« Freakonomics Radio

126. What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common?

2013-05-09 | 🔗

A look at whether spite pays — and if it even exists.

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ten million customers who save more than four million dollars from bad rates every day and try wise for free at wise, dotcom flash for economics. It probably was pretty darn painful because you know living in a world with good razors. The chances are what they are using is kitchen cutlery. I would imagine, and that is not sincerely all that sharpen it. I can't imagine how painful it was. That's Lisi Oliver. She studies medieval law at Louisiana State University. What do you think she's talking about that was so darn painful between them then the twelfth century in early modern Europe barbarity swept through the car meant and also the island of England, and often the targets of these attacks were
monasteries and notaries, but nunnery see you had the added incentive of rate to add to surf pillage and destruction for a nun. Rape was especially problematic side, the obvious reasons reap violated a nuns chastity which meant that as a bride of Christ, she might be forbidden entry into Heaven. So what do you do if you are a nun and there are barbarians at the gate in the ninth century? One none! An Airbus who came to be known think about came up with a plan. Here's Lisi Oliver reading from a history by Roger of went over the thus, with an heroic spirit, took a razor and with it cut off her nose together with her upper lip onto the teeth. Presenting herself a horrible spectacle to those who stood by filled with admiration at this admiral Indeed, the whole assembly followed her maternal example and severally did the light to themselves when this was
on together with the moral stone the pagan attackers came on behold the address and the sister so outrageously, mutilated and stained with their own blood from the soul of their foot onto their head, they retired in haste from the place there, eaters ordered their wicked followers to set fire and burn the monastery with all its buildings and is fully inmates which being done by these workers of iniquity the holy and all the most holy versions, with her attained the glory of martyrdom there's, a very graphic picture of Saint at the cutting her nose and lip off and all of the women around her looking thrilled at the concept in terms of pain, it must spin dreadful to cut your nose,
of night and then wait until the morning with that pain, racking your body, but that is the pain of martyrdom it's the crown of thorns. I know it's hard to transpose oneself to for a time and place? But if you could put yourself back in a nunnery, do you think you would have followed suit and Ghana hidden cut off your own nose to spite your face? Probably why? I think that there is a wave of hysteria that follows that kind of action where I dont think I would have been number too, but I probably would have been number twenty here. I mean it's to happen in thing. Man we're all cutting our noses off right now. Why are we telling you this grisly tale?
because the theme of today's show is spite as in cutting off your nose to spite your face scholars aren't certain, but this phrase quite likely originates with the practice of medieval nuns. Lake Saint ever women who mutilated themselves in an attempt to preserve their chastity. Now economics is all about tradeoffs everything as a cost and benefit. What do you make of the nuns tradeoff? Was it worth it? A patent from W. Why see? An ATM american public media? This is free economic, radio, podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host Stevens Abner,
today shows about spite we're going to look at why people sometimes try to hurt others even when it's very closely to themselves. It struck me that Spain is in some ways and economic concept so called up an economist. I know Steve Lever is my for economics friend and CO author teaches at university when I think about spite as an economist. The way I would think of spite is that it is the response an individual who has been wronged in some way by another. Who, then, is willing in the future, to pay a large costs in order to punish the person who wronged him in the first place. So in a strange sense is not a very economic concept because enjoy
No, we don't think that people are going to be overly willing to pay a lot of costs themselves to punish other people. I think what you described is more revenge than spite, though I thought- maybe I don't you know its bite- is what, despite its inclusion It's not so easy to define spied. That's Benedict Herman he's also an economist originally from Germany. Now he works as a policy officer for the European Commission. He's done a lot of research on anti social behaviour. You might fact, call him a scholar. Spite lives, have uneasy start here and define spied is of behaviour You do is ready to harm him or herself at any cost,
to whom somebody else without creating anything good for a third party was an anyone outside, because you could sometimes be nasty to somebody just because he or she has misbehaved, and he would like to do it in a kind of educational way which then I would not call spy because it's not costing you anything. No, if I'm punishing somebody who has misbehave door community to our group, if I punish him or her its own cost, it could look like spine he's not spied, because it's an educational momentum, you try to get somebody who has done something bad to behave better in the future. So it's a kind of more realistic way of punishing a moralistic way of being aggressive in. So it's not the kind of spite I'm after I'm Africa. Behavior. Were somebody would harm others with for no real for no more reason, apart from something that might satisfy him or herself, only
traditional economics argues that most people try to satisfy their self interest to maximize their profits and opportunities. Economists have a name for it.
