Don’t Forget: Revenge Can Be Your Best Friend

Joe Nocera is one of our favourite writers trapped in the New York Times Business section. Today’s column, “On the Theory That Punching Dick Fuld Will Help Solve the Credit Crisis,” however highly underrates the value of what scientists call “self-protective retaliation” and the rest of us call revenge.

Here’s Joe:

“I’m not saying that the urge to punch Dick Fuld in the nose isn’t a powerful one. I am saying that it is a little misplaced. The best efforts of everyone — including Mr. Waxman — should be geared toward solving the crisis, better understanding why it happened, and making sure it can never happen again. Then we can turn our attention to the likes of Dick Fuld.”

That’s the kind of stuff we all nod along to because we know we should. But is Jo-No right?

In a totally different part of the New York Times, the Science Section, there’s an article explaining that revenge can be very productive. In fact, it’s so useful that it’s probably been hard wired into us by evolution.

“The urge to take revenge or punish cheaters is not a disease or toxin or sign that something has gone wrong. From the point of view of evolution, it’s not a problem but a solution,” a psychologist tells the Times.

One of the great delusions of our times is the idea that we can solve any crisis, that crises can be understood and that they can be prevented in the future. It’s a delusion that pins us down with two horns. The first horn insists that the world is predictable enough to permit prevention by practical planning. The second that people are malleable enough to allow us to re-arrange their habits and activities in ways that are more convenient.

We’re guessing that maybe nature had it right when it prepared us not to for perfect planning but for revenge. We’re probably stuck with a life of periodic crisis because we’re stuck with vanity, pride, gluttony and lying. The economists have technical words for those things but we’re bored with technical words today. So we’ll stick with plain language.

Sometimes you just need to punch them in the nose.

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