Wednesday 5 June 2024

Spite is all around us; invisible, dominant: the fruit of resentment, fuelled by despair

Spite, spitefulness is a strong candidate for The Worst Sin (I've blogged on this often). 

Another word for (aspects of) spite is Schadenfreude - but this is more often treated as an amusing foible, trivialized; than recognized as among the worst of evils. 

Surely we can all, if honest, recognize in ourselves (and infer in others) this most evil of evils: a desire to harm others, to make others suffer: a motivation that will, at extremes, risk or sacrifice even oneself? 

Surely we have all felt an arising impulse that responds to awareness of happiness, beauty, moral decency, honesty in other people or the world around us... with an impulse of hatred, the urge to destroy it, to smash it. 

We observe perfection; and then a stab of desire to mar that perfection. The urge may even be yielded to, when "harmless" - as when we see a perfect reflection cast by a still pool of water... And then respond by smashing it to smithereens by hurling a rock into it! 

"Harmless" fun, maybe - a tiny lapse, in the scheme of things; no lasting harm done... Yet if we examine the motivations for such everyday (trivial) destructions, we may (if honest) find spite at the root of it.

Likewise for our actions against others. These may be rationalized as necessary, or because "he deserves it"; but at root, the motivation may be spiteful: "I want to see him suffer".  

Most people, most of the time, squash such vile feelings in themselves (and certainly try to forget them) - but surely we have all experienced them? 

And - if we have any insight or capacity to reflect - seen this in other people (including the best people, at times; including those we love the most), and perhaps been at the receiving end of it? 

People who cause trouble among groups of friends - break-up friendships, relationships, even marriages; who spread malicious rumours, mislead, misreport, life; who engage in "he said, she said" betrayals. 

And surely we have at least thought about doing such things ourselves?  

Spite is ignoble, it is despicable - but it is real.

It is found to some degree in almost everybody, and it is the master sin ruling some people (and many demons). It is seen all through human history, and all around us - yet, spite is hardly acknowledged. 

(Except, maybe, in stories about youngish children! Enid Blyton often included spiteful characters, named as such, in her stories - which is how I first put a name to it.)

It is regarded as more sophisticated and pseudo-intelligent to analyse spite in terms of other motivations - especially disguised forms of self-interest. So, the harming of B by A is likely to be described in terms of how harming B benefits A (perhaps indirectly, or over the long-term). 

But the point is not whether spite can be explained-away - Of Course it can! 

The point is to to Ask The Question. Is this spite?

We absolutely need to know whether whether spite is the real motivator behind behaviour; because if it is, then such behaviour cannot be appeased by fulfilling self-interest. 

And, like most sins, spite feeds on its own gratification. When infliction of harm brings gratification, then the infliction of more harm to more targets will probably follow.    

Spite cannot be bought-off. Spite will not be satisfied by less than suffering and destruction. 

Thus when spite is explained-away - this merely allows for the undetected and more effective deployment of more spite. 

And spite is a natural product of the besetting modern sin of resentment - with the dominant ideology of The West being the creation, encouragement, subsidy and protection of ever-more "resentment groups" defined in terms of class, sex, race, sexuality or... whatever*. 

And (in the West, the developed world) this is a world of despair (whether actual or incipient). Because nearly everybody lives-by the assumptions that reality has no purpose or meaning, and that human life is followed by annihilation. 

With such assumptions; existential despair is normal and rational; such that self-distraction from this (supposed-) reality has become perhaps the primary life goal.    

When we have so many people who fundamentally assume themselves to be victims, and who despair; the ground is prepared for the operations of spite - first directed against those who are most resented (i.e. the supposed "oppressors"); but soon (as the sin takes grip) directed against pretty much anyone who in any way irritates us. 

When the most spite-dominated people are also among the most powerful, wealthy, high status, and influential in the world - then we have.... Well, we have exactly what we see around us in the world of geopolitics, global strategy, and the international and national leadership class. 

