The Economy of Vengeance: Some Considerations on the Aetiology and Meaning of the Business of Revenge

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Title: The Economy of Vengeance: Some Considerations on the Aetiology and Meaning of the Business of Revenge
Year: 2003
Authors: Sievers, B. Mersky, R. R.

Throughout the history of mankind, revenge and vengeance have been deeply ingrained in the social fabric and have been richly portrayed in literature, music, drama, and film. Vengeance can be understood as a defence against annihilation anxieties, stimulated by the reactivation of injuries and losses experienced earlier in the lifetime of a system, fed by an institution's inability to acknowledge guilt and to integrate love and hate, and driven by the desire for 'repair' via retaliation. As open and direct acts of both revenge and violence are largely taboo, they are broadly denied in contemporary society at large and in organizations in particular. Despite that denial, the underlying feelings and the desire to persecute remain real. Thus revenge is wreaked unconsciously by sophisticated and hidden means.

In the same way that violence can be understood as an attempt to overcome mortality, vengeance can be viewed as the violent attempt to deny mortal fears and anxieties through the (potential) annihilation of the Other. To the extent that organizations are unable to acknowledge guilt for their aggression, sadism and destructivity, the actual experience of injustice, loss and injury within the organization is projected outside, thus turning the 'Other' into an evil object which can then be blamed or persecuted.

The paper is guided by the working hypothesis that the psychoanalytic perspective on vengeance, primarily, if not exclusively, a dynamic of the inner world of the individual, does not sufficiently take into account the social understanding of vengeance, which predominated the history of mankind long before psychoanalysis came along. A socio-analytic perspective on vengeance makes use of the concept of binocular vision and the perspective of the Sphinx in particular. Vengeance thus appears as a psychosocial phenomenon and dynamic that more often than not is caused by and affects both the individual actor(s) and the collective, i.e. the community or polis of related people. Vengeance in social (political and economic) contexts often leads to strategies through which its underlying feelings must be hidden behind an apparent logic of rationality. The predominance of vengeance can lead to a vindictive psychotic collusion, in which everyone seems to be convinced that the outside persecutor is evil, whereas the respective organization and its members remain good. Aggressive and annihilating desires and actions are concealed behind such pursuits as justice and competition, and the illusion is sustained that ' in contrast to our ancestors ' we live in an age free of violence.

The question that presents itself is how are feelings and actions related to revenge and vengeance actually contained, maintained and 'digested' and how are they expressed individually, organizationally, societally and economically. In the last section we explore the relatedness of vengeance and economy in two ways. Firstly, we briefly explore the economic aspects of the way individual and social vengeance functions. Secondly, in a more elaborated section, we look at the way in which vengeance is a constituent dynamic of contemporary economy. The metaphors of 'business of revenge' and 'economy of vengeance', borrowed from drama and fiction, will serve to illuminate the phenomenon of the often hidden social, political, and economic dynamics strongly influencing contemporary enterprises.

Keywords: Vengeance, Business of Revenge
Language: English

Date: 6/19/2003
Location: Boston, MA
Name of Event/Conference: 20th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations
Sponsoring Organization: ISPSO

Submitted by:
Elizabeth Novogratz

Corresponding author:

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