“The infernal serpent; it was he whose guile/Stirred up with envy and revenge/Deceived the mother of mankind…” – Paradise Lost
All human evil in the world is explained by the myth of Adam and Eve and their sons Cain and Abel – the archetypical dysfunctional family. I consider it the most important story in Western culture. Since it’s Biblical in origin, even though it’s as much mythology as the Iliad and the Odyssey, you’ll never see it taught in public schools.
While the story of the Garden of Eden is not literally true, it is part of the oral tradition of mythology – a story, refined through hundreds if not thousands of years, that entertained and educated at the same time. It is unfortunate that at one time it was perverted into placing the blame entirely on women for bringing evil into the world…completely ignoring the fact that Adam was just as infantile and irresponsible.
Scapegoating is what Adam did to Eve, what Eve did to the serpent, and what Cain did to Abel. Adam said, “She made me do it,” Eve said, “The serpent made me do it,” and Cain demonstrated in deed if not in words, “Abel made me kill him, and he deserved it, the jerk.” Each was saying, “It’s not my fault…you made it do it…look what you made me do.”
Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden, thereby bringing evil into the world. In some versions, their refusal to take responsibility for their actions is what gets them expelled (the story should be updated, which certainly would bring outrage and attacks by fundamentalist idolaters of the written word).
The late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote, “Scapegoating is the genesis of human evil,” and he is exactly correct. Scapegoating is when you project all of your problems onto other people and believe if you can get rid of them, then your problems will depart this world.
He wrote of scapegoating “as the exercise of political power – that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion…they must perceive others as bad…[t]hey project their own evil onto the world.” And political power, as Hannah Arendt wrote, is the power to turn a person into a corpse.
Scapegoating – or projection – as Melanie Klein wrote in her magnum opus, Envy and Gratitude, is the first and most primitive of our defenses. What parent has not encountered a child exclaiming, “He/she/they/you made me do it!” Unfortunately, it’s also the first defense of adults, and especially of ethnic tribes – as I see it, it’s their only defense.
Klein’s colleague Joan Riviere wrote, “The first and the most fundamental of our insurances or safety measures against feelings of pain, of being attacked, or of helplessness—one from which so many others spring—is that device we call projection. All painful and unpleasant sensations and feelings in the mind are by this device automatically relegated outside oneself... [W]e blame them on someone else. [Insofar] as such destructive forces are recognized in ourselves we claim that they have come there arbitrarily and by some external agency....[P]rojection is the…first reaction to pain and it probably remains the most spontaneous reaction in all of us to any painful feeling throughout our lives.”
Perpetually blaming your problems on others is technically known as a character disorder. They fall into several categories: Anti-social Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder. (I've heard it referred to the "the Dark Triad," although this not a recognized order in any DSM but instead a vulgarized interpretation.)
I have met several of these people in my life and the havoc they wreak is astonishing. Bizarrely, they don’t even know they’re doing it – they’re as unconscious of their antics as a two-year-old. Being self-centered and inconsiderate, they are clueless about the effect they have on others.
The easiest way to identify them: it’s never their fault, always someone else’s. Someone else is always responsible for their problems. And while they have no idea what they do to others, they are hypersensitive to what others do to them – even to the point of imaging it.
I am reminded of a scene in the movie Jaws, in which two boys are caught pretending to be sharks. One immediately points at the other and says, “He made me do it!” For a not so humorous example, there was the case of a woman who murdered her husband by running him over with her car, then exclaimed, “Look what you made me do!”
The serpent, as Milton pointed out in Paradise Lost, is the symbol of “envy and revenge” (because, as the author suggests, his pride is hurt – he writes of Satan’s “obdurate pride and steadfast hate”). Envy and revenge are inextricably linked; you might as well call them envy/revenge. Or better yet, envy/hate/revenge.
The story of the Garden of Eden illustrates that evil comes into the world because of scapegoating, almost all of which is based on envy. And with envy comes the desire for revenge, to “bring down” the other, the way the serpent wanted to bring down Adam and Eve.
