By: Jo Nesbo
NY Times, May 2, 2014
Revenge has the reputation of being a barbaric, shortsighted and pointless instinct, an aspect of our human makeup we ought to resist. Humanitarians take issue with it, and at any rate it is hard to argue that revenge is humane. If you, an animal, attack an antelope’s calf for reasons of hunger, you have to expect that the mother will fight back with her horns, bite and kick to protect her offspring. But only until such time as the calf is dead and gone. Then it would — according to antelope logic — be futile to continue. It would be wasting valuable energy fighting a lost cause, which no animal on the savanna can afford to do; after all, the antelope has other calves to take care of. You are left to eat your prey undisturbed.
So why don’t humans think like this? Wouldn’t it save us a lot of unnecessary conflict if, like the antelope, we could put wrongdoing behind us, forget it and move on? Possibly. But it would make it far more tempting for others to have a go at the rest of your offspring.
That is why revenge is more than a shortsighted and pointless instinct; it is an example of man’s sublime capacity for abstract thought. By avenging a misdeed we don’t regain what we have lost, but we ensure that misdeeds have consequences that we hope can be a deterrent in the abstract future: Your adversary knows that attacking your offspring has a cost, even if the attack is successful. Or especially if it is successful.
That is an inescapable conclusion. It is a completely rational notion and a logical strategy in a society where resources are scarce and there are conflicting interests. So long as members of a society can be fairly certain that crimes against others will be avenged — at least in the bigger picture — this will act as a regulator of social behavior.
This is a very interesting article. It is worth clicking the link to read the whole thing.