Model of self interest Homo economics, but within that framework, spite is a bit puzzling. Why would someone pay out sized costs for no benefit other than to hurt? Someone else well Benedict Herman thinks that the idea of homo economics is a bit archaic. He prefers a different term homo Novalis, yes, indeed, homo revolvers, meaning that humans are driven at our core by competition rather than simple self interest. Homo economic US wants to get as much as possible for himself homo revolvers, just once make sure he gets more than the other guy, in other words, as much as we like to think that we are absolute animals, we are in fact relative
now. We know this in part through the experimental games that economists like to play. One of the classics is called the ultimatum game. You're Steve Levin again for the ultimatum game, the low experimental game that the behavioral economists have developed in which to play come into the lab in their completely anonymous I'll, never meet each other. To one shot game and one player is given a say ten dollars, and they are allowed to divide that ten dollars. However, they like between themselves and the other player that other players and informed about the way in which the division has occurred and is given a choice. They can either accept the division, say seven dollars for them.
Splitting the pot and three dollars for me, or I have another option who say no. I prefer both of us to give zero cases where you always face a choice between as the recipient of the ultimatum is. I can accept what the other person offered me, or I can have as both kids, zero and empirically. What we see is that rarely will anyone except an offer that some twenty percent, so if the person who splits upon divides it more unevenly than seventy five twenty five year, almost guaranteed to have it rejected, even though the rejected is giving up twenty five or twenty percent of their own money in order to take the seventy five or the eighty percent away from you now to an economist, this might seem perplexing. Why am I
the throwaway two or three of my dollars just to make sure that you don't get seven or eight well. Maybe it's because I feel you ve wronged me by splitting the pot so unevenly, but remember what Ben determine said earlier about spite true spite as he sees it is not motivated by a desire to punish someone's bad behavior. So he wanted to see how people behave absent such a moral incentive. He and his colleagues came up with an experiment. So let me quickly trying to explain here on the radio how this experiment work, so you would be invited to expand and like many other students, you dont know each other you'll come to our lab inside. You have to sit behind computers, your request and not at all. Anyone during the whole experiment, so your paired with another player, but you don't see that person you each get ten dollars and then you're given an option.
If you surrender one dollar of your money, you can destroy five dollars of the other person's wealth. Now, there's no revenge going on here. There would seem to be anything for you to gain by destroying the other person's money, but has been determined found about. Ten percent of the players did take that option. Herman call such a player, a difference maximizing the means that we want to maximize the pay of differential between the opponent and us so maybe anymore, Peter s way being aware that we are losing our trousers and for the sake and for the hope that the opponent
lose both assure who'd problems. In other words, some people were always willing to cut off their noses. Despite the other players. Herman was perplexed by this finding and he tried the experiment in a variety of versions, Friday of settings, different parts of the world different kinds of societies, but in each case he found that a surprising number of people would give up some of what was theirs for the sole purpose of taking something away. Someone else, and what are you as the researchers thinking? Are you thinking? This is remarkably surprising, sad strange irrational. What is your I mean? On the one hand, you must be excited because, for the sake of a paper, it's it's a fascinating finding. Does exactly these aren't too so
So for research. I got no one say exactly, as you decided very nicely, you're very excited, but on the other side, of course, starting or my good who the hell are, we meet humans for me. The outcome of this research is definitely a kind of sadness and also worried it. We can be too fast. We humans, we can get to fast into intergroup conflict, which don't make any sense to anyone that he starts to harm each other dead. We start innocent people to kill each other for something that of the end of the day could have been decided in a much more reasonable way
now as interesting as this may be as believable as it. Maybe Steve Levitt warns us not to make too much of lab experience like this. It's hard to extrapolate from a lab setting to the hurly burly of the real world when people in the lab there completely anonymous. If you only time will ever played, but the real world is usually like. So after the break we'll get back to the real world, see if we can find a story where someone willingly gives up money and not just a few bucks taken these lab games, but lots and lots of books in order to prove a point when the contract he was offered was five years. Seven point: six: six million! Now it's coming up on for economic freedom,
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to your bank account on you reschedule see all the ways Square can health at square dot com slash, go slash freak, though nonsense, from W and Y see and eight p M american public media. This is for economic, radio. Here's your host Stephen donor. We are talking today about spite about actions that hurt someone else, but are especially closely to ourselves. Dave Oconnor is a filmmaker with radical media in New York. He was the executive producer of a documentary film made for ESPN called you. Dont know bow the bow in question.