The serpent feels humiliated because Adam and Eve are God’s favorites instead of him. So here is the dynamic: feeling humiliated leads to envy and hate and the desire for revenge.
“Serpent,” though, isn’t necessarily the correct word. The word it’s translated from is “nachash,” which is a very interesting word indeed.
“Nachash” has several interrelated meanings: to hiss or whisper like a snake, enchanter, prognosticator. Think of the lying Iago manipulating Othello into murdering his innocent wife, or Salieri’s hate-fueled backstabbing envy of Mozart in Amadeus. In each case each villain used words, and as Rudyard Kipling noticed, “words are the most powerful drug ever invented.” And in each case they desired to predict -- indeed cause—the future of their “enemies”: destruction, ruin, death.
The word “enchant” means “to chant,” as in hypnotize (it can also mean “to sing,” as Kaa the serpent did in the movie version of The Jungle Books when he sang, “Trust in me…”). Essentially it’s the same as a “spell,” meaning “tale,” or “the use of words.” The serpent used words in an attempt to cast a spell on Eve, to get her to do what he wanted so he could bring down her and Adam.
You might even consider what the nachash did the first known use of the basic techniques of propaganda: convince (I like the word “ensorcel”) people into believing their problems are caused by someone else.
The envious never say, “I envy you.” It’s too excruciatingly painful for them to even admit it to themselves—they call it something else, such as misnaming it as “justice” or “fairness.” Of all the Seven Deadly Sins, envy is the only one that isn’t any fun. It is one of the most corrosive feelings in the world. Instead, the envious almost always whisper, lie, and go behind people’s backs, the way Salieri got Mozart to believe he was Mozart’s friend. They are subtle about their envy, the way the nachash was “the most subtle.”
There is no murder in the story of Adam and Eve. That escalation happens with their children, Cain and Abel. Cain’s sacrifice is rejected by God while Abel’s is accepted.
Convinced he’s humiliated, and envious of Abel, Cain seeks his revenge by murdering his brother. Cain blames his problems on Abel; he scapegoats him and takes it a step further than their parents. If someone had asked Cain why he killed Abel, I believe he would have answered, “It’s his fault…he made me do it...look at what he made me do” – an O.J. Simpson excuse thousands of years ago.
The psychiatrist James Gilligan, who spent 35 years interviewing prisoners, said he always heard the same story as to why they murdered or brutally assaulted people. What he heard, every time, was “He dissed me” or else mocked, insulted and ridiculed the prisoner’s children, wife, parents, friends.
Gilligan one day realized what he was hearing, over and over, was the story of Cain and Abel: the feeling of humiliation followed by revenge manifesting itself as murder.
John Douglas, the retired FBI profiler of serial killers, and the author of several best-selling books, stated that every serial murderer he encountered was an “inadequate” type (i.e., he felt humiliated) who covered it up with grandiosity (i.e., an immense Satanic pride) and sought revenge on anyone who reminded him of those who believed caused his problems in the first place. Again, humiliation leading to murder.
Wrote Douglas in The Anatomy of Motive about one mass murder: “…this crime…[was] a kind of revenge…it was retaliation for some perceived wrong – real or imagined – perpetrated against the killer” (in another case, a teenage school shooter said, “The world has wronged me, and I could take it no more”—his pride was hurt).
The desire for revenge, as much of the world’s literature attests, even enters into our most intimate relationships (the influential The Count of Monte Cristo is about little else but revenge – I’ve seen its influence in mysteries, science-fiction, westerns and hard-boiled detective fiction).
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, in her article, “How We Mate,” laments the destruction of romance and courtship leading to long-term marriage (all of which are Western institutions). Instead, what we have now are temporary relationships; “hookup-breakup.” This destruction, not surprisingly, leads to humiliated partners seeking revenge.
“Women content themselves with revenge fantasies to exorcise their jealousy and anger,” she writes, then goes on to list what happens when it goes beyond fantasy, such as cutting the crotch out of every pair of pants the man owned. “If this…sounds like junior high,” she continues, “it should. The pattern of hookup-breakup is adolescent, and perpetually so.”
