Justice or Revenge

In simple terms, justice comprises a set of rules that a group of people are bound by. If you break a rule, you receive a proportionate punishment. The punishment acts as a retribution and as a deterrent. The deterrent aspect acts as a form of protection to any potential victims of potential wrongdoers.

Revenge is personal. Punishment is less likely to be seen as proportionate.


In some cultures, adultery is a crime that is punishable by death. The adulterer is buried up to their chest, and crowds of people throw rocks and stones at the adulterer's head until they die a slow, painful and humiliating death.

Rape victims can be considered adulterers too.

Proving adultery under Muslim law is difficult, as it requires four witnesses to the act of sexual intercourse. Each witness must have a good reputation for truthfulness. This makes me think that it is just an excuse for victimisation. Who on Earth would have adulterous sex in the presence of four people well known for their truthfulness? Surely there must be safer ways to spice up your sex life.

In the UK, adultery is not a crime, but it is grounds for divorce. Often the spouse of a repeat adulterer will choose to stick with the marriage. The UK has an online dating agency for adulterers. It boasts over half a million members.

Two different cultures have completely different views on adultery. Which one is correct? Is either correct? How would we measure correctness? A referendum?

Individuals may be devastated to discover that their partner has been unfaithful. They might feel that justice isn't enough, and seek revenge. They may even kill their partner and then themselves. Would society have sympathy for such an individual, or their partner? When they married, they knew there was no law against adultery, and although they vowed to remain married until death, that is not enforcable.

Honour killings

Honour killings are often connected to accusations of adultery. Honour killings continue to be legal in parts of the world.

Part of article 340 of the Penal Code of Jordan states that "he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills, wounds, or injures one of them, is exempted from any penalty."

In Syria, Article 548 states that "He who catches his wife or one of his ascendants, descendants or sister committing adultery or illegitimate sexual acts with another and he killed or injured one or both of them benefits from an exemption of penalty."

Bad justice

Consider the situation where several wrongdoers perform punishable acts against a victim. Due to corruption, there is injustice, and instead of the wrongdoers being punished, the victim is punished with devastating effect. The wrongdoers and the corrupt justice deliverers are aware of the devastation they've caused the victim. How would society react to the victim causing devastation to one or more of the wrongdoers? What if the victim's act is seen to be way out of proportion to the acts of the wrongdoers? The victim may consider that the effect of the act is more important than the act itself, and he wants at least one of the wrongdoers to suffer at least the same amount of devastation as he did, and to bitterly regret their wrongful acts every day for the rest of their lives. They may have carried out their wrongful act on a whim, for a bit of fun. The victim would want them to desperately wish they could go back in time and make a different choice. How much sympathy would society have for such a wrongdoer?

The fear of revenge is a form of deterrent, but revenge is a very poor and dangerous substitute for proper justice. Justice not only protects the innocent, it can protect the guilty too by ensuring that the punishment is proportionate to the crime. How would the devastated wrongdoer feel about those who delivered the injustice that left them vulnerable to the disproportionate acts of revenge?

Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder

In an earlier post, David Yamada describes Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED). "Those with PTED were hard working and mentally healthy people until a
triggering event destroyed their core values and shattered their basic beliefs. People feel wronged, humiliated and that some injustice has been done to them."

According to psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Linden, those with PTED suffer from intrusive thoughts and memories long after the triggering event, phobicly avoid places related to the event and are pathologically consumed by an intense desire for revenge.

"The critical part is this [long] lasting and very intensive emotional embitterment, a mixture of depression and helplessness and hopelessness. It's a very nasty emotion."

Dr Linden estimates that 1-2% of people become so stressed out by the triggering event that "they can barely function other than to ruminate about their circumstances."

Dr. Linden suggested that loving, normal individuals who suddenly snap, killing either their family or coworkers and then themselves may actually be suffering from post-traumatic embitterment syndrome.

One wonders how much violent crime has been triggered by bad justice.

Detection and deterrent

Potential wrongdoers are also deterred if they believe there is a great risk of detection. Improved forensic science, including DNA evidence and an increase in CCTV must be putting off some would be criminals.

What is the purpose of punishment? It is believed that most people in the UK think that the death penalty should be brought back for murder. This suggests to me that they want revenge, because all the evidence shows that murder rates are higher where the death penalty exists. Murderers either don't think they will be caught or they don't care if they are executed. On the other hand, the threat of the death penalty would act as an excellent deterrent for crimes that have a high detection rate, such as illegal parking, and putting a washing out to dry on a Sunday.

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