How I left axiological retribution
I used to believe in a doctrine I now call "axiological retribution".
Obviously it's better for a bad person to suffer than for a good person to suffer. Axiological retribution is the idea that a sufficiently bad person's suffering is not just less bad, but good.
I believed this pretty much for my whole life until I was 20 or 21. An interesting thing is that this was never taught to me. I was raised in a catholic household, where all my elders tried so hard for so long to drill the opposite message into me. The belief absolutely didn't come from society, and didn't come from conscience either, because it's wrong. It came from emotional self-interest.
How I left catholicism
So I thought it would be interesting to write about why I stopped believing this, and what I think of it now.
Ultimately the reason I stopped was because it presented philosophical quandary that could be resolved by throwing the doctrine out: if a good person's welfare was good and a sufficiently evil person's welfare was bad, there had to be a zero line. And worse, that line *wasn't at the *merit* zero line*: imagine a person created out of thin air, they have no good or evil acts, but their welfare is not valueless. It's positive. So if the welfare zero line wasn't at the merit zero line, where was it and why? There didn't seem to be a satisfactory answer.
But by the time I thought of that, I'd already grown much less attached to the doctrine. My departure from it started with more emotional causes, and I don't think the above would've convinced me if I hadn't had the emotional changes first.
Mostly, it was from seeing the cruelty of the world. For most of my teenage years I hadn't been as connected to the world as I am now. I didn't follow news or politics much. I was also a "chaos anarchist"; my vision of a better world involved much more violence than it does now. It was after I grew farther from chaos anarchism and about as close to anarcho-capitalism as I ever was that I got a different perspective. I was driven by desire for harmony with other ancaps to raise my valuation of peace relative to the chaos anarchist concept of justice, so increasingly I saw the violence and undeserved suffering of the world as the greater problem over the welfare of the wicked, an order of magnitude more than I used to.
I describe it as a feeling of desperation. I said something like, "the world is so fucked, it would be such a victory just to end the suffering. I'd have a hard time feeling unsatisfied with that, even if everyone responsible went unpunished." Obviously that's not a rational thought. But it was a righteous feeling. And it led me to having more rational and more moral beliefs.
Another thing that played a role was getting more experience with hypotheticals where even a person who believed in axiological retribution could agree that mercy was appropriate. Doki Doki Literature Club definitely contributed, and Undertale also would have if I hadn't already been done by then.
Doki Doki Literature Club review
I don't believe in the doctrine outright anymore, but what I believe now is that the situations that made it look right to me were because of other factors, namely victim satisfaction. The happiness of innocents has high value, and for someone really evil, their suffering has almost neutral value, so if someone wants to inflict suffering, it could be worse to prevent it than to allow it (even if you could prevent it without the enforcement fallacy).
The enforcement fallacy
I think another factor has been my intense desire to build bridges between the left and right anarchist factions. It's required me to confront the idea of having to defend someone I think is a criminal, for the sake of maybe reaching a peaceful arrangement later. Building bridges between people who see each other as criminal is really hard when you believe in axiological retribution. It's the same reason I've come to think one of the most underrated concepts in all ideologies is proportionality of force.
And for all this, I'll always be much more sympathetic to axiological retribution than most people. Most people give it too little credit in a lot of situations, failing to treat it as as different from aggression as it is even when I agree it's wrong. I think I'd feel in better company having someone else around who believed it to balance everyone else.
Myopias on violence
subscribe via RSS