The men in these relationships, Whitehead pointed out, have a tendency to become violent, and for the same reasons: feelings of humiliation leading to envy/hate, to revenge.
Revenge is a misguided attempt to replace shame with pride. It’s doomed because instead of increasing pride – self-image – it instead increases reciprocal violence.
People who believe they have been victimized may not necessarily been shamed or humiliated; sometimes they think they have when they haven’t. They believe they’ve suffered some unjust loss or injury. As a result they feel rage, hate, anger, shame, jealousy or envy – and want find someone responsible for it, and to make them “pay for it.”
I’ve seen people from shame-based cultures, such as ones in Asia, who in America have accused people of trying to humiliate them in public when the people were doing no such thing. This flawed perception, conditioned by a foreign culture, is what caused the problem.
The stories of Adam and Even and Cain and Abel explain much of the political trouble in the world these days.
Osama bin Laden said the attacks on 9-11 were “a copy” of what the U.S. had been doing to the Islamic world. The attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were revenge and vengeance, caused by the Hubris-afflicted U.S. empire humiliating and shaming the countries in the Middle East, if not most of the world. This is why so many people in the world hate the United States government.
Incidentally, Hubris – the goddess of arrogance, moral blindness, insolence and wanton violence – is followed by Nemesis, who is the goddess of fate and retribution. Thousands of years ago the Greeks noticed insolence and violence against others is fated to breed revenge. The same observation is found in the Bible: “Prides goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit leads to a fall.”
9-11 wasn’t, as Bush in his invincible confusion believed, because the attackers were the Evil Ones who “attacked us for our goodness.” It was revenge, pure and simple. And revenge, the old saying warns us, is a dish best served cold – served after about 50 years of the U.S. supporting dictators and repressive regimes in the Middle East. But then, there’s this warning: if you’re going to seek revenge, dig two graves.
Very few people can do as Francis Bacon suggested in his “Of Revenge”: “In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy but is passing it over, he is superior.”
I had mentioned I believe the only defense of ethnic tribes is to blame their problems on someone else. If this is true, then it is impossible for different ethic groups to share the same land without each tribe blaming its problems on the others, leading to attempts at expulsion and genocide. The misnamed “multiculturalism” leads inexorably to bloody tribal warfare. Each tribe is outraged and resentful that another tribe is on “their” land.
I use the hypothetical example of the same land shared by one-third Muslims, one-third Jews, and one-third Christians. How well would they get along? They wouldn’t. Not at all.
Some have claimed the “free market” (which has never existed in its pure form) would unite them peaceably with an assumed love of SUVs, DVD players, and Nikes. This is pretending the free market trumps all, including religion and family and tribe.
Anybody who believes that material consumption will trump everything else is as naïve as can be. The history of the world without exception has been that all “multicultural” societies have collapsed.
If the United States ever ends up one-fourth white, one-fourth black, one-fourth “Hispanic” (whatever they are) and one-fourth Asian, it too would collapse in death and destruction – once the totalitarian government that kept the lid on the simmering hostilities first collapsed. Try “Yugoslavia” (a non-country if there ever was one) for an example.
Even now, in the U.S., Hispanics and blacks are murdering each other, each trying to expel the other from their “territory.” When each group moves into areas where whites live, the whites move out. Liberal platitudes fall on deaf ears (what Erik von Kuehelt-Leddihn said about leftists is true: they don’t merely misunderstand human nature; they don’t understand it at all). These tribal problems were predicted a long time ago by the more perceptive and prophetic of critics, and the problems are only going to get worse before they get better.
Or, to quote Gary Brecher (“The War Nerd”): “The fact is, genocide is, historically, the most common result when one tribe runs into another.”
This problem with humiliation – whether it’s real or imaged - leading to the desire for revenge is something we’re never going to rid ourselves of, being that the human race is decidedly imperfect.
We’re certainly not going to get rid of it when it comes to personal relationships. I’d be satisfied, though, if more political scientists and economists (sorry, got to laugh about the typically inept “economist”) understood more about the concepts and if the government put them into effect in its dealings with our own country and with other countries. It’d be a much more peaceful world -- both here and abroad.