Only God Forgives

imgresYet another revenge film about  ‘settling the score.’  I love the title especially after seeing the results and feedback about my recent interview about revenge with the Pacific Sun, a local Marin newspaper.

Revenge is obviously something we all are very ambivalent about contemplating in any depth. On the one hand we love seeing revenge tales on TV and movie screens, not to mention in Shakespeare (Iago in Othello–successful, Hamlet—very complex but relatively unsuccessful) and other classics of theatre, novels, ballet etc.  On the other hand we don’t like its consequences and want to believe that there is another way to deal with that powerful feeling in ourselves and others.

My interest in dealing with scapegoating in individual and group life led naturally to a consideration of revenge and this blog, my novels, a variety of interviews and media pieces. I see many vitriolic responses to my own point of view that the feelings of revenge must be dealt with in some way rather than ignored or denied. (“Twisted” was one delightful adjective used in response to the recent Pacific Sun interview.)

Twisted. The feeling of revenge is so ubiquitous that human might be a good synonym for twisted here. Constructed utopias try to deal with a world without revenge, Le Guin’s Omelas for example.  Few live attempts have succeeded because it quintessentially human to feel the need for revenge when loved ones are hurt, abused, defiled, denigrated, murdered (fill in the blank).

I agree we must all keep on  trying, which to me always begins with  a deep  understanding of the problem.

The law takes up the problem directly by providing some alternative to personal revenge scenarios. But legitimating an individual need by allowing society to handle the need for  vengeance is not necessarily safer than any given  individual’s actions. Sometimes it can be far more destructive.  Hitler and his colleagues saw Jews as economic and cultural oppressors and sought revenge. Jews were put in concentration camps,  the end result after a series of “legal” steps legitimated by the government. Homosexual acts are against the law in many countries; again vengeance for “sins against god’ is the legitimizing motive.  A woman who counts herself among the peaceful railed to me against the jury members who freed George Zimmerman. “We need revenge against those people — they are  bigoted.”

The person who interviewed me for the Pacific Sun piece hoped I would dwell more on solutions and less on explanations. Me too, but solutions are often just changing who has the clout. Graded alternatives, personal courage, political will, yes,  but not final solutions. At least none that we can yet count. I agree we must all keep on  trying, which to me always begins with  a deep  understanding of the problem.

It’s frustrating to run directly up against a long-standing constant in our nature. It’s why I started writing fiction and revenge thrillers, my way of meditating on various alternatives. A world without revenge. Science fiction?

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