I used to believe in a doctrine I now call "axiological retribution".

No one should have trouble admitting that 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 positively good.

I believed this pretty much for my whole life up 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 of my elders tried so hard for so long to drill the opposite message into me. I was taught to turn the other cheek. But I never accepted that.

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: imagining a person created out of thin air, they had no good or evil acts, but their welfare was not valueless. It was 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 idealized visions of a better world involved much more violence than they do 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 more and more I saw the violence and undeserved suffering of the world as the greater problem over the welfare of the wicked, up to 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. I'd be lying if I said Doki Doki Literature Club didn't contribute. Undertale also would have if I hadn't already been done by then.

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. There are two: first, victim satisfaction. The emotional happiness of others has positive 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).

Second is purity. I'm not certain of this one, but it might be that coupling evil and pleasure together in general - at least in near vicinity - is wrong, in the same way that it could be impure to eat cookies while watching another video of police brutality. But this wouldn't extend to a general principle of hurting someone just for being guilty of something like that (and unrepentant, but not threatening).

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. Many 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.



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