Tuesday conversation: punishment.

Before you get all kinky because of the title, it’s not about what Republicans and priests do when nobody’s looking.  Dan Fincke and Libby Anne have one of their new deep questions out:

How and when (if ever) should we take it upon ourselves to punish someone in our lives for a moral failure? How does this vary depending on various possible relationships we might have to the the morally guilty party? Consider, for example, how or whether we might punish our friends, our partners, our parents, our colleagues, strangers we encounter, etc. What sorts of values and principles should guide us when we presume to take it upon ourselves to be moral enforcers?

I think the answer’s pretty simple: when their conscience fails to sufficiently punish them so that they will care about not making the same mistake in the future.

As far as what principles guide us, I’d say the fact that we learn from other people.  We don’t live long enough to make all mistakes ourselves, and sometimes we don’t always care as much about the consequences as we should.  Human nature: what can ya do?

The punishment should fit the crime, and should be whatever best helps the person to care (or to even be aware of their transgression).  For instance, if I tell Michaelyn that something she said hurt my feelings, her conscience will take over from there.  I have no need to make her feel guilty or to do anything else.  This is one of the failings of Christianity with the whole “eternal punishment” thing: punishment should be used to improve people, not just to make them suffer.

Sometimes a person’s conscience isn’t sufficient to keep them from acting immorally.  Take the husband who repeatedly beats his wife.  For them, we must apply external punishments like jail time.  This is not done out of revenge, but to curb people’s behavior so that they can function within a civilized society.  We want people to keep reaping the benefits of living in our society, but there must be standards of compassionate behavior to which we must expect people to ascend with some degree of regularity.

And if those we love want to be punished in the bed room, so be it!  😛  What is y’all’s take on punishment?

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.