26/11 and ‘Beyond revenge’

26/11 has happened and I still write about  Science and Psychology.

It has been a week of introspection in which I have been questioning myself and whether by doing science blogging I am doing my bit as a responsible human being. Perhaps I will move on. But while I’m at science blogging let me discuss the topic about which the science blogosphere has been relatively silent.

Today, I have started reading Michal McCullough’s “Beyond Revenge” and I want to discuss ideas from it. The decision to read the book at this juncture stems from the immense feelings of outrage that have been seething within and paradoxically without any overt war-mongering desires or ill-will towards the state that continue to let its soil be used for terrorist activities. Of course forgiving the citizens of that state was never an issue for the ordinary citizens do not foment violence and wars- it is the state or the alleged ‘non-state’ actors that are the real culprits; but I strangely feel a desire to forgive even them and give them a  second chance. But I cannot just forgive and forget. at least not this time. This time the world has to change to create the conditions whereby forgiveness is the norm and revenge an exception.

But let me not digress. Let me go straight to reviewing “Byond Revenge” . I have just read the introduction and the first chapter so let me share with you Mculloughs main thesis.

As per him there are three angle or truths to the revenge story:

  • Truth #1: The Desire for Revenge Is a Built-In Feature of Human Nature
  • Truth #2: The Capacity for Forgiveness Is a Built-In Feature of Human Nature
  • Truth #3: To Make the World a More Forgiving, Less Vengeful Place, Don’t Try to Change Human Nature: Change the World!

I’ve decided to the last, viz change the world, but perhaps not in exactly the same way that Michale may have intended. Let me elaborate what Michael means by the three truths:

The desire for revenge isn ’ t a disease to which certain unfortunate people fall prey. Instead, it’s a universal trait of human nature, crafted by natural selection, that exists today because it was adaptive in the ancestral environment in which the human species evolved .

I believe it is important to pause here and think over whether the perpetrators of 26/11 were themselves pathological or just normal ordinary people subjected to un-normal propaganda and state help to turn into monsters.

Its also important to acknowledge our own feelings of anger and outrage as vengeful feelings towards those who indulge in such heinous crimes; but it is heartening to note that Indians have largely turned their anger into constructive channels – towards lapses in security and towards insensitivity and callousness of politicians. It is heartening to note that the anger and revenge has not been mistakenly directed towards the citizens of a state or towards a community. I salute my fellow Indians for what they have done with their feeilngs of outrage and revenge.

Next truth Micahel elaborates as follows:

The capacity for forgiveness, like the desire for revenge, is also an intrinsic feature of human nature — crafted by natural selection — that exists today because it was adaptive in the ancestral environment in which the human species developed .

Forgiveness as per him is normally activated with friends and family; but India has always thought ‘vasyudhev kutumbkam’ or the ‘whole world is my family’. India perhaps has been an epitome of forgiveness and perhaps will rightly remain so. I’m not just talking about India as a nation-state, I am talking about India as a civilization which has a unique honor of never committing aggression or getting involved in a war unprovoked. India has absorbed all erstwhile aggressors in its fold and today everyone lives as one community- one nation- one family. No heinous acts of aggression and terror make Indians turn towards each other. The need for that forgiveness instinct to continue is perhaps the greatest today. And believe me when I say that the common Indian citizen, still has no hard feelings towards the state who’s soil is being used to foment terror on its territory.

The next truth he talks about is:

To forgive a stranger or a sworn enemy, we have to activate the same mental mechanisms that natural selection developed within the human mind to help us forgive our loved ones, friends, and close associates. To encourage more forgiveness in our communities, and on the world stage, we must create the social conditions that will activate those mechanisms .

This is what he means by changing the world. Creating conditions such that even enemies/ strangers seem like friends. Its heartening to note that partly as a result of state initiative, but largely due to initiative of non-state actors in India, like the media, we have been successful in creating a ‘world’ in which the ordinary citizen of Pakistan is not seen as an enemy. TV programs like ‘the great Indian laughter challenge’ on Star One have been able to make the ordinary Indian realize that there is much more in common that he shares with the Pakistan citizen than just a sub-continent. These non-state actors of my country, be it the film and music industry or NGOs have been working to foster stronger ties and the results are for all to see. For the first time, I do not hear war cries towards Pakistan , just a desire to eliminate the terror camps operating on foreign soil perhaps by very targeted and specific strikes. Is that asking too much? Is ensuring one’s safety and taking preventive measure condemnable and will still be viewed as punitive and vindictive action by western and Pakistani media. Only time will tell whether the non-state actors in west and Pakistan have been creating their ‘world’ as per what template.

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2 thoughts on “26/11 and ‘Beyond revenge’

  1. neuronarrative

    Very intriguing. I’ve thumbed through this book before but I think you just convinced me to read it. On a related topic, I’m hoping to feature an interview with Dr. Nico Frijda soon, who also talks about revenge in his book, The Laws of Emotion.

  2. Pingback: Remembering 26/11: replying on a Thursday! « My 2 Brains

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