Thursday, July 22, 2010

Revenge In Mind

I wanted revenge, I couldn't let her get away with it. My life was in danger, practical danger, and she was the cause, and she didn't care, when she of all people should care. That she didn't care about my impending doom, that was evil. But I had just learned to define evil: harming a person, doing something you know is bad, to create or recreate your place in your group, to make a new home or return home. What society was she trying make? A world in which people were entirely selfish and possessing and heartless.

I looked for a theory of revenge. Vengeance wasn't to be justified by vanity, a wish to create a symbol of strength. And revenge to obtain practical safety and political profit: that met exactly the criteria of an evil act: harm an individual for the sake of consolidating our position in the group.

Maybe revenge was allowable as an expression of public spirit. Maybe it was a desire to protect the necessary rules of public life. Getting angry was traditionally honorable. But how was this different from evil, which always has its conspiracy theories to explain that the people harmed deserve destruction because they threaten openly or secretly to destroy us? Vengeance would then simply be harming an individual to recover a private community rather than to recover the community at large. It would be just another sort of evil.

It seemed clear that the only possible case where a public spirit of indignation could justify acting on it in vengeance was when the entire society was at risk, when in Shakespeare's example forgiving the murderer of a king would lead to disorder and anarchy.

That was then something decided. Like the desires of the body, the desires of the public body - our public spirited indignation - must be educated, directed, controlled. Enforcement of the community's laws must be left to the laws. Indulging our passions, our angry desire for revenge, leads us into evil.

I thought: I don't want to hurt my wife. I might want her spoils taken away as punishment if I thought it would do her good, or maybe protect other people as deterrent, but I didn't think that. I wanted to remake the world, to return home. What could I do? Tease, I could tease. Provoke, play with place in a community, mine and hers. I watched myself making threats, not tempted at all to carry them out. Decided to threaten wife, family, ex-husband, everyone in game reach. Public spirit and nothing more. This made sense. I didn't really want to hurt anyone. But also I wanted to respect my desire for justice, to do what my my public body wanted.

It is hard, though. I feel like I am alone with a kind of thinking that is incomprehensible and obsolete. I feel that I am incomprehensible and obsolete. While other people fight it out, I make explanations. Even an explanation for situations such as I find myself in now. It goes like this:

In these days of the Internet we have adapted ourselves to make use of what computers do best. But could a computer ever come to understand an argument made up of an anguished demand for justice, a reasoning insistence on mercy, and a terrible fear of being without a home?

The Internet engine works by ranking pervasiveness. The more connections made, the more notice you get, the more suggestions to connect are offered. In our own lives of thought a good idea is applied, and reapplied in similar cases. Analogies are suggested, relations between one good idea and another found. But our minds are not unambiguously like search engines. Some of our ways of making connections, ways of searching for information, help us hold onto ourselves, remember who we are and where we are going; some of our ways of seeking make us forget ourselves.

For Plato, writing, and the arts in general, could both make us forget and help us remember. Make us forget, when the recorded words or images were found just when they were useful, or when they are a distraction from our troubles, and then immediately left behind without a trace. Make us remember, when they called up past experiences, when they were the cause of reorganization in which the book's words or statue's form were incorporated with what we'd similarly experienced in the past.

It is as if in our minds we have innumerable Internet search engines, and each of our memories is a potential search engine in itself. A new experience can bring up a memory, which then in the light of the new experience, becomes a search engine which re-ranks all of our memories and experiences including the newest. Our memories don't do their searches all at once. But they don't do them one at a time either. Our experiences of resting, peaceful contemplation also re-order in a Internet search engine like way the value of the totality of experience. They make us see everything in a new way.

With our minds working as they do, we can balance together the ideas of public spirit, mercy, desire for revenge, and pure reason. Such complex work is what our minds are best at doing. But just try to imagine a computer, with its puny single search engine, attempting it.

Think about how we use the Internet. Far from holding together complex and different capacities we have for living, we forget ourselves following links that suggest only one another. A computer might revenge itself for being unplugged, that we can imagine. But can we even think of imagining a computer that would know not to take revenge?