Projects, a charge knows exactly what oh was robbed We need the single greatest athlete of his generation to sport, star football in baseball and was just a transformative athlete you just physically there's something about his presence. That feed different than normal human beings in the spring of nineteen eighty six
Oh Jackson was playing a senior year college peace, both at Auburn. He showed signs of being a very highly valued major league baseball player. I am clearly cover offered by combating over four hundred. Oh, I don't know how many home runs. I was sitting on their that's Jackson. Himself from the film now he had just completed his senior season of college football, which had gone even better Dave, Oconnor, again, Football his senior year is one of the all time great seasons, of a running back in college football. He Russia's for nearly eighteen hundred yards. He wins the Heisman trophy and basically enshrined himself as a legend of college football. So
The common wisdom was that, but will be the number one draft in football he will probably not play baseball at all and if he does, somebody should pickin in the twentieth round or thirtieth round on a flyer in case. You don't want to waste to pick on a guy's gonna be plain for both right. So, while finishing up his college baseball career Jackson starts getting courted by NFL teams. The football draft happens for the baseball draft. The number one overall and I fell pic is held by the Tenth Bay buccaneers, who are owned by a man named Hugh Culver House. The books have made it clear that they want.
Jackson. I was all gone home and I had taken a few trips to visit. Sometimes my senior, I got the ok to obey the temper by Hugh cover how sent his jet to Columbus Airport drove over Canada. Jet went to Temper Bay visit. It was almost like a college visit when your high school senior and you go and visit colleagues may get some of the players
show you around town to show you the night spots, take it to a nice restaurant and entertain you about for five days later, I'm back at all born, get ready, form a baseball bat and walked out on the feel I have to walk from at Leg Department Cross, a parking lot cross the street to the baseball feel and, as I get to the gate, to come around the dugout coach bear approaches me he's above. Can I talk to you for a second.
Ass, a shook off his unless cover behind us go centre at so we ve abandoned, and I'm thinking that he's gonna tell me hey some Bigley team was Sammy and now he said, did you take a trip last week old, Hugh Clover houses, yet to go down a bit table as it? Yes folks check and said that it was ok, they checked with the anti answer that it was ok, do that he said Babo. Somebody then check in the anti a has declared you ineligible
for any more college sports. So you can't play baseball anymore, and I said there on the ground and I cried. I got baby. I cry like a baby. Bow Jackson immediately felt that you ve been wronged. He loved baseball and even though it looked like he was going to play football professionally. He was distraught about being barred from finishing out his college baseball career and, what's more, he became convinced that Hugh Culver House, the Tampa Bay owner, had done this to bow on purpose, because the official that Tampa Bay, told me personally: yes, we check than they said that it was ok. I think it was all a plot now, just to get me ineligible from baseball cause, I saw the seas and then I was happy.
