles needing examples from December Articles containing Dutch-language text Commons category link is on Wikidata. Namespaces Article Talk.

Views Read Edit View history. You cut off one of his hands. Drug dealers should be hanged. Women who have committed adultery should be stoned to death.

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Although such punishments are inconceivable in the Netherlands, this is the harsh reality abroad. The instruments of correction in the Prison Gate show that here, too, punishments used to be humiliating and gruesome. For four hundred years, the Prison Gate served as the prison of the Court of Holland; not as a prison for convicted offenders, but as a house of detention. The accused would await their sentences here — sentences that could result in fines, banishment or horrific scenes.

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There were roughly three kinds of punishments: public humiliation, corporal punishment and the death penalty. Nowadays, a suspect will be the focus of media attention until they are sentenced. Once the suspect has been sent to prison, the media coverage falls silent. For centuries, though, the opposite was true. The condemned was then punished in front of the largest possible audience.