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Montclair Socrates Cafe Message Board › How Cooperation Is Maintained in Human Societies: Punishment, Study Suggests

How Cooperation Is Maintained in Human Societies: Punishment, Study Suggests

A former member
Post #: 13
First of all, I'm sorry for bombarding this board with too frequent postings but this is in specific response to Jim G's comment made tonight.

How Cooperation Is Maintained in Human Societies: Punishment, Study Suggests

Unfortunately, now I've heard scientific arguments both for and against on this issue.

So for me, it's back to square one on this issue.

Jim G
Montclair, NJ
Post #: 8

My criticisms of the national IQ / national values study would carry over to this one too. I.e., the issue of human cooperation is probably multi-variate and extremely interdependent, involving social and cultural values, resources and wealth levels, distribution of wealth, positive incentives for cooperation and negative sanctions against non-cooperation (i.e., punishment). Again, the political / governance dynamics from society to society will be chaotic, sensitive to small variations, and overall will vary greatly depending on previous conditions, i.e. on the pathway to the present. One study of one society on one corner of the earth may indicate that punishment is more effective; another study in another place may show greater reliance on rewards for cooperation and strongly shared social values. Again, it is "complex", in the sense of the newly developing science of system complexity and emergence. (Emergence may be the paradigm in certain situations; cooperation "emerges" from the right set of conditions, and is not forced by sanction, in some rare instances. Maybe.)

But here in New Jersey, USA, well . . . punishment may be what works best, what is even expected. I'm actually going to "speak from experience" here for just a moment. NJ recently passed a motor vehicle law imposing big fines and moving violation points for driving across a marked pedestrian crossing area in a roadway (or unmarked crossing at a road intersection), if a pedestrian is standing on any part of that crossing. Doesn't matter if you didn't even come close to hitting the pedestrian, you have violated the law and a cop can pull you over for a nasty ticket and an increase to your car insurance bill.

Well, I'm now being a lot nicer to pedestrians when they are in a marked crossing area. I'm now stopping even if someone is still near the curb, and waving for them to cross. Once the cops start giving out tickets for this (an easy source of badly needed municipal revenue), I think that most drivers will come around to my new policy. It will probably make things better, especially for children and elderly pedestrians; there may well be fewer injuries. So I'm doing something socially cooperative. BUT, I'll be the first to admit -- if the enhanced possibility for punishment were not in place, I would not be so cooperative to pedestrians. I would still keep going so long as a pedestrian wasn't already out in the middle of the road, right in front of my car. I.e. "let 'em wait till I get by, cars first".

In sum: PUNISHMENT WORKED in inspiring from me a more socially cooperative attitude towards the needs of pedestrians wanting to get across roadways.

ALSO: It's interesting that another article is cited on the same Science Daily web page, with the title "Punishment Does Not Earn Rewards or Cooperation". But that article refers to small group situations, versus larger society-level cooperation. There is IMHO a change of moral mindset depending on the size of the group that is affected by an individual decision. Think of the music download situation. Most people just don't feel any guilt about illegally downloading copyrighted works of musical (and now movie) artwork, given that it's ripping off more than just the artist (i.e., the producer and distributor and the many shareholders in the big corporations that do the producing and distributing). Stealing music from a big corporation just doesn't set off moral alarms. An interesting example of why punishment is effective in certain cultures, where the impact of immoral behavior is widely distributed and seemingly "impersonal". I.e., cultures such as good old New Jersey!

Jim G.
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