A world in which anything that is (or seems to be) of-God, or Good; anything apparently manifesting the transcendental values of Truth, Beauty or Virtue. Anything wholesome, innocent, natural, spontaneous, care-free... Any such becomes a prime target for spitefully-motivated attack. 

Yet, up to now, spite is invisible. Trivialized. Explained-away. 

By refusing to recognize the operations of spite in ourselves - failing thereby to acknowledge and to repent its sinful nature; we thereby fail to recognize spite in others. 

So spite can be everywhere, dominant, and increasing - yet we choose to be self-blinkered against perceiving it. 

And until we are aware of spite; the operations of spite cannot be resisted - either in ourselves, or others. 

* Leftism now rules the West and much of the world; and Leftism is a negative, oppositional ideology built upon resentment, and depending upon continuing expansion of resentment. The so-called political "Right" (of all types) is merely a variant of Leftism**. This can be seen in its domination by resentments, but of a different inflexion; typically inversions of mainstream Leftism: e.g. resenting women instead of the Leftist resentment of men, resenting the Left-approved races etc. Of course, such motivating resentment is rationalized and explained-away on quasi-objective grounds - yet the actuality of resentment as prime motivator is sometimes revealed when spite-driven desires or fantasies are expressed; as well as by the relentlessly negative and oppositional focus of Rightist discourse (against, against, AGAINST!). 

**The only alternative to the Left is religion. All secularism, all atheism, all materialism is ultimately Leftist. 

H/T - This was stimulated by a comment from Avro G


Laeth said...

I think the church fathers and theologians made a gigantic mistake when they decided that the worst sin was Pride, rather than Envy (which is the same as what you call Spite). this blinds most christians not only to the dangers of it, but perhaps even worse, to its obvious manifestations, which are, as you have reflected many times, absolutely everywhere, in every social movement, in every group, on every side. it seems clear to me that Envy/Spite is the only sin that has no positive reflection, no possibility of transmutation. it's not a corruption of something good like every other sin (like, say, Lust is a corruption of love, and Gluttony a corruption of desire for food, and Pride a corruption of noble feelings). Envy has no such positive shadow. It's just desire for destruction of anything good because it is good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Laeth - "I think the church fathers and theologians made a gigantic mistake when they decided that the worst sin was Pride, rather than Envy".

Interesting point. I wonder if Envy/ Spite was much rare 2000 years ago? Most of the sins we hear about in ancient sources are at least understandable as apparently corruptions of something good - i.e. what I term "Luciferic" evils.

"Envy/Spite is the only sin that has no positive reflection, no possibility of transmutation"

That's true, but I hadn't considered it in that way.

Yes, at a deeper level, this whole traditional way of thinking about sins is something I think is incorrect - as I intend to describe in a forthcoming post.

Mia said...

I've struggled with reading Arthurian legends to my children because the antagonist so often just accepts defeat. They love one called The Kitchen Knight, and the Red Knight is the type of person who would invade a woman's castle, hold her prisoner, kill anyone who comes to rescue her, but (I guess? apparently?) awaits her consent to marriage and once defeated by the titular Kitchen Knight is sorry for the whole thing (I guess? apparently?) and becomes (?) good. My husband thinks I'm the crazy one for finding this type of character unintelligible. If pride *were * the core sin, though, the Red Knight makes sense as defeat proves his pride is misplaced. I've certainly seen pride lead fundamentally good people to make morally bad choices in real life, but it's so minor compared to the vicious spiteful evil that abounds today it hardly holds my attention.

I'm also reading The Betrothed and there's a lot in there that illuminates the transition between types of evil, these lines that evil won't cross *because of pride* or because of self-interest and then that giving way for some characters into pure spite. Underneath it there seems to be both a fundamental orientation toward good vs evil and a series of character-shaping choices leading relentlessly one way or the other, and the most damning quality of all is the denial that any choices occur. It's interesting (and discouraging) that these things were understood so long ago yet failed to percolate.

