Recently I was asked for my views on vengeance. Quite why I was asked I don’t know, since I don’t actually know the individual concerned in person. Such is the nature of the internet! At the time I was busy with something and decided this was far too delicate a subject to rush off a quick ill thought out reply, so I put the question off for later. Well some weeks have gone by and I still haven’t answered this question so I’ve decided to spend some time thinking about it.
I understand ‘vengeance’ to mean much as it is defined in wiktionary, ‘Revenge taken for an insult, injury, or other wrong’, with Revenge defined as ‘Any form of personal retaliatory action against an individual, institution, or group for some perceived harm or injustice’. However, I also understand that whilst revenge is often taken as a result of a perceived injustice, this in and of itself does not necessarily make a vengeful act just. For example, we can perceive injustice all over the contemporary world in its current state, in some countries more than others. Even the democracies in which rule of law is most adhered to, we find great injustices committed both within and without their borders in those nations names. In the so-called ‘war on drugs’, elected officials representing the interests of big-pharma, big-booze, big tobacco and big-religion attempt to impose their will on all of society in dictating what we are and aren’t allowed to put in our bodies.
In international affairs democratic nations such as the US and UK have both commited dubious acts such as toppling other democratic governments that opposed our business interests, and installing brutal dictatorships in their place, such as in Iran during the 20th century. Similarly, whilst I feel it is right that democratic nations should speak out against the tyranny, torture, genocides and executions committed in the name of dictatorships, I find it quite hypocritical that they only really tend to speak out against regimes with which they have little business interests, often propping up or keeping quiet about equally oppressive regimes that supply resources they want like oil (Saudi Arabia) and finance (China). If I, living as I do in a western country, can see this injustice, I can understand why those living in oppressive regimes we help to support would seek vengeance against us.
To this end, I can understand why some terrorists committed acts of vengeance against the US and the UK earlier this decade. However this does not mean I think these terrorist acts delivered justice in any form. An act of injustice from B to A does not cancel an act of injustice from A to B, it simply increases the amount of injustice. Similarly I can see why the UK and the US invaded Afghanistan in vengeance against the attacks. This does not mean I think this action was just either. The Afghanistan war was always about vengeance rather than justice.
I think so far it looks as if I don’t think highly of the impulse to vengeance. In a way I don’t think that highly of it, however I don’t think of it as completely without merit. Whilst a complete surrender to vengeance does little to bring about justice and mostly escalates injustice, the desire for vengeance can itself drive us to pursue justice. So what do I mean by justice if I don’t mean simple revenge?
Well I don’t conceive of justice as some absolute, but rather a human construct or idea, one that has, like other constructs or ideas been used to promote both a greater good, and misused in promoting various authoritarian agendas. Rather than trying to define justice in a philosophical sense, I will attempt to define what I see as the kind of justice I would seek in the case of being wronged.
First I will imagine that I have been wronged, by thinking about times in which I have been wronged. I can think of the time taken between the wrong and my recognising that I have been wronged and then later again recognising that I have been desiring vengeance. It is possible at this point that I have already reacted subconsciously in subtle ways to indicate my displeasure, however mostly I find that I am suppressing the emotion or living in denial of it. I have noticed that some others are like me in this, whilst others lash out in uncontrolled rage and spite. However, once I recognise my desire and accept it, I am usually able to then take the appropriate steps towards seeking justice.
My first action would be to ensure that possibilities for further wrongs cannot be commited. My first concern is for the safety of myself and my loved ones. This remains the priority throughout the process so is not so much a first step so much as the top priority. This is one stage in which an act of violence may prove necessary, if the agressor is reluctant to let me remove myself from their ability to wrong me. It may prove necessary to bind or restrict the agressor, or to retaliate in such a way as to deter them from pursuing their agenda against me.
Second I try to find out why the wrong was committed. Was it deliberate? Was it accidental? Was it pre-meditated, or an act of temper, excitement, lust or other strong impulse? Did intoxication play a part? What possible motives do they have for their action? Had I wronged them in some way or done anything that might provoke them? If so were they acting out of vengeance or seeking justice? Whilst it can prove easy to answer these questions, with what accuracy tends to prove more complicated. Sometimes communication with the aggressor can help answer these questions if communicating with them doesn’t entail too much further risk. In this case I weigh the potential benefits of continued communication with the agressor against the risks of engaging in further communication. Sometimes the risk is greater when neglecting communication, and this too needs weighing.
Thirdly, considering the nature of the wrong, I consider whether reconciliation might bring any potential benefits and what reconciliation might cost, and whether I consider it worthwhile pursuing. This can prove quite difficult, because whilst I may negotiate terms for myself that preclude me from further harm, how can I be sure I would be associating myself with someone likely to harm others? That of course depends on the nature and severity of the harm caused, and the circumstances evalutated in the second step, and is why this information comes before the decision of whether to seek reconciliation.
Lastly, if I cannot consider reconciliation, I would consider whether there is anything I should do to protect others from possible harm if I thought the aggressor was likely to repeat their transgression in other circumstances.
Now this is an occult blog, so some readers might expect me to mention curses and magical combat etc. Well yes, these may prove useful, but I tend to let the above principles guide me regardless of whether magic is necessary for achieving the justice I seek, so in this case they barely warrant a mention.