It was an easy enough concept to understand: behaviors that are rewarded are likely to be repeated, while behaviors that go unrewarded are most likely not.
This is something we all learn firsthand as children. Listening to mother would bring praise and maybe even a cookie, while disobeying her would result in yelling or a spanking from father. This type of reinforcement teaches us how to behave properly.
Acceptable behaviors in a society are largely formed by the governing body of that society, and as a rule the more rigid and less free the society, the more laws and regulations needed to mold the desired behavior.
It should come as no surprise then that the United States has more citizens behind bars than any country in the world. In fact, America accounts for 25 percent of the world's incarcerated while having only 5 percent of the world's population.
While Americans are jailed for smoking marijuana, failing to pay back student loans, driving without car insurance and other petty crimes, many of the real criminals are those running the country.
The world has watched in horror as the U.S. government blatantly disregarded legal and ethical norms in its own self-interest. It does not take a university graduate to understand that these behaviors have been reinforced with financial reward and with no fear of negative consequences.
In 2002, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld orchestrated an invasion of Iraq on the lie that the country had weapons of mass destruction.
The United Nations, which had been continuously inspecting Iraq and found no evidence of these weapons, refused to authorize force against it.
The United States launched an illegal invasion and occupation anyway, killing an estimated million and half combatants and civilians.
The world is still dealing with the consequences. The rise of ISIS and other militant-Islamist groups, the civil war in Syria, unrest in Lebanon and Jordan, and the millions of refugees the Syrian conflict has generated can all be traced back to the unwarranted U.S. invasion.
If another country had done this, it would have faced immediate sanctions and possible military intervention by the United States and its allies.
What consequences have Bush and his cronies suffered for precipitating this disaster? None. In fact, they have retired comfortably on fat pensions bankrolled by taxpayers, and Bush has been touring the country commanding six-figure honorariums for "motivational speeches.”
Didn't we all learn as children that lying and hurting others is wrong? Our parents, teachers and peers taught us bad behavior would be punished.
While the U.S. authorities have relentlessly pursued Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and former National Security Agency technocrat Edward Snowden for disclosing e-mails and other material that prove American wrongdoing overseas, the perpetrators of those wrongs have escaped Scot-free.
The law is supposed to apply to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status or position of power.
Unless former leaders like Bush are held accountable for their misdeeds in office, unethical and unlawful behavior will continue, with disastrous consequences like those occurring in the Middle East today.
Jeff Monson is an MMA fighter and political activist.