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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Revenge, Forgiveness, & the Bailout Package

"The forgiveness instinct is every bit as wired in as the revenge instinct. It seems that our minds work very hard to get away from resentment, if we can," Mike McCullough, a professor of psychology and religious studies at the University of Miami, says in a New York Times piece about the role of revenge motivation in people's responses to the credit market meltdown.
McCullough, who recently wrote the book Beyond Revenge, says that over time, the urge for revenge slowly fades. Researcher believe this urge to retaliate against cheaters and freeloaders—even at our own risk—likely evolved to protect and stabilize our communities against threats and invaders. "The urge to take revenge or punish cheaters is not a disease or toxin or sign that something has gone wrong," says McCullough. "From the point of view of evolution, it’s not a problem but a solution." Unfortunately, he says, these urges "often promote behavior that turns out to be spiteful in the long run."
Back in March, a study by mathematician and biologist Martin Nowak and his colleagues at Harvard University showed that punitive behavior doesn't benefit the individual who punishes or the group as a whole. While acts of spite might have evolved to establish hierarchies or defend ownership, they don't promote cooperation and often trigger a spiral of retaliation that is detrimental and destructive. "Our finding has a very positive message," the researchers told Science & Religion Today. "In an extremely competitive setting, the winners are those who resist the temptation to escalate conflicts, while the losers punish and perish."Heather Wax