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Spearing Pay Back: Retribution for Peace?

December 4th, 2009 · Posted by Hugo · 1 Comment

From Australia’s ABC News, Indigenous leaders urge recognition of traditional punishments:

Senior Indigenous people in the Northern Territory have called on the Prime Minister to officially recognise their customary laws including traditional punishments such as spearing.

Apparently our Western culture’s methods of punishment, namely jail time, is insufficient — relative to traditions, it seems unsatisfactory for implementing deterrence or retributive justice. An idea behind retributive justice is that it can provide satisfaction and psychological benefits to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society. We have the same reactions in Western culture, we are just more satisfied or accepting of prison terms.

So what’s the difference in this instance? Are prison terms quantitatively less than public shaming or getting speared in the leg, as explained in the above article? (Please read it.) No! Apples and oranges! The difference is found in the meaning Western culture and those communities’ traditional culture place in these punishments.

We are not born with beliefs and meanings assigned with regards to the sufficiency of one punishment versus another. Sure, we are generally born with innate intuition that getting stabbed and having your freedom taken away by others in response to a wrong constitutes punishment, but the meaning assigned to the different punishments are assigned by our culture.

According to the article, some communities become more violent when traditional punishments are not used. Not only more “original violence” (if I understand the third paragraph correctly), but also more retaliatory violence.

I propose recognising this as being due to the loss of a prior tradition with particular meaning in the culture, the loss of meaning thus. The loss of meaning can be particularly traumatic.

Things to think about:

  • What do you think of their traditional punishments?
  • Do you think there are some good reasons for permitting them?
  • What would be your suggestions for the future of justice in Australia if it were up to you?
  • Are campaigns in some Western countries or US states to bring back the death penalty similar?

Categories: Worldviews
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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Powerful Peddlers of a Sense of Meaning // Dec 15, 2009 at 1:23 am

    […] Let’s continue with the meaning theme I started with The Pursuit of Meaning and illustrated with an Australian example, Spearing Pay Back: Retribution for Peace? […]

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