“The infernal serpent; it was he whose guile/Stirred up with envy and revenge/Deceived the mother of mankind…” – Paradise Lost
About 15 years ago I was listening to NPR when a man named Dr. James Gilligan was interviewed. He had spent 35 years interviewing murderers, wondering why they murdered. He said what he heard, over and over, was "He dissed me." (Or their mothers, or children, or friends.)
One day he suddenly realized what he was hearing was the story of Cain and Abel. Cain felt he had been disrespected and humiliated, and got revenge on Abel by murdering him. Revenge, resentment, envy - that's what leads to murder. And all explained by a simple story thousands of years old.
It's the attempt to replace shame with pride.
Gilligan once wrote of a murderer who killed a woman and put her eyes out. Why? "She was looking at me." He was so excruciatingly self-conscious he became paranoid and imagined women were looking at him and thinking bad things. He could not tolerate it.
I almost instinctively knew this was the explanation, having been raised in a not-good area and having seen a lot of bullying. I've seen the bullied simply explode and pound the bully. And that was the end of the bullying.
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.
In the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve become self-conscious (and conscious of “good” and “evil”) after eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Ironically, the “good” and “evil” they know isn’t good and evil at all – it’s the primitive, narcissistic belief that “I am good; you are bad, and since you’re the cause of what I define as evil I will kill you.” It’s the kind of simplistic knowledge that brought evil into the world.
They can't do any evil until they become self-conscious - just as the man who put the woman's eyes out would have never done it except of his self-consciousness.
The late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote, “Scapegoating is the genesis of human evil,” and he is exactly right. 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 live human being 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 (sociopath/psychopath), Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder.
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: they believe it’s never their fault, always someone else’s. Someone else is always responsible for their problems – they’re never guilty of anything. 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!” In her mind he was guilty, not her.
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.
While Adam and Eve are merely ashamed because they are naked, the serpent is one big step beyond mere shame – he is humiliated (and powerless) because Adam and Eve are God’s favorites instead of him. So here is the dynamic: feeling humiliated and powerless 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 (by telling her she could be god-like), 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.
Speaking of Gilligan again, he also commented “The most dangerous men on earth are those who are afraid they are wimps.”
And here I take a detour in the Manosphere, which exists only because of envious, hate-filled, leftist feminism, which wants to shame and bring down men. And men have responded with grandiose nonsense about psychopathic/narcisstic "alphas." And where does the ancient wisdom tell us where all this will lead? It's not hard to figure out.
One of my posters made a comment about women in some bars playing a game with men, called "Marry, fuck, kill." I thought, can these stupid women not know where this will lead? Resentment and revenge, maybe?
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, feelings of 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-respect, self-esteem, a good 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: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit leads to a fall.”
9-11 wasn’t, as Bush believed, because the attackers were the Evil Ones who “attacked us for our goodness.” It was revenge, pure and simple. Revenge, the old saying advises us, is a dish best served cold – served after about 60 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.
The U.S. was attacked by those seeking revenge; we attacked them seeking revenge on them. I call it the Cycle of Murder and Revenge; it is, again, the misguided attempt to replace shame with pride. Many have died on both sides because of this cycle, necessitating far more than two graves.
Currently, clueless - and dangerous - politicians are talking about destroying our Muslim enemies in the Middle East while letting them into the United States. The result of this? More dead Americans, murdered by those we let in. There is no way around this.
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.
So the Cycle of Murder and Revenge will continue as long as the human race exists.