[EconTalk] Eric Jacobus on the Art and Science of Violence

Eric Jacobus on the Art and Science of Violence 22/11/21 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/131619713

Episode: https://cdn.simplecast.com/audio/6fdba516-8381-43b0-b29f-59d05512b693/episodes/1997dd87-f0c6-45b1-8519-866c4edda8bd/audio/543906eb-bfab-4ff9-8611-69bb42cfba32/default_tc.mp3?aid=rss_feed&feed=wgl4xEgL

Stuntman and action designer Eric Jacobus joins EconTalk host Russ Roberts for a no-holds-barred discussion of the biological basis for violence and how to avoid the worst of it, the value of violence as spectator sport, and the vast superiority of duels to feuds–Alexander Hamilton notwithstanding.

Listen Date: 5 January 2021


  • Started off with immense skepticism when Jacobus said that only humans murder members of the same species – I’m sure biologists would come up with many counterexamples – but that shouldn’t, and ultimately didn’t, distract from what an interesting conversation this was. Atypically for EconTalk, this was a guy talking more theory than evidence, but it was interesting even so.
  • The bit about duels being a form of ritualised violence that ended the fight regardless of outcome, rather than letting it spiral into Italian or Scottish Borderer style family feuds was interesting, but I thought it left unanswered the question of how social norms came about that said “OK, yes, the duel is where it ends.” I can see India having enraged family members refusing to let it go. So there’s something more at play, I think.
  • I had set a quiz set on The Sandman recently, and as part of that I ended up reading about how Aeschylus’ Eumenides represents the move away from justice through vengeance to justice through law. Seen through that perspective, dueling and vendettas are still the same sort of vengeful justice, though I suppose that both involve something that breaks the cycle.
  • You could take an evolutionary approach to this and say that a norm that treats the duel as the end of things arises by accident, and is good enough to spread that things don’t need to go all the way to rule of law. Still, rule of law is probably better still, and the episode seemed to skate past that.
  • Call back to the Flash Forward episode on retributive justice, which now, with the benefit of hindsight, seems like the episode where FFwd went off the rails of common sense.
  • When the mark of Cain came up in the episode, that also tied back to The Sandman quiz I was setting – and how Dream sends Cain as his messenger to Hell knowing that the mark of Cain will protect him from being slaughtered. But while setting the quiz I was wondering why the Lord would decide to protect a murderer – and this idea that it was to prevent a cycle of vengeance was new. Interesting mirror to the Kindly Ones, and I wonder if Gaiman had it planned as an intentional echo, or it’s just a coincidence that comes up from interpretation after the fact.
  • The discussion about blood and how everybody reacts viscerally to it made me remember the Carl Sagan quote about how everybody fears snakes, falling, and the dark. It may have been wrong, and suspiciously Lamarckian, and didn’t mention blood at all. But it seemed parallel.
  • Somehow, the rest of the discussion – both movie making and mirror neurons, seemed much less interesting than this, which just kept running around my brain throughout the episode.

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