The Rise of Revenge

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The Rise of Revenge

Lately I have been thinking about acts of vengeance, vendettas and revenge. Why am I thinking about these topics? Well, there have been several contemporary incidents (speeches included) which bring those topics to the forefront. The Republican efforts at impeachment of both President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas have been stated as revenge for the efforts to impeach former President Trump. The Israeli's have sought revenge on Hamas for the October 7th massacre. Putin has sought revenge on Ukraine for their disengaging from the former Soviet Union. There are other historic examples such as the Hatfields and McCoys, the US avenging Osama Ben Laden, and Sitting Bull avenging Custer's massacre.

Acts of Revenge can be found as far back as the Code of Hammurabi and the more recent Old Testament. There it was simply stated as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Until Jesus came along and suggested turning the other cheek, there must have been a run on eye patches and dental work. Unfortunately, old-fashioned revenge seems to have won out over tolerance.

Revenge, vengeance and vendetta are defined similarly by the Cambridge Dictionary. Revenge is "harm done to someone as a punishment for harm that they have done to someone else." Vengeance is "an action against someone to punish that person for having hurt you." Vendetta, a Corsican word, is "a bitter, destructive feud, normally between two families, clans, or factions, in which each injury or slaying is revenged: a blood feud."

Revenge has been a popular area of study for sociologists and psychologists. A recent study of college students who were engaged in an experiment of gamesmanship were hooked up to a cranial probe. When the students learned they had been cheated and were given the opportunity to seek revenge, their reaction caused the probes to light and showed activity in the brain's caudate nucleus — an area of the brain known to process rewards such as cocaine and nicotine use. The findings were published in a 2004 issue of Science Magazine. The study confirms the old expression that revenge is sweet, but academic studies indicate that it is truly a sugar high. The study found that the actual execution of revenge carries a bitter cost of time and emotional and physical energy. Revenge can prolong the unpleasantness of the original offense and may not be sufficient to satisfy a vengeful spirit, which often leads to a cycle of retaliation.

Revenge has been thought of as an emotional catharsis. A study by Brad Bushman reported higher levels of aggression in people who had supposedly exercised some form of Revenge. People who don't have a chance to avenge perceived wrongs are often forced to 'move on' and focus on something different. Ironically, they often feel happier.

A German psychologist Mario Gollwitzer explored two theories for why revenge could be satisfying. The first is known as comparative suffering — simply seeing an offender suffer restores emotional balance to the universe. The second is the understanding hypothesis. Mere revenge is not enough. The avenger must be assured that the offender has made a direct connection between the retaliation and the offending act.

A 2018 report by the US Department of Justice indicates that one in five murders is an act of revenge. To take that statistic a step further: three in five school shooting in the US were driven by revenge.

Revenge has now made its way into the business world. Some enterprising entrepreneurs have formed businesses around revenge. One is called Enough is Enough and another is Alibis & Paybacks. Of course, revenge has made into the publishing world in a book called Beyond Revenge by Michael McChollough, and the magazine world in places like The Observer which published the article "The Complicated Psychology of Revenge" by Eric Jaffe. I have used both sources for my newsletter.

To get to the point: the current state of our political parties seems to be caught in an endless cycle of revenge. If the parties are engaged in some sort of effort to reestablish a sense of universal justice, or at least each parties' notion of justice, they do so by imposing disregard for the American people and their job of governance. The failure to bring the bipartisan bill to help resolve some issues of immigration is an act of revenge by some quarters of the Republican party, which allows the disaster of the immigration system to languish to the detriment of the whole of the country. At some point, leadership of the parties has got to stop the cycle of revenge and get back to the importance of governance and problem solving. I wish I could be more optimistic than I am, but I remain ever hopeful that Gaza can become peaceful, an immigration bill is passed and the impeachment nonsense stops.