Recently, the kids were considering the question about the acceptability of implementing extremely harsh punishments (EHPs for short) to combat crime. One of the points I asked them to think about was about how EHPs affect how people function in society.
Read: Steve Wozniak: Apple couldn't emerge in Singapore
According to Woz, the intolerance of 'bad behaviour' (wrt the perception that harsh punishment is the expected result of such) prevents people from realizing their creative potential. As a result, great talents do not arise from among our people, let alone market drivers such as Apple.
The Woz has a point. If a people works to avoid punishment, they are a people that are afraid to take chances, to experiment with new ideas, to "think different" (as was Apple's motto in 2007). Instead, it is in our interest to keep the status quo, and to achieve success by replicating the success stories of our more illustrious predecessors rather than craft success stories of our own. Sadly our best examples of successful people are bureaucrats and property tycoons. Not an apple among the lot.
By the way, it isn't just about EHPs applied legally in a top-down manner, but because that is the system the people have become used to, they apply EHPs horizontally as well. People punish each other for slights, hurts and errors because punishment is the only means of redress that they perceive is open to them. EHPs also apply internally as people punish themselves hard too, for failing to meet their own expectations.
Fear of punishment makes us give up easily, usually at the first sign of failure. Neither Rome nor Apple was built in a day, yet that's what we expect of ourselves.
We have a very safe and secure society, and that has a lot to do with our laws which promise harsh punishment for wrongdoing. But we'll just have to be content that while we live in a sheltered orchard, we'll never grow our own apples.