Monday, April 9, 2012

A Programmer's View on Justice

(By "justice," I mean the Hammurabian "eye-for-an-eye" justice.  Thought I'd clarify.)

The common line of moral doctrine seems to be "treat unto others as thoust wish to be treated," maybe without so much of the Old English.  Seems fair enough, right?

I think that in a lot of cases it's complete bull, and here's why.

Let's redefine morality, for a second.  Morality, or how "good" a person is, we'll define as "how much they contribute to the world after subtracting how much they take from the world."  A simple profit-minus-expenses situation.  Makes sense, right?  After all, a "good" person would optimally have given more than they've taken.  The world would be better off having had a "good" person and worse off having had a "bad" person.

Now, for the sake of argument, let's quantify the world's resources.  Imagine the world is a room, and inside the room there are corn crops and humans.  These are the sole resources of the "world," and therefore the most "good" person will try to maximize the world's resources by growing crops.  Our world is therefore split up into environmental resources (food) and human resources (human labor, to grow the food).

A Scenario
We'll say we start out with 5 "food" and 5 "human."

Food: 5
Human: 5
Total: 10
We will assume that all humans grow food at the same rate and consume food at the same rate, and that they grow food faster than they consume it (so that they are always a positive resource).  Our total "world resources" is then 10 (combining food and human resources).  Of course, this number is arbitrary, and doesn't account for priority weights of "food" and "human" (a human might be five times as useful as a food, for example), but the number is going to be used relatively and therefore the technicalities don't matter.

So one day, Abert is a total jerk and burns Bartholomew's crop (-1 food).

Food: 4
Human: 5
Total: 9

Notice that our total "world resources" is now a little less.

So, what's the "fair" thing to do?

Bartholomew must get back at Abert, after all!  With the hands of justice, he burns Abert's crop (-1).

Food: 3
Human: 5
Total: 8

Congratulations.  From a global standpoint, you are now worse off.  And from a moral standpoint?  The world would be better off if neither Abert nor Bartholomew existed.  Therefore, their moral points are in the negative.

And now, the reasonable solution?
Screw fairness.  Bartholomew realizes that there's nothing he can do to get that burned food back.  He accepts the fate of his crop.

Food: 4
Human: 5
Total: 9

Wow, look at that!  We keep Abert's food, meaning the world is better off than in the previous solution.  Also, while the world is still better off having never conceived Abert, Bartholomew has no blood on his hands.  Therefore, only Abert is in the wrong.

And some clarifications...
...Because I'm sure the more perceptive of you are screaming at my inconsistencies.

"The point of justice," says you, "is to act as a preventative measure for crime.  So people think twice about burning people's crop."  And to that I say, that's absolutely right.  Justice is a necessary evil.  But that doesn't make it morally right.  It's actually quite the opposite.  It's just something we need to have, because the average human being prioritizes its own interests over the interests of the world, and that creates a negative trend unless these priorities can be suppressed by law and doctrine.

And to close, here's a quote by Gandhi, who explained this better than I ever could.
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

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