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vengeance, justice, or neither?

+5 votes
Some anarchists focus on the concept of vengeance as an attempt to counter leftist appeals to justice. On the other hand, resorting to vengeance could quickly devolve into an ongoing series of tit-for-tat skirmishes. What are people's thoughts on this and on questions that come up around this?
asked Sep 6, 2012 by ingrate (19,820 points)
I didn't include this as part of my answer because I couldn't figure out a way to work it in, but -- what's wrong with tit for tat skirmishes? Assuming you mean skirmishes with i.e. the state, it seems to me that a stable ongoing conflict is better than no conflict at all.. Or maybe you're suggesting that focusing on vengeance could ensure that the conflict doesn't escalate or generalize?
I'm assuming they're referring to individual conflict resolution, as in between people, and not the state. Failing to achieve some sort of resolution in a dispute at that level seems to be something that most wouldn't like.
I was just thinking in a general sense. I posed this question based on something elsewhere, and was just curious how people would respond. I don't necessarily think tit-for-tat skirmishes are always undesirable, whether against the state or in interpersonal or inter-group conflicts. On the other hand, the ability to walk away from things after brief flare ups is one of the differences I've often seen cited between moderr warfare and so-called "primitive warfare" (which is a problematic term in its' own right.
This is a very interesting topic!

There's a really good part of A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari called  Nomadology: The War Machine which discusses how certain groups practice a style of warfare where there is ongoing but infrequent violence between groups that is mainly designed to keep the groups in motion and prevent ongoing trade relations from developing, thus warding off the development of the state. If you are interested in this kind of thing I also really recommend reading the political anthropologist Pierre Clastres.

As for the issue of individual conflict resolution, I don't know very much about it but I believe that most notions of blood debt are designed to provide a way for conflicts to be honorably wound down and ended, for instance by requiring a goat to change hands or something (although it doesn't always work!) ... it definitely seems like the American anarchist movement doesn't have any sort of culture of manners/honor or whatever to deal with this problem yet...

3 Answers

+1 vote
i would say vengeance over justice for sure, but sometimes not vengeance either.
the terminology around vengeance is helpful for folks who are re-connecting with their/our rage, i think, and the fact that it is explicit about being placed in time and in relationships is a Good Thing (especially as opposed to the ahistorical, existing-in-a-vacuum "justice").
obviously it is easy to make vengeance into a ressentiment, entirely reactive uhhh... reaction (sorry), depending on what level of thing one is seeking vengeance for, and what kind of vengeance one is seeking... but context will always be important.
answered Sep 7, 2012 by dot (50,590 points)
Reactive reaction! After my heart, you are,  dot!
hearts! yum! ;)
+1 vote
I would actually say justice, although my understanding of that term is probably different from that of most leftists.

In Remnants of Auschwitz, Agamben says that law is not directed toward the establishment of justice, nor is it directed toward the verification of truth. Law is solely directed toward judgment, independent of truth and justice. According to Agamben, punishment is only important in that it is a fulfillment of the judgement already pronounced.

The widespread use of the term justice to refer to the outcome of juridical proceedings simply mistakes judgment for justice.

However, I don't think it is possible to bring about justice simply by skipping (or pretending to skip) over judgment and immediately meting out punishments (i.e. vengeance.) It seems to me that the concept of vengeance is almost inevitably a kind of mirror image of state judgement-punishment, differing only in that the question of judgment is hidden from view. I would say that a person enacting vengeance probably always passes judgement on the person they attack-- they just haven't given them a trial.

For me the nice thing about the notion of justice is actually its "ahistorical existing in a vacuum" status, as dot put it.  This means that we can work out what it would mean to achieve justice not only in the sense that the state pretends to offer it or in merely parallel senses (such as attacking individual neo-nazis, or rapists, or politicians (not that doing those things is a bad idea per se)) but potentially in a much broader sense.

For me, a useful notion of justice would have to go beyond the simplistic ascription of guilt or innocence to individual people, and would show clearly that neither law nor vengeance can resolve our biggest problems.
answered Sep 8, 2012 by asker (9,270 points)
edited Jan 13, 2015 by asker
implicit in my answer is the idea that things should be personal and relationship-based. the abstract nature of justice that you laud is a problem because of the assumptions of objectivity and generalities that i think are inherently bureaucratic and objectifying...
vengeance to me is not about punishing (although i recognize your point), but about the acknowledgment of actual people; a rejection of universality of judgement/morals.

tl/dr: justice is a tool of state/morality builders.
dear dot,

it is always nice to get an email saying that you have responded to my comment after like a year. I am now left wondering, what was I reading a year ago that led me to take this bizarre position? too much agamben I guess. normally I do not have anything nice to say about notions of justice...