Daniel F said...

"The so-called political "Right" (of all types) is merely a variant of Leftism. The only alternative to the Left is religion. All secularism, all atheism, all materialism is ultimately Leftist."

This is such an important and woefully neglected point. As I think readers of this blog understand, it is not enough that some person, idea or movement is self-identified as "religious": Most of what passes for "religion" is in fact just another form of politics with some terminological window-dressing to make it "religious". To give one obvious example that may still be gaining momentum is the idea of "Christian Nationalism", i.e. the violent imposition of a nominally-Christian ethics on society.

It is also very difficult to get people to "see" this, and thus, most of Christianity today is simply another player in the worldly drama for power and control.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

"Christian nationalism" is simply what centuries of Christian saints, scholars and populi would have called Christendom.

If Christianity is universal Truth, then secular democracy is an intolerable Lie. It's nothing less than the enshrinement of Satan and his Godless, bolshevik minions. The Christian nationalists have literally the entire history of the Christian tradition on their side.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - It is almost the opposite, even when (as is very very seldom the case) a Christian Nationalist is wanting to restore the *actual* socio-economic and religious conditions of medieval (or Byzantine) Catholicism.

This would involve (for instance) not just monarchy but also de-industrialization, an agrarian society, feudalism, serfdom/ slavery, population reduction down to about ten percent (at least) of current levels etc.

If this is not proposed, then Christian Nationalists are merely indulging in a type of leftist utopianism - taking a bit of this and that (which is wanted), leaving-out this and that (as unwanted) - and trying to invent and implement a conjectural society that never has been.

Also, there is all the difference in the world between a society that arises spontaneously from history and with always religious people - and then trying to make the same kind of thing from a society like the modern West that is almost completely non-religious, and is indeed anti-nationalist.

On top of which, historically nationalism has only ever been strongly motivating (sufficient to ensure social cohesion) since c1800, in societies that had lost or were losing their religious basis. I would regard nationalism as an intermediate (and always short lived) phase between a religious society and a fully secular society.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

My point would remain that if Christianity is universal, exclusive Truth, then we would naturally and necessarily organize our temporal lives around it, as in historic Christendom.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A-G - "we would naturally and necessarily organize our temporal lives around it"

It all hinges on that "we" and what it implies, doesn't it.

Who has the authority to decide "what Christianity implies" - and for whom, exactly?

Laeth said...

"I wonder if Envy/ Spite was much rare 2000 years ago?"

I think it wasn't rare (a great deal of what Paul argues against is within this domain I think), but once Christianity became established as the norm, probably a combination of two factors made it more invisible: the aforementioned theological inclination towards Pride being the worst sin, and the fact that sin in general wasn't encouraged - which it is now, especially this one.

What I think happened and is happening is that it used to be the case that Envy and Spite had more definite and often material targets, even up to the mid 20th Century, whereas now it manifests towards absolutely everything, even the slightest and simplest form of goodness or beauty or truth is hated with a consuming passion. In other words, we are achieving the level that used to be mostly reserved to devils themselves.

"Yes, at a deeper level, this whole traditional way of thinking about sins is something I think is incorrect - as I intend to describe in a forthcoming post."

I tend to agree and am eager to read the post.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

The patriarchy, for whomever lives in Christendom. Who else? And I'm not being flippant.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A-G - No, but you are being evasive. Patriarchy is just an abstraction.

I'm trying to get you to consider what actual people in the world you regard as having the divine authority to tell everybody (including you) "what Christianity implies".

And to compel you (and everybody) to do whatever it is they decide Christianity implies.

And whether this really will be "what Christianity implies" - in the real world, as we know it, as it is now - starting with people are as they are now.

Evan Pangburn said...

Christian Nationalists reveal themselves as being about worldly hope, society and politics instead of what Jesus Christ actually offered.

It is not good enough for them. They ask for heaven on earth, or at least an approximation of it. This is not what Christ offered.

