Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Devil Inside

I was checking out this morning when I found that, as usual, Jared Diamond has come up with yet another deeply insightful yet horribly disturbing article:

For those who can't be bothered to read the whole article, I attempt to summarise it below:

Diamond tells of his friend, Daniel Wemp, a tribesman from Papua New Guinea who engaged in a 3-year quest for vengeance against a man who killed his uncle. Over a series of battles that would cost another 29 lives, Daniel's machinations finally bore fruit, and his uncle's murderer, Isum, was crippled for life. I say his machinations, because some of Daniel's clan had married into Isum's clan and as such, Isum was related to Daniel and so Daniel was not permitted to kill Isum by his own hand.

Diamond later goes on to elaborate on how "nearly all human societies today have given up the personal pursuit of justice in favor of impersonal systems operated by state gorverments - at least, on paper" and how New Guineans are coming to accept state-sanctioned justice over tribal revenge killings. This paragraph in particular stood out:

I asked Daniel why, on learning of Soll's [Daniel's uncle] death, he hadn't saved himself all the effort and expense, and just asked the police to arrest Isum. "If I had let the police do it, I wouldn't have felt satisfaction," he replied. "I wanted to obtain vengeance myself, even if it were to cost me my own life. I had to ask myself, how could I live through anger over Soll's death for the rest of my life? The answer was that the best way to deal with my anger was to exact the vengeance myself."

These words struck me fairly deeply, as they no doubt did Diamond, for he went on to tell of his father-in-law, Jozef's, experience with thirst for vengeance. For a moment, he stood, gun in hand, faced with the man who killed his mother, sister and niece. Jozef was an army officer, so he had comrades-in-arms with him who'd happily pull the trigger even if he could not. I tried to put myself in his shoes, and I doubt very much I'd have had the phenomenal courage that he showed that day. The murderer was taken to the police, imprisoned and investigated.

A year later he was released.

In Daniel's world, vengeance permeates all aspects of life. For lack of a powerful state-run authority, tribes and clans continue to play out their cycles of revenge killing. Even after exacting his vengeance, he would be a target of reprisals from Isum's clan for the rest of his life.

In Jozef's world, justice was denied by a failure of the system, and he died wishing he'd pulled the trigger that fateful day.

My own readings outside of this article, on how situational forces can bring out the Devil lurking inside all of us and how people of a certain disposition can continuously perpetrate crimes against their fellow man, lead me to the conclusion, together with this article, that peaceful coexistence (in fact, the very existence of man in general) boils down to Dehumanisation, which I'll save for a later post, and the System that is in place.

I believe it is the duty of our best and brightest to wield the lessons of history to engineer such a System that guarantees justice and fair opportunity to an acceptable quality of life to all. I think we have, to some small degree, achieved stable states that more or less move towards this standard. Of course, they are flawed, like anything else, but such flaws can be identified and slowly weeded out. More flaws will make themselves known, but that's all well and good, else the lawmakers would be terribly bored otherwise.

What worries me is how to achieve a stable world-state. Throughout world history, as Diamond points out in his article, never before has a state been established spontaneously out of a realisation that it would best serve the interests of all. There are only 2 ways in which a state has arisen in history:

1) In the face of a greater external threat, disparate groups merge to form a state to better fight the external threat; and

2) One group dominates the others through the adoption of proto-state institutions.

1 doesn't look likely to happen anytime soon, much as the nihilist in me wants to see continents incinerated by aliens. 2? The way the world is now, do you honestly see one group gaining absolute dominance over the planet? Are we really so different from the tribes of New Guinea?

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