Violence is Normally Motivated by Morality - and therefore not Deterred by Punishment

" When parents spank a child, for example, they are usually doing it to elicit appropriate behavior, and often have the child’s best interests in mind. They are generally not spanking their child because they want to do it, or enjoy it, but because they feel obligated to teach them to behave normatively, or to maintain and reinforce the proper parent-child hierarchy. Thus the familiar refrain: this is hurting me more than it’s hurting you. We may disagree with the practice of spanking, and prefer non-violent means of achieving similar ends, but we can easily understand that spanking is moral in the eyes of those who do it.

This same logic can be scaled up to truly heinous acts, like the recent terrorist attacks in NigeriaFrance and Australia. Even these acts, argue Fiske and Rai, are motivated by a moral code that justifies or even requires them. When asked about the psychology behind the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris, Rai states “that’s a case where as awful as those acts of violence are, these are cases where the perpetrators felt that they were retaliating against what they perceived to be a gross, abhorrent moral wrong.”

Fiske and Rai argue that understanding the moral nature of violence is actually essential to reducing it, because the best way to change someone’s behavior is to understand what motivated that behavior in the first place. If violence were simply based on people’s selfish desire to inflict harm on others, punishing violence would likely be an effective deterrent. But if violence is morally motivated, punishment is unlikely to be effective because, as the authors write, “people will do what is morally required if they feel their cause is righteous – whatever the consequences.” "

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