Most of us are taught from a young age that revenge is wrong, and it’s better to turn the other cheek. But far from condemning vengeance as something we must learn to overcome, the desire to get even is an indelible part of our nature, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, many say, we’d all be better off if society makes a place for revenge in our legal system, accepting it as an integral part of justice. “Doesn’t an eye for an eye leave the whole world blind? Won’t we have a more peaceful society if we abstain from seeking vengeance? To me, there’s a greater moral outrage in not taking an eye for an eye, or in taking less than an eye for an eye. It’s the moral outrage that comes when people feel they can get away with something. We’ve been taught that vengeance is an artefact of our primitive past. But there is no justice unless people feel avenged. Criminals and wrongdoers should be made to pay back what is owed. “
There’s a fear of revenge run amok, like when we hear of the Hatfields and the McCoys, where there’s been so much tit for tat and doubling down on tit for tat that nobody knows how to stop it. But I think a blood feud is different from vengeance, because vengeance by definition is proportionate.
I only feel strongly about the death penalty when we’re talking about the worst of the worst. I’m not saying the death penalty or life in prison without parole can ever redress the harms that were committed. But I do know that to under-punish, to shortchange, is a kind of moral violation that we should find intolerable. I write about the woman in Iran who was blinded by a classmate, with acid thrown in her face. Originally the sentence was that a doctor would put acid in the eyes of the person who did that—truly an eye for an eye. This woman has been blinded and disfigured for the rest of her life, and why should the other person not experience the same thing? In the end, both the court and she decided not to go through with that remedy. Some...
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