To be fancy and French, I could say we live in a revanchist society. Technically, revanchism refers to the determination to recover lost territory, as after war or the invasion of the Americas by Europeans. It could be used to talk about Native American confinement to reservations, which were immediately shrunken by others who wanted their resources. At the heart of the concept is revenge for wronged people.
I have a gentle childhood friend who expresses enormous desire for revenge which is mostly expressed as hatred. A friend of hers brought home some chickens, meaning them to be symbolic of domestic peace and fondness. But her dog killed them. So she beat the dog severely. Her sentimental world view prevented her from understanding that dogs often kill chickens, and so providing a protective pen. Then her own revenge overwhelmed her belief in sweet safety with unreasonable violence. My gentle friend now has contempt for that woman. Her own second-hand hatred and revenge for violent acts has been activated. I doubt she can see this. Her life has immersed her in danger and rage. She feels she is representing moral justice.
Several factors have helped me leave these circles of revenge just now escalating into another mass shooting in Indianapolis. My life has also been full of danger and rage, double-crosses and betrayals. Maybe that’s true of most lives.
We have lifted a lot of guiding and order-keeping taboos in these past decades. One of them sets morality free from institutional (organized) religion so that we aren’t confined to rule-based ideas or even principles dictated by a culture. Not that we can take a strictly cold logical approach to bad things because another taboo has been lifted, that of emotion not being real. Another dissolved taboo is that of using our basic animal identity as a pejorative, a tag for anything that seems immoral or out of control.
The task for philosophers, clergy, and law enforcement is trying to frame new convincing moralities sourced in the realities of our lives and solving the riddles of justice. Stories work better than algorithms, but many of our stories come out of a tradition of sentimental novels like “Black Beauty” rather than the cautioning fables of Aesop. Domestication keeps drifting over into fond bondage, until we get the idea that “love” can solve everything.
It helps me to find new terms that aren’t carrying a lot of cultural baggage. Instead of speaking of “love”, I think about the physiological [sic] phenomenon of “attachment” that forms in relationships to people, places, and even habits of food, clothing, work — until they harden into righteousness and cause us to be violent in preventing change.
The strongest and most biological of attachments is that between parents, particularly mothers, and children. This level of vengefulness can be catastrophic, yet it is usually men who shoot up rivals and oppressors. Mom’s means are through energizing the males. Male justification can come through the conviction that women and children are their possessions.
The saying goes that women are flowers and men are the bees who travel, pollinating as they go and storing the honey with their cohort. This is an economic arrangement that we have adopted, though it’s somewhat altered by the ability to determine fatherhood and the willingness to make them pay. Morally, it is also altered by the hegemony seizing opportunities to sterilize women without their consent and to steal their children for moral reasons. Revenge, like justice, finds it hard to locate the sources of evil.
As we have lost the basics of attachment by always moving in search of better jobs and greener pastures, never forming stable families, we have set ablaze a lust for arousal, the more intense the emotion the better because it is a source of energy and focus. Alas, this destroys. Even what attachment has built. The motor of our heartaches is mercantilism. Money is seen as a way to achieve equity, wealth as a kind of revenge.
There is another system of thought that comes to me from friendship with members of a counter- sub- noncomplaint layer of society. It is a system of thought parallel to the major systems of relationships that developed in the Sixties and Seventies and it is written shorthand by the acronym SM, which stands for Sadism/Masochism. It is derived from those who have experience with sexwork (though they may not be what we would call “sex workers”) but the dynamics are so pervasive that the theories work outside the context of sex where they developed.
“S” is the party who is dominant, who demands control, and who can oppress and damage in pursuit of that goal. “M” is the party who survives with compliance, obedience, even if it damages them or confines them. These dynamics can exist in a marriage, in a job, in a community, in a shady world of crime, or in a family.
The usefulness of the idea resides in the ability of some parties to switch roles as the situation demands, which seems practical. But also in surprising notions like Fritz Perls’ idea that the underdog always wins. You think the indigenous people of this continent have been made obedient and dependent? Think again.
Much of society operates by springs and levers, storing or transmitting emotional force until it burst out again. So historians explain WWII in terms of the resentment of the Germans after WWI. What we are seeing in this nation is the compressed revanchism of people forced by economics into being “M’s”. It’s so satisfactory to see the “S’s” now leveraged out. But instead of attacking the People’s Capitol, they ought to have attacked Trump and the machine that set them up. I kept waiting for the crack of a sniper’s rifle, like the assassinations of the Sixties.
Here’s the problem: sentimental and fact-avoiding convictions like believing a dog will love a chicken or that a known mafia member will enact democracy, actually and in fact corrupt attachment and enflame arousal to the point of rioting, shooting up a workplace, or beating spouses and children in their own homes. Punishment or compensation are not the answer. We need practical machinery for equity and restoration. But only stories will protect the steps we need and only high alertness will prevent the S’s invading and “M’s” pretending to be innocent. Restrain the dog and protect the chickens.