Every parent in the history of procreation knows the drill.
"He hit me first so I hit him back!"
"She called me a name so I called her a bitch!"
"He took my Captain America action figure so I broke his plastic lightsaber!"
As children we tend to let snot just ooze out of our noses without wiping, it takes us a few years to stop crapping in our pants, some take a while to stop wetting the bed. It's called growing up. And yet most adults have never grown past the overarching need for vengeance.
Revenge is at the heart of our criminal justice system - prisons have almost never been about rehabilitation and in modern times are almost completely about incarcerating minor drug offenders for decades and making shit tons of cash to do it. Revenge and getting paid to dole it out strikes me as amazingly mercenary but a great way to make an HBO series.
In the macro sense, most of my Leftie friends would agree that vengeance as a rule is a bad thing, especially in the hands of the State. And most of them would still seriously think about keying someone's car for parking in their space or suing a neighbor for cutting down a tree. Payback is fucking hardwired into our systems and we simply do not grow out of it. Like a bunch of really hairy, overweight children, our anger manifests itself more in this immature need for 'street justice' and it doesn't matter that Gandhi made that internet meme about us all being blind.
"A good place to begin is Aristotle’s famous definition. The basic ingredients of anger are:
(1) You think you’ve been wronged,
(2) The damage was wrongfully inflicted, and
(3) It was serious damage to something you care about.
Aristotle also thinks the damage is always a kind of insult—what he calls a down-ranking, or a kind of slighting that puts you lower in the scheme of things. I ended up saying that’s not always the case. However, I think that’s an important ingredient in a lot of anger that people have.
The last thing—and this is the crucial one, I think: Aristotle, and every other philosopher known to me who writes about anger, says that part of anger itself is a desire for payback. " -- Martha Nussbaum
Not immune to this desire for righteous payback, I have found myself in the throes of childish rage many times:
- When someone stole my full-sized gas grill out of my back yard, I sat up for two nights in a row with a baseball bat hoping they'd come back for more so I could mete out my own brand of frontier justice.
- That time a Wrigleyville Bro pulled up into a parking spot I was backing up into and then, as he got out of his car said "My bad." and laughed. All I wanted to do was light his fucking shit car on fire. And the fact that his shit car was three years newer than my shit car didn't help.
- When a close friend decided my identity politics was becoming toxic so he unfriended me on Facebook and I went completely apeshit, posted a video of me crying and harassing him by enlisting a bunch of assholes to gang up on him...oh. Wait. That wasn't me.
The point is that the quest for vengeance is a WASTE. OF. TIME. It is also the behavior of someone completely comfortable allowing their emotional selves beat the living shit out of their rational selves. Like a four-year old kid on a Cocoa Puffs binge.
A bit more from Martha:
"People—and I think this is particularly true of Americans—don’t like to be passive. They like to seize control. I think what Trump has found, and very cleverly so, is that there’s a lot of helplessness out there in the middle of America: People who feel they’re not doing as well as they want; people who aren’t doing as well as their parents did. Jobs are going to China; jobs are going to other countries. He makes them feel that if they turn their helplessness into rage, they will accomplish something.
Of course, they won’t. People have this illusion that if they strike out they’ll accomplish something, but of course they won’t. They only accomplish something by having a smart idea about direction and policy. The violence that’s being fomented is not helping to formulate smart economic policies. It’s just unleashing dangerous rage in a way that might do great damage to the American people in the long run."
Anger is a decision one makes. "I chose to be angry instead of apathetic or forgiving or empathetic or dispassionate." Like every other emotional state, it has benefits and drawbacks. Benefits include that, in the moment, it feels good to destroy shit. Drawbacks include you not really wanting to clean up your own fucking mess and having no goal beyond the loud, "I give no fucks" nonsense you spouted.
Any choice, however, not followed up by thoughtful, strategic action is simply the tantrum of immaturity. Waving a sign or trolling someone on the Internet or stopping traffic are the actions of the first choice - "I see or feel injustice and I am compelled to be furious about it and I must DO something!" To truly change things, one needs to take a step outside of themselves and do more than just act out in anger. To truly change things, you need to build not destroy.
Did "he" hit you? Do something OTHER than hit him back.
Did "she" hurt you? Choose something OTHER than hurting her back.
Were you insulted? Get the fuck over it.
Were you offended? Grow the fuck up.
Revenge is a child's game. Justice is for adults.