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Sympathy for Spite

The good-hearted person prefers a situation in which his neighbor has an apple and he has none to one in which neither has an apple.  The envious person prefers a situation in which neither he nor his neighbor has an apple to one in which his neighbor has an apple and he does not.  The spiteful person prefers a situation in which neither has an apple to one in which he and his neighbor both have apples.  The spiteful person is therefore a tough case for the positive person who wants to understand everybody and everybody’s point of view.  The positive person wants every interaction to be a win-win but the spiteful person doesn’t like that.  For him, if the positive person wins that is a loss.  Is this even logical?

Of course it is logical because we can simply say for the spiteful person a win-win is a loss.  Therefore the only way to satisfy his desires is to lose to him. If you prove to the spiteful person that you won and he won too, then he has lost.  So therefore if you show him how he benefits you, you thereby damage him.

But why would somebody be like that?  Maybe he is fed up with me and my goodness and my positivity.  Maybe people like me have been oppressing people like him for too long, and he doesn’t want us to have the tasty apple of self-satisfaction.  Maybe, in fact, self-satisfaction is precisely what he suspects we most want, more than any of the goods we are supposedly dickering over.  He suspects deep down we would rather walk around feeling that we are good and rational than anything else.  And he takes that as an injustice and a hurt, and wants to take it away from us.  And that makes sense.

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8 thoughts on “Sympathy for Spite

  1. I’ve heard it suggested that each of us should assume he or she is the only person with free will, and that all other people’s actions are determined. That would save us a lot of worrying about what people intended to do. If we know how they behave and can predict their actions, then their motives become irrelevant. We only need to worry about people’s motives if we’re in an intimate relationship or are sitting on a jury.

  2. thanks for the book! I’d be happy to review it but I’m not a journalist — I have no particular forum for reviewing things. I looked it up on amazon to review it there but couldn’t find it. Where could I review it? Goodreads?

  3. The Amazon page might not show up in a search because the book isn’t officially published until tomorrow: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0692151559.

    Almost everything in the book is debatable, but that’s part of the point: to get people to engage in rational debate instead of just screaming at each other. The reactions have been odd: big institutional reviewers liked it, one of my best friends hated it, a good friend who’s Christian thinks I’m going straight to Hell (but she already thought that), and my immediate family’s reaction is “ho-hum, will you please shut up about your stupid book.” 🙂

  4. Does that actually describe spite? Maybe it doesn’t seem logical because you’re not describing spite?

    As I understand it, it’s not about everyone having nothing. It’s more that when, say, the spiteful persons house burns down by accident, he wants his neighbors house to burn as well. In harsh survival terms this can be understandable – why be left behind (which in the wilderness means an increased likelihood of death) when you can want everyone else to stay behind with you? Is it illogical to not want to be alone?

    • there’ s a distinction worth making between spite and envy. The envious person prefers me:0 you:0 to me:0 you:1. But the spiteful person prefers me:-1 you -1 to me:0 you:1. As the saying goes he cuts off his nose to spite his face.

      • Would that make the french revolution to be out of spite?

        I’d say the envious just wants the thing – whether someone else also has it or misses out or whatever is neither here nor there.

        On the phrase, it depends – is it just grasping at short term gratification and failing to see the big picture that it shoots him down as well? Or if there is no big picture – well, then it’s not his face he’s cutting from. Much like the french revolution, I’d say.

        A bottom to sympathy can be hard to find.

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