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February 2, 2017 / Congau

Is Revenge Natural?

We all know that feeling: The thirst for revenge. We have been wronged, we have suffered injustice, and we want the wrongdoer to suffer in return. As we are familiar with the feeling, we may want to call it natural, but then any other human vice would also be natural. We have all felt greed and envy also and a number of other vices and even the saints are said to have struggled with them.

It is, by the way, also natural to feel physically ill, to have the flu or a cough, but inasmuch as that reduces the well-functioning of the body, it is not natural. In this sense “natural” means whatever makes nature work properly.

The thirst for revenge is therefore not natural. It gnaws on our mind and darkens our life and distracts our productive energies toward destructive aims. While harboring that feeling, we don’t work properly and neither will of course the object of our rage if those dark intentions are carried out.

Yet it is often considered natural and in some situations it is even officially encouraged. The justice system is in many ways a system of institutionalized revenge. It is called just retribution when an offender is convicted and the victim is then thought to have received a just compensation. People may exhaust themselves through heartbreaking trials only to make sure that the person who caused them injury will be found guilty and punished. Justice is fulfilled, they say, but only revenge is accomplished.

How can damage added to damage repair anything? It may satisfy our primitive inclinations just like any other vice has the immediate effect of satisfying a desire, but in the end it is unreasonable and self-destructive.

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