“An Eye for an Eye” is Deterrence Against Violence

The concept of deterrence is the credible commitment to retaliation by one party to convince another party to not initiate force. If one party can convincingly persuade another party that any act of unprovoked violence will be met with equal or greater violence, that would constitute effective deterrence. The assumption is that both parties are rational. Here rational is defined as apprehending a situation accurately and acting in one’s own self-interest. Gandhi did not understand this simple idea, being blinded by his admiration of the Christian bilge about “turning the other cheek”.

Gayatri Jayaraman (‏@Gayatri__J) wrote this on twitter:

“an eye for an eye will leave the world blind” – Mahatma Gandhi. Why ahimsa is the only force that can win us our wars

That quote is often attributed to Gandhi but there’s some doubt about its veracity. In any event, it does appear to have the same kind of moralistic stench that finds so much favor among his devotees. It’s an idiotic belief. For a start, believing that an eye for an eye would leave the whole world blind necessitates the belief that all humans are bloodthirsty, vengeful savages with no compassion or kindness. This is patently false. Aside from a small percentage of sociopaths, humanity largely behaves according to the live and let live policy of mutual accommodation. This has to be so, for otherwise civilization would never have taken hold, and it would have been a Hobbesian war of all against all.

The moralistic stench of Gandhi’s pronouncements

The sociopaths, small though in relative numbers, have to be deterred from doing harm to minimize the prevalence of violence in any society. If those who poke out others’ eyes were to believe that they would not be punished, a certain number of innocent people would become blind because violence would not attract any penalties. If ahimsa or non-violence implies a commitment to not respond to violence with violence, then many innocents would suffer. If instead, a credible commitment can be made ex ante that the perpetrator of any eye-gouging will have his eyes removed, then it would deter anyone who cares for his own eyes. This is based on the reasonable assumption that even sociopaths are rational and would want to preserve their eyes, even though they lack empathy and other fine human emotions.

Therefore, in a world where everyone knows that “eye for an eye” system of justice prevails, there will be fewer blind people than in a world of “turn the other cheek” or ahimsa nonsense.

Now coming to the claim that “ahimsa is the only force that can win us our wars”. Perhaps I am intellectually challenged but I cannot for the life of me fathom how non-violence can win any war in which the other party is committed to as much violence as needed to achieve some aim. An army is advancing intent on waging unprovoked war. Is lying down and getting slaughtered a good way to “win” that war, as ahimsa would require? Perhaps I misunderstand what the word “win” means. If “to win” means complete and utter annihilation, only then it makes sense.

So I responded to Gayatri with a version of the above argument and she replied with

I think that’s the same logic the gun lobby uses

I did not know that. I thought the US gun lobby says that they have the right to bear arms because of the 2nd Amendment, and it is for self-defense. I am OK with the 2nd Amendment, as I wrote in the previous blog post “Guns are Instruments, not Sentient Volitional Beings.”

I don’t have any truck with the gun lobby. But I believe in individual freedom, and the right of individuals to defend themselves. Self-reliance may dictate to some the need to carry a weapon. And it may help in some situations.

Consider what would have happened if say some of the club goers in the Pulse Club in Orlando had hand guns. Someone could have stopped the Islamic terrorist much earlier than when the cops showed up. I’m just asking that the possibility be examined.

Gandhi was given to solipsism

Gandhi was probably not an intentionally evil man, even though he committed evil on astronomically colossal scales, leading to the deaths of untold millions of innocents. He was arguably self-delusional and given to sophistry. Most certainly he considered his judgement to be final and unquestionable — a naive solipsism that would embarrass the average undergraduate with any training in logic and rhetoric. Too bad that his education stopped at his lawyering, after which he considered himself to be the last word on everything — from seismology to plumbing. (He claimed that earthquakes were his god’s punishment for human immorality. The man was certifiably insane.)

One of the greatest mysteries of India is why Indians hold Gandhi in high regard. He was a fruitcake. And that is being very very generous to the man.

Author: Atanu Dey


5 thoughts on ““An Eye for an Eye” is Deterrence Against Violence”

  1. The sentence ‘Gandhi was given to solipsism’ probably sums it up all. For him only his principles existed, nothing else mattered. This was not naivety, but probably an unchecked ego. After all he was human. Sometimes blindly following an ideology leads to problems. Gandhi was definitely not right in thinking that ahimsa is a solution to everything. When there is unprovoked violence, it cannot be tackled with non-violence as Gandhi suggested. If the language of non-violence cannot be understood it is best tackled with violence. Otherwise the followers of ahimsa will only go blind and the perpetrators will roam around inciting more violence without a deterrent called punishment.


    1. Yes, and that seems to be what even the human rights activists prefer. The escalation of violence by a certain group is a witness to how meek the other section of the society has become. These people don’t understand non-violence, compassion etc. Yet the so called ‘civilized’ society is ridiculously quiet.


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