The Bright Light of Punishment

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2014-07-13 – Human beings have a need to exact punishment. A variety of psychology experiments have shown this to be true. MRIs reveal how brightly our brains light up when we punish. We are willing, even eager, to punish—even if punishing a perpetrator costs us.

And cost us it does.

Game theory tells us why it is as important to punish bad behavior as it is to reward the good. But game theory also suggests that it is possible to go too far. In either direction.

And this happens, too.

When the Bible tells us “eye for an eye,” it isn’t telling us to amp up our punishments. It’s telling us to moderate our punishments. It’s telling us about proportionality. It’s telling us that we shouldn’t be listening to that light in our brains that we get when we punish. Go for the little light, it says, not the big one.

“Vengeance is Mine,” saith the Lord. Yet many believers want to give the Lord a helping hand in this area.

You see it today in the Holy Land where Hamas is firing missiles indiscriminately into populated areas of Israel (where fortunately their aim is fairly bad). For more than 60 years, the people of that region have adopted this tactic at huge costs to themselves and their people—and with no progress to show for it. But the bright light in the brain is addicting.

You see it today in American politics, where destruction of the opponent creates a brighter light in the brain than working for the prosperity and security of the people.

Working for real change is hard.

Working for that light in the brain is easy. Even amidst the chaos it brings.

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