Sunday, June 29, 2008

Revenge and the rule of law

There's more to report on that study of cooperation, anti-social behavior and revenge. It's not news (it dates from March 2008), but it may be new to you as it was to me:
In countries like the USA, Switzerland and the UK, freeloaders accepted their punishment and became much more co-operative. But in countries based on more authoritarian and parochial social institutions such as Oman, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Russia, the freeloaders took revenge — retaliating against those who had punished them.

Co-operation for the common good plummeted as a result.

In societies where the modern ethic of co-operation with unrelated strangers is less familiar and the rule of law is perceived to be weak, revenge is more common and co-operation suffers, the study found.
...
“Our results correlate with other survey data in particular measures of social norms of civic co-operation and rule of law in these same societies. The findings suggest that in societies where public co-operation is ingrained and people trust their law enforcement institutions, revenge is generally shunned. But in societies where the modern ethic of co-operation with unrelated strangers is less familiar and the rule of law is weak, revenge is more common."
That's from a University of Nottingham press release. The paper is Antisocial Punishment Across Societies by Benedikt Herrmann, Christian Thöni, and Simon Gächter.

Sounds rather like a harsh excessively indictment, and western-centric.

I operate from the premise that all people are the same, and it is cultures that are different. That is, the primary reason for differences in behavior is the culture in which one is embedded. But cultures are not just arbitrarily different. They evolve and are locally adapted. I believe they locally adapt based on surrounding conditions and move in the direction of better adaption but that this process is slow and imperfect.

A question is, was it ever a good cultural adaptation to take revenge for being punished for noncooperative behavior?

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3 Comments:

Blogger Celal Birader said...

Authoritarian cultures, by virtue of the fact that they tend to squelch the freedom of expression of underlings, create pyschological pressures that make the desire to take revenge a difficult temptation to resist ore overcome.

So the results of these studies do not surprise me nor do i particularly think there is a pro-western bias in them.

12:15 AM  
Blogger John B. Chilton said...

I very much like your point, Celal.

Perhaps we all have a certain stock of desire for freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a good thing generally as it leads to the discovery of new ideas, new expressions of beauty, etc.

When it is suppressed, as in an authoritarian society, it can come out it in anti social expression.

2:36 AM  
Anonymous Muscat said...

I exchanged emails with one of the research compilers – the Omanis were from rural areas rather than Muscat.

So more used to operating in a closed society (my comment

12:00 AM  

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