They're gonna lose meta baseball, and if we declare an inevitable, then we got it now. We don't know whether the bucks actually meant for the happen, but it certainly did seem to work out well for them. They were in line to pick Bojean Number one in the NFL draft and pay him so much money that he'd forget about baseball in a heartbeat was just one problem: Jackson isn't the forgetting type, and I said there is no way I'm signing with Tampa Bay and I told Hugh Culverhouse. I said you draft me. If you want you going to waste a draft pick
promise you that, and you cover us well. This is what I'm all for you as a signing, bonus and you're going to take it anyway. You want it or not. I said all right and they got serious and I sat down after baseball season was over. I talked to my baseball coach. I can coach a lot of people, don't think I'm serious about playing baseball. I said bye your pamper bay dress me, I said all my honour and I'm looking you in your man, a man, I'm plan baseball. So if you know any teams out there that interested in and out filter you let him now and the end of a draft that April Tampa Bay did so
both Jackson with the number one which was attached to a seven point: six: six million dollar five year contract and then people a month later, Bo Jackson was selected in the baseball trapped in the fourth round by the Kansas City Royals. They offered him three years it just one million dollars. The choice would seem obvious, but oh doesn't know obvious. He rejects a football offer. Can he takes? The baseball offer have surprising, as this is David Comic unprecedented. It just doesn't happen you you can't. I mean money talks to me. You have seven
point six million dollar sitting there and you signed a contract for one. That's that's a rare occurrence. It sounds like a decision that very few people that I know at least would have made. Do you think that was an active spite unbowed Jackson's park? It's interesting because I think bow and say that he did the honourable thing and that he has a code. But when you look at it on its surface is spite, there is no rational explanation for walking away from that kind of money. He's not just hurting himself. Here he's also doing this to hurt Tampa Bay, the opportunity cost of losing a first round drastic, isn't just that both Jackson isn't playing on my team. It's that every other player I could have selected with that pic is not playing on my team either
So it's a huge impact to tap at bay, not to mention the public relations nightmare of of going out on a limb and selecting somebody and not getting him so Jackson does sign with the royals. He starts the year in the minor leagues, but by the end of the season to make some major league team he's on track for a nice baseball career and then the next year he becomes eligible to re, enter football now Willie play nobody knows, but the LOS Angeles raiders draft him in the seventh round. He signs and suddenly he's playing two professional sports at the end of the baseball season. He jumped straight into football and he became a star in both. He also becomes a household name in part because of his athletic feet and impart
because he was a star of one of the most beguiling. Add campaigns in history. Bo Nos four, nine allows based fast o could serve bow, could rollerblade bow, could not play ice hockey? That was the one thing that they couldn't. They couldn't agree to. Let him actually be able to do Gretzky shakes his head and says but pretty much everything else, volleyball tennis running wisting waits aerobics, all kinds of stuff. So we agree that Bojean. Since athletic career turned out pretty well remarkable on some dimensions, but overall, not one of the greatest ever because it wasn't long enough. Perhaps we agreed that
because he was such an unusual athlete into sports. He became this icon and the focus of a remarkable and probably quite remunerative, add campaign right wing beyond this affair has do. We therefore agree that, had this catastrophe not happened with him with getting drafted for the NFL by a team that out of spite or something lake spite, he turned down that if that had not happened, that all the rests may not have happened. Yeah, I think that's a plausible argument to make because he probably had he signed a deal with Tampa Bay. If he doesn't get injured, he probably becomes one of the best running backs and nfl history, but that's probably it I mean honestly,
my takeaway lesson here. Spite pays yeah, you would say Irian if you take a look at where he ends up spite, certainly paid in his case. So here's a question were thinking about. If spite indeed exists, is it something that we humans have always carried around in our genetic code? Do we pick it up along the way, we're very vile, logical organism and we've inherited an awful lot, in fact, most of the basic emotions that guy does from of animal and Paley illicit early human path. That is e o wilson he's a renowned biologist and author.
And this is Catherine Wells she's a producer on our show. Catherine, you had a chat with Professor Wilson. Yes, I did, it was cool, so called them, because I wanted to know where all of this self destructive spite comes from. You know it's a common behaviour, nature, or are we unusual in it, and I have to say that I just assume that we would be the meanest creatures and existence, given everything we ve heard today, but Wilson said that was true. All in all, we re here moderately mean now Dear Wilson has done a lot of thinking about the origins of human behaviour and he thinks the nastiness that we see an animal's might give us a clue to why we act. The way we do case comes quickly to mine, for example, of the kind lighter than in which really are mother. Has a brood of spiderling and when they are born
town and let's little fight, Indeed, her and a couple of cases in the age for the workers have the huge clan of poisonous mature containing it and when they get into a tough fight they are able to contractor avenue. Engine explode. Other abdomen, shoulder sticky poison covers the enemy it can Disable chevalier move doing that my giving its life the list of this kind of behaviour goes on and on when things are you really don't want to think about too much before you go to? leap, advice have nightmares, but here's the story about bite if we define spite as doing harm to some one else at the cost of harm
to yourself, and that involves a surrender of some advantage or emotional reward on your part. You ve, given up in order to hurt somebody else that may not exist in nature and is very difficult to find any case in the great encyclopedia of animal aggression. Word doesn't give some advantage to the visual, doing the aggression, but its very rare that an animal would deliberately injure itself just in order to create Hungary and another individual without any further gain to itself. To deliberately do that, I think spite does not exist in reality,
kingdom now in the way that it does in humans welling Schumann's, when a person injures himself or herself I am reputation in not diminishing wealth. Causing their own early death whatever it is. In order to harm another person. You would say all that's that's light could be spite, but it really would be true spite and my mind as opposed to mirror risk taking or trade off, ah for one kind of gain in exchange for one kind of lost taken. Ah, if you can't she again and that that's hard to imagine, even vengeance has gained it has emotional award, for example. If you harm yourself in your reputation by vicious gospel.
