Sarah Mathew and Robert Boyd, two anthropological researchers with the University of California and supported by the National Science Foundation observed and studied a band of nomads known as “Turkana” and based in East Africa.
Their interest was “Cooperation and Punishment” within a society. What they found was that punishment indeed fosters cooperation. In other words, cowards (those who wouldn’t aid in stealing cattle or fighting against another clan of people) were punished in various ways and the conclusion was that, yes, punishing people for not cooperating tends to ensure cooperation.
The Turkana have no police force, mayor or tax system. They are unevolved in their intellectual understanding of structure and societal norms. Their motivations are purely based on survival and stealing cattle is part and parcel of their “work.”
Mr. Boyd drew the following conclusion, “Modern societies deal with free riders with complex, culturally evolved institutions–police and courts managed by a complex administrative system. In the military, cowards and deserters are punished, and in civilian life thieves, murderers, tax cheats, swindlers and all the rest are subject to legal penalties. There seems little doubt that these mechanisms promote social order.”
Far be it from me to judge or belittle a tribe of people who are at a place in their personal evolution, which would no doubt bother even the wildest drunk in an Oklahoma City ghetto. Clearly, the Turkana are doing the best they can to survive and in keeping with the quirks of groups, they punish those who won’t steal cattle with them.
However, I am aware of a little American experiment known as The Milgram Experiment . The experiment took place in the early 1960’s and it was an eye opening event concerning atrocity and how human rights can vanish at the direct command of “Authority”.
In other words, social order is one aspect to be considered. Groups are another. Often times, “free riders” are honed by having no standards to live up to, no value system to draw from and a worthless education. From time to time, in America, people refuse to do something based on their personal code of ethics.
The complexity of modern society, where stealing cattle can get you time in prison, versus an amoral unevolved nomadic group is comparative logic gone overboard.
Yes, punishment inspires cooperation in groups. That’s why Hitler was able to pull off the Holocaust.