When given the same ability to punish anyone, cooperative people want to punish members of groups they identify with more than they do outsiders, while less cooperative people want to punish outsiders more. From the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior:
..[W]e predict that … punishment behavior is directed toward in-group members who are found to be noncooperators. To examine this, we conducted a gift-giving game experiment with third-party punishment. The results of the experiment (N=90) support the following hypothesis: Participants who are cooperative in a gift-giving game punish noncooperative in-group members more severely than they punish noncooperative out-group members.
The researchers’ conclusion is that punishment is just an extension of cooperation, and so applies in the same areas. They were not expecting, and haven’t got a good explanation for, uncooperative people’s interest in specifically punishing outsiders.
This provides a potential explanation for something I was wondering about. Middle class people often seem to talk about poor people and people from other cultures in terms of their actions being caused by bad external influences, in contrast to the language of free will and responsibility for their own kind. Discussion of Aboriginals in Australia regularly exemplifies this. e.g. SMH:
More than half the Aboriginal male inmates in prison for violent crimes are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, an academic says.
And without effective intervention, the “stressors” for the disorder will be passed on to other generations, perpetuating the cycles of crime.
Dr Caroline Atkinson said most violent inmates had suffered from some form of family violence, alcohol and drug use, as well as profound grief and loss…
“It was a confronting experience being inside a cell with someone who has committed murder, but I quickly realised they are the ones with the answers and they had such amazing insight,” she said.
This is quite unlike news coverage I have seen of middle class white murderers. When we see faults as caused by external factors rather than free will or personal error, we aren’t motivated to punish. Is the common practice of coolly blaming circumstance when we talk about situations like violence in Aboriginal communities because the good, cooperative people who write about these things don’t identify with the groups they are talking about?
On a side note, is our ‘widening moral circle’ linked to greater desire to reform other cultures?