Friday, April 18, 2008

Vengeance is Ours

Jared Diamond, whose wonderful Guns, Germs, and Steel we read a few years back, has an extraordinary article in this week's New Yorker (unfortunately, abstract-only online). The article describes the universality of revenge across human cultures, and the psychological harm that comes from not being able to get revenge in rule-of-law societies like ours. The article focuses on the story of a young man that Diamond knew in Papua New Guinea who successfully avenged the killing of his uncle, with apparently positive results overall. Ninety-nine percent of scientists writing about this topic for a modern lay audience would feel compelled to end with some platitude about how "civilization" (or religion) places us above all that; incredibly, Diamond turns the tables on us, with a kicker finale. I'll try to remember to bring a copy to the meeting next weekend; someone else should too, as a backup, in case anyone's interested. Someone suggested another book by him; after this, I'm all for it.

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