Does an eye for an eye really make the world go blind? I question this after the recent deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and five officers of the Dallas police force. In this case, I felt revenge wasn’t an appropriate response, it made race relations worse and muddled the message of the Black Lives Matters Network, which was to bring awareness to anti-Black racism. I then started thinking about other cases where revenge was committed but was considered justified by some people. Take the father who was acquitted in slaying a drunken driver who plowed into the back of his out of gas truck on a dark country road, killing his two young sons as they pushed the pick up to their nearby home. Was the father justified in killing the drunk driver, who too also had a family or was he just as guilty? I wonder because after reading comments on Facebook threads regarding the Dallas police shootings, there are many people who say that revenge is never justified, but is that always the case?
For many people, the reason why they commit revenge is for emotional catharsis, but research and studies has shown that despite the initial positive release, the aftermath of revenge makes the perpetrator feel horrible. Even though the research is out there that concludes revenge often has negative consequences, why do people still seek it? One evolutionary hypothesis, as suggested by German psychologists Ernst Fehr, Ph.D. and Simon Gechter, Ph.D., says that revenge can keep societies running smoothly even though it may hurt both the avenger and the offender. Another suggestion is that societies and countries, where laws are weak, individuals are prone to use revenge because there is no other way to obtain justice. Cultures that place a high value on revenge may offer social support to avengers. Other theories include the “comparative suffering” theory and the “understanding hypothesis.” “Comparative suffering” is the idea that seeing an offender suffer restores emotional balance to the universe and the “Understanding Hypothesis” holds that the offender’s suffering, on its own, is not enough and that the avenger must be reassured that the offender made a direct connection between the retaliation and the initial behavior.
The problem with the structure of retaliation in terms of rectifying injustice is that the definition of justice varies from individual to individual and even from a single person, depending on the situation. What one person may perceive as justice may be something completely different to another person. Also, depending on the situation, a single person may enact revenge or may not.
Revenge is a reaction to injustice. In this case of the Dallas police shootings, it’s a reaction to deaths of Castile, Sterling and many other Black civilians who were killed at the hands of law enforcement. Even though revenge was not appropriate in this situation since the officers killed had nothing to do with the deaths, the suffering behind it is real. There is systematic racism towards Blacks and I’ve observed it from television (especially from Fox News), my parents, extended relatives, former friends, and acquaintances. It is easy to choose sides and demonize the side you perceive as the offender but the more a person or group feels their suffering is being ignored, the more revenge will keep on happening.
Photo by Ralph Repo (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode) Chinese Punishment, Whipping A Lawbreaker [c1900] Attribution Unk [RESTORED]