January 22, 2007


Caption: This man avenges slight by a toy monkey who stepped on his Nikes.

MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE: Before El Cabrero gets down to other business, here's a quick reminder to please call the U.S. Senate today if you haven't already to urge the passage of a "clean" minimum wage bill without fiscally irresponsible tax cuts and/or other measures to undermine workers rights.

The toll-free number provided by the American Friends Service Committee is 1-800-459-1887.

Also yours at no extra cost is a rant of mine on the subject from yesterday's Sunday Gazette-Mail

For more information on the vote in the Senate, scroll down to Friday's post.

REVENGE. OK, back to the headline topic. The Jan. 22 issue of Business Week's cover story had the delightful title, "Revenge: The power of retribution, spite, and loathing in the world of business." Short summary: it plays more of a role than you might think.

But then, why should business be any different from any other human endeavour? The theme of revenge is as old as Cain and Abel, the Iliad, Romulus and Remus, etc.

Lately scientists have been examining the physiology and psychology of vengeance. Here's an excerpt from the article:

Ernst Fehr, a behavioral economist at the University of Zurich, studies how our brains react when "social norms" are violated. In Fehr's research, two players are asked to exchange money according to various scenarios. When one player hoards the cash for himself, the other has an opportunity to punish him financially. The player who got burned is hooked up to a brain scan while he's considering whether to retaliate. Fehr found that the part of our brains associated with feeling satisfaction was more strongly activated while players contemplated getting even. "There is a hedonic force behind the punishment," says Fehr. Put simply: Revenge is biologically, scientifically sweet.

There's something delicious about getting back at someone who has hurt us. Or doing well as that person looks on. Savoring the balm of revenge does not require active stabs at retribution; it can also be a byproduct of success. "We hold the illusion that if the other person is as venomous as we think, [even] their knowledge of our success is psychologically damaging to them," says Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management.

I don't know about you guys, but I was kind of glad to hear it wasn't all about greed.

Leaving aside specific cases, one problem about revenge is that it often tends to be out of all proportion to the original offense due to the what has been called the "magnitude gap." That's the difference in perception between offender and offended in just how big a deal the original offense was.

(Good thing that doesn't happen very often huh?)

Then there's the whole "collateral damage" thing.

I guess one function of a good social order is to limit the amount of damage we can do to each other, preferably sooner rather than later.



Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Revenge, at least the thought of it, can truly be pleasurable. However, I believe the reality is expressed by the old maxim: “He who is net toward vengeance should dig two graves.”

El Cabrero said...

It's a tough one, isn't it? You don't want to let injustice go unchallenged but it's so easy to be excessive.