I definitely sympathize with what you are saying about the fact that justice does not address/acknowledge individual people and situations. I suppose I was probably trying to suggest that there could be a kind of justice that is not so rigid/procedural. which might be true. I don't know. it's funny, because I was just having this exact argument yesterday, and I said more or less the same thing you are saying.  I will maybe return to this w/ a more combative answer the next time I read some Agamben.
it's been a year! i can respond! (lol, the flows of internet conversation.)

it's fun to get my agamben filtered through people who actually read him. :)
good question, ingrate!

@asker, you said: "I don't think it is possible to bring about justice simply by skipping (or pretending to skip) over judgment and immediately meting out punishments (i.e. vengeance.)"

i would argue that vengeance does NOT skip over judgment, it merely places it solely in the domain of the individual(s) impacted. which seems like where it best fits. for others (not directly impacted) to reach judgment is not substantially different from a "legal system", which i have no use for. however, that is not to say that those immediately impacted might not be well-served by some discussion with others familiar with the situation.
I think that's what I was trying to say, although I could have been clearer. When you take vengeance, you still pass judgment, you just don't have an institutional mechanism for doing so.

I'm sure this is a better arrangement than courts, but almost anything would be...
–2 votes
Neither, forgiveness on the wronged side and repentance from the person doing the wronging. That's what I think is the right answer. Anarchy should be peaceful because we hold to no rulers. Once you violate a persons body or rightful possessions you have violated anarchy in whole.
answered Jan 12, 2015 by clisterdude88 (170 points)
flip, i think i get your meaning about people using marriage as a form of control (i've witnessed it many times), and how that relates to societal values...

but i don't see it as the most obvious social relationship meant to enforce control, primarily since both people enter the relationship willingly (at least today in most places) and can leave it whenever they wish (in most relationships).

i'd pick compulsory schooling as the most obvious form of social control, and from a personal relationship standpoint, parents forcing their children to go to school (among many other things parents usually force their daughters and sons to do without consent).
funkyanarchy, thank you for your input on the topic, if that is all you will have to say on the subject I really do appreciate your input. I'm use to using verses as backup so my bad, don't take me quoting verses as me throwing scripture in your face, its an old habit and those die hard.

I guess since you aren't interested in my form of anarchy let me ask you this. Could you accept me as I am and what I believe and still associate/converse with me even though our views are extremely different? If so, that is what I seek in anarchy.
cd88, of course i can accept you as you are, and engage with you on various topics. (religion is simply not one of those.)  it does beg the followup question:  what does it mean to "accept" you?  in this ultra-mediated form of communication, it doesn't mean a whole lot.

you seem to be genuinely curious and open minded in those posts i have read here. that is far more than i can say about many self-identified anarchists that have passed through here to engage.  and for that i give you kudos.

accepting, and engaging with, folks that i disagree with is unfortunately an all-too-common fact of my life. if i was incapable of associating with folks i disagree with, i would have damn near nobody in my life. :-)  my immediate family, who i love and enjoy immensely when i am around them (not very often), is filled with do-gooder liberals whose worldview i find generally useless. but they are fun, smart, interesting, and i have plenty to enjoy and engage with them, without delving into our divergent worldviews.  

hopefully that answers your question.

i do have some curiosity about how you reconcile accepting god as your ruler/master with anarchy (which means, literally, "without leader/ruler").  but as those are not remotely reconcilable in any way in my world, i can easily let that go. and accept you as someone that shares *some* of my desires for anarchy.
You asked how I reconcile accepting god as my ruler with anarchy which means literally without leader/ruler. I would say human leader/ruler. Because IMO God exists, and if God exists then He would be the boss man on scene. I back that opinion with scripture. I back my anarchy with scripture too. And to be honest not a single Christian I know has a scriptural comeback, only emotional comebacks.

I will accept that answer/explanation about your position on "acceptance".

See, I would say that I "accept" you and the views you have as your own.
Maybe I should say that I "acknowledge" instead.
well, your reliance on scripture to "back up" your belief (opinion?) in god as a ruler (one that somehow sits outside of anarchy's core tenet) is, to me, not very different from people in the past claiming/believing that slavery was fine because it was in the legal "scripture".  in your case, that scripture was supposedly written by a bunch of human beings with some very strong ideology, almost 2000 years ago. and according to many christians i have spoken with, is intended as abstract allegory and/or metaphor rather than concrete events and people. so quoting scripture presents me with absolutely nothing that i can take seriously as a basis for a belief system. though granted, even if it had been written as "fact" by generally accepted scientists, i would take it only very slightly more seriously.

so, again, i accept that you seem like a reasonable, curious, relatively open-minded person looking to explore the world and your place in it. i just have strong disagreement with the perspective you articulate. i am ok with that. i asked about how you reconcile, you explained, and i find your explanation no more understandable or reasonable than what you have said previously.

so now, if you want to have further discussion with me, time to move on from religion/scripture topic. clear enough?