Revenge is what "Hamlet" is about. It is a big fact. It is dumb and useless and harmful. But we cannot just sweep it out of the vocabulary and expect people to stop advocating it. What is a provoked politician to do?

As Shakespeare suggested, revenge only spawns more revenge and more violence. Indeed, if we want to bring an end to violence, we must confront the stupidity of revenge.

Revenge is an aggressive form of punishment. It assumes we can and should use power to inflict penalties. Its basic beginning point is striking out. Striking a child aka among the most common forms.


The occasion for this article is the carnage in Egypt described in the embed below. The head of Egypt boldly promises revenge in the face of an atrocious mass killing at a Sufi mosque. This is no different than Trump's word games with the head of North Korea or any political threat.

To promise retaliation or revenge repeats an ancient chorus which is savage at its core. We have sanitized our violence and put layers around it and distanced ourselves from it, but it still rules our lives. It still touches us.

Let's pause and consider numbers. If revenge is an aspect of punishment, a violent response, then we may suggest that revenge affects millions, even billions.

It may even be close to universal. Perhaps we are the most vengeful when it comes to us.


If we thought about it in that way, we would begin to wonder if the Suicides of veterans in the US or the opioid overdose deaths are examples of revenge. Such examples hurt a wide circle of persons, family, and friends. Of course, they eliminate the person involved which is an act of terminal violence.

What about the masses who are injured and die from vehicular accidents? We could argue that they are merely the cost of living as we do, but what is it that makes us agree to a predictable toll that could with some thought be eliminated or radically curtailed?

We could see many needless deaths as punishments and therefore as forms of revenge.

When James Dean died in a great car crash, he was executing a distorted form of justice.


Is this argument completely wrong? Can we simply say that revenge is appropriate only when crimes are clearly and cruelly committed? Or can we link it to more universal feelings, like anger, taking offense or just being upset?

The problem is that the features of revenge, vindictiveness, and resentment, are widespread enough to play a part in the activities of most of us, Some communities exist entirely in a spirit of revenge. We are talking about ordinary life. We are considering how we treat ourselves and others around us.

Before we say we are free of revenge, consider these questions.