Culture of Revenge

Coercion –- all force –- is unethical. Sometimes force is needed to prevent greater injustices, but even if we need a small injustice to prevent a greater injustice, this does not prevent the small injustice from being ultimately unjust. This is why corruption always occurs in governments, police forces, or active military. Practicing injustice by punishing injustice leads people to practice injustice.

This is clear when we realize what the practical actions of a just police or military force really is. While the presence of police or military force as a threat of force may prevent some injustices, only rarely are they around to actually prevent injustices from occuring. Usually, they react to injustices already performed. Punishing injustices already performed is revenge, and revenge is the returning of evil for evil. This creates a corrupt culture, especially among those with weak characters, as a culture of revenge is a culture of injustice. We create police and military forces to exact revenge for us so the culture at large can be free of the corrupting influence of revenge. This also allows us to act indignant whenever members of the police or military act unjustly –- as we should, even though by putting them in cultures of revenge, we make them prone to acting unjust. Thus, we sacrifice our police and military personnel to reduce corruption in the culture at large.

If we cannot eliminate corruption in a revenge culture, can we at least reduce corruption? The worst kind of good is one that is good because it is better than some other evil. A bad kind of vengeance is one where a greater evil is given for a lesser evil. A better kind is one where an equal evil is given for an evil. But we do not want a police or military with members as evil as those they fight. If we want better, less corrupt protectors, we need laws where, if revenge is needed, the revenge is a lesser evil than the crime. To do this, of course, requires we identify “evil,” including levels of “evil,” so we do not make the mistake of using a greater evil against a lesser one.

A historical example is Prohibition, when buying and selling alcohol could get one put in prison. This was a greater evil (putting someone in prison) for a lesser evil (buying and selling alcohol), and most would now say we used an evil against something that was and is at least morally neutral, since drunkenness and alcoholism are bad (these being actions), though the social benefits of drinking and the health benefits of at least red wine are good. Prohibition gave us dramatic increases in all crimes, especially murder, organized crime, and police corruption. When we repealed prohibition, all the crime rates dramatically decreased. This is why it is important to identify what is good and what is bad, and what is evil, so we can avoid corrupting our protectors.

For more on this idea, I encourage you to read my old essay The Tragic Institutions.


Interdisciplinary Education for an Interdisciplinary World

Part of the problem with education is students do not know what relevance many topics they study have for them.

I remember throughout grade and high school that I thought math to be utterly unimportant and irrelevant to anything I was ever going to do. And throughout most of my early years I had wanted to be a scientist. How could teachers have allowed me to think that math was not important? I did not really learn math was important until I took chemistry in high school. It was only then that I truly understood fractions for the first time.

And, even though I loved to read, I thought literature pointless (it did not help that in high schools they seem to go out of their way to find the most boring literature available –- I learned how wonderful literature was in college, when we were made to read books and stories that were actually interesting). Literature had nothing to do with biology, after all, and that was what I was going to go into. This attitude is not unique to me or to high school –- it prevails in most students, and through college.

It was only later, after I had decided to pursue literature and especially after I started working on my Ph.D. that I began to see how interconnected everything was. For my dissertation, I was able to use my biology (after all, I wrote a dissertation titled Evolutionary Aesthetics), and I further discovered that it would have been a much, much, much better dissertation if I had known a great deal more math (fractal geometry and statistics in particular) and had learned to program (I actually needed to learn how to program much, much earlier than my Ph.D. dissertation, for my first attempt at grad school, but after I dropped out of my Master’s in biology, I didn’t think I needed to learn the programming I had needed to learn to finish my Master’s thesis–wrong again!).

I learned as I progressed through grad school that I actually needed many more tools from many more disciplines to do the work I wanted to do. For my dissertation, I needed to know social psychology, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, economics, linguistics, neurobiology, molecular biology, mathematics, chaos theory and fractal geometry, programming, literature, and philosophy. And I didn’t know the math or programming I needed. I found a programmer, fortunately, but even then it would have been much better if I could have done it, and I couldn’t do the math I needed to do certain analyses to more definitively prove my thesis.

The disciplinary approach to teaching is breaking down. Students are siphoned into what they enjoy, and these same students then ignore everything else, complaining about anything that intrudes on the one thing they want to learn. This kind of hyper-specialized education is fine if all you want to produce is worker bees. But if you want creative thinkers, those who can come up with new things –- the kind of people who will make more wealth and produce more value in and for the world –- then disciplinary-only educations will not work.

What we need is a truly interdisciplinary education. We need interdisciplinary thinking, interdisciplinary classes, and interdisciplinary education. Only an interdisciplinary education will allow students to see how disciplines are interrelated. Only an interdisciplinary education will create interdisciplinary thinkers who can create more value in and for the world. We need chemists who love Bach, biologists who love Goethe, businessmen who love Aristotle. We need philosophers who love biology and business and artists who love physics and economics. Only with an interdisciplinary education will we have people who think this way, across the disciplines, through the disciplines, complexifying their thought so new things can be thought. What would the world be like if our politicians actually knew and understood the economics of Ludwig von Mises, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the plays of Sophocles, the linguistics of Chomsky and Pinker, the novels of Kafka, chaos theory, systems theory, evolutionary theory, the poetry of William Blake, and ancient Greek history? Could interdisciplinary thinking finally give the country great statesmen instead of demagogues? Could an interdisciplinary education create more ethical businessmen, since they would understand that there is not a conflict between ethical action and profit? Imagine a businessman who knew the value of a dollar, of his workers, and of a van Gogh. Imagine what an interdisciplinary education would do for teachers. Wouldn’t it make them – teachers? How can teachers teach when they know nothing? Teachers more than anyone should be interdisciplinary. They should know and understand the reason for having an interdisciplinary education, to understand and know the connections between the disciplines, and be able to help their students understand the importance of all the disciplines for understanding any one of the disciplines.

What is interdisciplinarity? It is not multidisciplinarity, where we have just a hodgepodge. It is not having students doing writing exercises in math class, or quadratic equations in literature class. That does not show students how the disciplines are interrelated. To have an interdisciplinary education, students need to know the value of each of the disciplines, how they relate to each other, the history of the disciplines. Students do not know how modern science arose out of natural philosophy and religion. Misunderstandings of ideas such as entropy make people reject evolution on the argument that more complexity could not arise in an entropic universe, where everything is becoming more random (this is, incidentally, not quite what entropy is about). We need to teach students about systems and complexity and information, so they can see how all disciplines relate to one another. This will give students an interdisciplinary education. And they will need an interdisciplinary education if they want to have an edge in this increasingly interdisciplinary world.