By manipulation by treating whatever you accept. That is the damage you can do benefit true in some other way or better. Say particularly your own offspring in a particular way like unscrupulous stage ah murder issues of low cheerleading champion competitors. I think you're gets adrift, even a mass murderer, although round harms alot of people is taking some benefit emotional benefit from that win. Suicide is intended on a mass murders or just a terrible form of suicide in which a person decides to get the satisfaction advance of committing it, and maybe the satisfied
person will get and striking out against something they imagine to been therein a man diminish them before. So when you other factor, maybe shrill spite does not exist, So I don't know whether this is a relief or not. I mean the idea that spite might not even exist seems good, but the fact that we get personal satisfaction out of hurting other people. I told Wilson that was kind of a bummer That's your shows you're, not a psychopath. My total worth. But here's, the upside spite is not the only motivation we have for being self destructive, there's. Actually another altruism.
When we heard ourselves we are, and always doing it just to hurt someone else. Sometimes we're doing it to help. One thing that makes us human is are internally conflicted. Nature can fiction, are ambivalence to our own shells. We are consciously rustling with our conscience with a tendency to deviate from social norms and risky way and to do wrong heavy shellfish de contest within us Between doing the moral thing, even the heroic thing on one side and do
the shellfish, perhaps even criminal thing. On the other side, a conscious is what gives us a continuously conflicted nature. If we weren't became completely altruistic, then we would be like edge. If we went to the opposite extreme and had complete lack of constraint and complete individualism, then we would have chaos. We would not have orderly or the group with dissolve. So we have to peace in the middle. There appears to be the human condition. It's funny listened to him talk about that. That's Steve! Levin again, he took a class with Wilson when he lab at was an under
At Harvard he's very fond of the way Wilson thinks there could be no to disciplines closer than evolutionary biology and economics and they studied different questions and they use different methods, but the way that evolutionary biologists think is exactly like the way their economies. Thank both are very much a model of behaviour, individual behaviour in individual b. If it is motivated by costs and benefits. The other thing is that at its heart, both economics and evolution ability strive for simplicity, that the simplest story, which can explain a set of facts, is the one that would gravity to as opposed to other disciplines. History histories all about complexity and
literature, it's all about complexity, even sociology. I think hard about complexity, but buddy economics he's about simplicity, lake e, o, Wilson live. It thinks it spite true. Speight may not really exist, because that would mean that I heard you, even though I get nothing for nothing and while it may seem that I get nothing, I probably get something what I would say about spite deter. I would say this to. You know that an active spy you have to be inside
the head of the perpetrator, because the idea of spite is that is being done without benefit. But it's interesting because one of the first premises of economics is, you can never really know what other people are thinking why they're doing with the doing? Instead we focus on what they do and are. Consequently, My view is forget about what's going inside of other people's heads you're, probably now, what it is and focus on what we are actually doing. Do you see altruism, as sort of the flip side of the coin. Despite and therefore not quite real, altruism is exactly the flip side of spite in the sense that their acts, which very well could be altruistic, but equally, could be done in a perfectly self interested way both make
We have really good him, feel good to help other people sometimes and if you're so good, to punish other people who run you. So I they're both actually completely consistent with the idea of of people doing the best they can. And what about you personally lever? Do you get more satisfaction generally from helping people or punishing people? I'm a lover notify. You know that? I too have been Hapag Cashless NEWS next week on free economic radio. We all know that our families make us who we are, and it can be great to have strong family ties but it seems there is a downside. Strong family ties,
people who rely on the family tend to trust, mostly the family? Unless the outside world, though, They tend to be more inward. Looking and they develop another level of social capital of political participation yet Another reason to blame your family for everything that makes you unhappy that's next time and for economic, freak and mix radio was produced by W and Y see a p M american public Media and Dublin productions. This episode was produced by Catherine Wells. Our staff include Susie elected Burke, David Herman, buried land and Chris Ban in calling Campbell as our executive producer. If you want more freakin onyx radio, you can subscribe to Pakistan Itunes or go to freely
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-15.