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Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho

Does Revenge Serve an Evolutionary Purpose? – Scientific American

“Why all the celebration after the killing of Osama bin Laden? A psychologist who studies evolution and human behavior explains the complex desire for vengeance”

Source: Does Revenge Serve an Evolutionary Purpose? – Scientific American

This was from a few years ago, but I think it’s a fascinating topic; particularly how Michael McCullough (author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct) lays it out in the interview:

Q: What evolutionary purpose does the impulse for revenge serve?
A: It’s got costs, but it does look like, from the best models we have, that individuals with a taste for punishing those who have harmed them could become a major part of a group. The way revenge seems to operate in our minds today really does have a functional ring to it.

The loudest way to exact revenge is to make a person’s gains less profitable. You have reached into their accounting system and changed what they’ve gained from harming you.

The interesting thing is that the desire for revenge goes up if there are people who have watched you be mistreated, because in that case, the costs have gotten bigger. If you don’t take revenge, there’s a chance that people will learn that you are the type of person who will put up with mistreatment. That is the kind of phenomenon that you would expect if there is a functional logic underlying the system that produces revenge. This is a well-tuned system that’s highly specific in what it cares about and the kinds of responses that it generates.”

Fascinating, isn’t it? I have the impression many people think our reactions are event specific, meaning to do with particular interactions; Of course, this isn’t the case at all. Our behaviours have functions in a much grander sense. The revenge angle is an interesting example because it’s both easily observable and readily available. Consider the chain of events that starts WWI, or the current US vs. North Korea dynamics. Or the Code of Hammurabi, or the concept of restitution in various socio-cultural systems. Or male “honour” in gangs or the mafia.

14 comments on “Does Revenge Serve an Evolutionary Purpose? – Scientific American

  1. Liberty of Thinking - Moshe Ben Yehuda
    April 27, 2017

    Hmm, I’d rather think of it as ‘retribution’, the payment due for one’s deeds, regardless of their nature, good or non-good.
    And I’m not just having a semantic stick in mud.
    In my theoretical theology days we used to have loooooooong debates about the ‘nature of evil’, retribution, forgiveness, etc…
    What pushed me outside the circle of ‘correct’ (read: hypocritical) theologians, was an adjudication of the mosaic/Judaic retributive laws as opposed to the christian principles of forgiveness, actually the price paid to Emperor Constantin in exchange for elevating christianity to the status of ‘state religion’.
    Now one doesn’t need to advocate any religious shade in order to consider retribution, which in my view is different from revenge, as retribution seeks an enactment of proportionate payback for the caused damage, while revenge is always at the mercy of the strongest…
    I would agree that revenge might be related to particular societal developments (evolution), but I also see the perilous damage this mentality has ingrained, i.e. the facilitation of the imperialistic mentality responsible for the segregation based on extorted values, specific to the world today…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I too like the concept of retribution, it’s constructive. But I think as animals the “instinct” is revenge. Have a look at this:

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liberty of Thinking - Moshe Ben Yehuda
        April 27, 2017

        My life, that was horrible…
        What a **** up parenthood, watching your own children fight, just to upload them on YT…
        Unfortunately this brilliantly makes the point, (most) humans are animals [ readers excepted 😉 ]
        It was interesting to notice that the twin on the left was the dominant, while the one on the right was more aggressive.
        Oh well, I’m glad I’m not human 👾👽

        Liked by 2 people

  2. john zande
    April 27, 2017

    I think it was Confucius who said: If you set out on a path of revenge, dig two graves.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. acflory
    April 27, 2017

    Horrible is right, but eye-opening as well. We always assume that girl babies are more placid/less aggressive than males, but it appears that females start out just as aggressive [physically] as males. Do they learn to use ‘better’ tools to get their own way? Or are they simply taught that aggression doesn’t work?

    Liked by 1 person

    • A combination, I think. The other day I was reading an article on how people are much more willing to move a female place marker (purse, jacket etc) than a male one. That means people are less “afraid” of the potential consequences.


      • acflory
        April 27, 2017

        Hmm…that says a lot. Maybe we should start enrolling our female babies in martial arts as soon as they can walk. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  4. inspiredbythedivine1
    April 27, 2017

    Scientific and American, two words that rarely fit together these days.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Liberty of Thinking - Moshe Ben Yehuda
      April 27, 2017

      Hahaha, and to complete the joke, it should be “and Unbiased”

      Liked by 2 people

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This entry was posted on April 27, 2017 by in thinking aloud and tagged , , , , .
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