A character in a book I read recently remarked that vengeance is a powerful, maybe even essential, evolutionary force. No less a force, he said, than the one that compels humans to eat or procreate. It is why those who are the most vengeful survive, he said.
His comments have been rattling around in my brain for weeks. My first reaction was to try to dismiss them as nothing more than a device to advance the plot of the novel. After all, this was a work of fiction and this character and his speeches meshed flawlessly with one of the story’s themes. Even so, ideas — even disturbing ones — are most effectively conveyed through our storytellers. And make no mistake, for me this is a truly disturbing idea. Not only did his theory paint a depressingly bleak picture of human nature but it also portended a human race where kindness and empathy slowly, over time, would become obsolete. The concept haunts me. I began to imagine what might happen if evolution, that insensate governess of all things biological, actually favors vengeance over empathy. What if humanity’s, well, very humanity were to disappear, bred out of the species like tails? What might such a world be like?
I saw a world driven by vengeance as a world where ever-increasing numbers of people are exploited by the most vengeful few. I saw a world comprised of nations ruled either by despots or by puppet governments beholden to a handful of greedy, vengeful operators. I saw a world where those same governments and their operators whipped up a persistent state of fear within those nations. Humans are easy prey for fear. As benign a thing as an unknown “other” can incite fear. Thus it would be incredibly easy to simply cycle between threats from those ubiquitous “others,” or threats of terrorist attacks, or threats of economic collapse. Name it. Nothing fans the flames of vengeance and anger so much as fear. I saw a world where the majority of the human race can be kept in a constant, artificial state of fear, anger and vengeance. Scary? Sure. But in the end the worst characteristic by far of that world would be if someone were to nurture a worldwide pernicious fear of what chaos might ensue if there were too much tolerance. As long as humans can be made to fear tolerance and empathy those characteristics would indeed devolve. Then what would that world look like?
Maybe I need to listen to more music, and read less.