I understand the desire to be free from the madness of the modern world. I really do, but Christ offered so much more! He offered eternity in Heaven!

Besides, one can inwardly be free of the shackles of modernity in this life, but it requires a certain spiritual discipline, for lack of a better way to put it.

For example, putting away spite for those who are ignorant of the divine, of Good and evil, etc.

Be like Peter and keep your eyes on Christ, ignore the storm around you.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A-G - The point should not be to ask me, and people on other blogs, more and more questions - to justify themselves to you. Where does That get you? Any four year old can keep asking "why" questions, and ignoring the answers.

You need to stop asking loads of questions and think about the assumptions that lie behind them.

You need to become aware of your own assumptions that are structuring your world view - and which are incoherent with each other, and which (because unexamined) have painted you into a corner.

You need to stop worrying about what you believe can be justified to others, and what you suppose might persuade "other people"; and instead discover what would satisfy your-self, as if nobody else was around.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Evan - That seems right. Although I always worry when it is said that some kind of discipline is needed, because for many people that seems impossible - I mean constitutionally impossible (due to their personality and physical makeup, plus their actual environment).

I'm pretty sure that Christianity is not supposed to be restricted to the conscientious and strong-willed; which is why I try to emphasize that Jesus did Not require Men to cease from sinning (indeed, he said it was impossible) - but emphasized following Him.

Hagel said...

The Anti Gnostic:

The new testament does not give instructions for how to run a government. It is not a legal constitution or a lawbook. Therefore, someone is going to have to decide how to translate the principles and values that they perceive, into a kind of government.

People will disagree on how to do that, and you'll be back right where you started. Or, to be fair, you'll go back in time to ye olde medievely days when Christians of different kinds fought each other.

someguyontheweb said...

>I'm trying to get you to consider what actual people in the world you regard as having the divine authority to tell everybody (including you) "what Christianity implies".

The Pope, the Bishop, and the consistent Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.
Matthew 16:18, Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17-18. All of it is in red letter text.

Bruce Charlton said...

sgotw - That's fine.

But it is *your* personal assumption in the first place to accord these people divine authority. From then onwards you can be obedient to external authority - but that primary decision of who gets your obedience is necessarily personal.

In the past and other places, religion and legitimate authority - and the need for obedience to it - seem to have been unconsciously and passively absorbed, according to time and place.

But not here, and not now. Now religion and authority is always and necessarily a personal choice.

someguyontheweb said...

>to accord these people divine authority

Authority: the ability to create moral obligations in others

Since morality is objective, it follows that authority is also objective: it either exists or it does not.

Accord: give of grant someone

How can I accord divine authority if I do not possess it? It would be accurate to say that the Church makes a claim that it possesses authority, and I recognize it as True, similarly to how the Koran makes a (false) claim of authority and I recognize it as False.

However, the existence or non-existence of authority is independent of whether I recognize it as being true, similarly to how the immorality of say abortion is independent of whether I recognize it as such.

Bruce Charlton said...

setc - What you say is true. And what I say is true.

What you term recognition is what I call your personal assumption - because it is (by its nature) not based on evidence or logic; because what counts as valid evidence or logic, depends upon a prior assumption of what counts as valid.

The primary assumptions cannot be eluded, and these are personal. It's a question of whether or not this is explicitly acknowledged - whether the choice is conscious and explicit; or unconscious and implicit (...or perhaps dishonestly denied to be the personal choice it actually is known to be).

For us here and now, there just-is this choice of assumptions (i.e. of metaphysics). My assertion is that its personal nature ought-to-be honestly acknowledged.

To return to your point - we must choose what we are honestly and deeply convinced to be the objective truth about reality - but the objective truth does not (anymore) compel itself upon us; and we shouldn't expect that to happen for other people, either.

What we can/should do is insist on each taking personal responsibility for his primary assumptions - because (for a Christian) we just are personally responsible for them.