If you want to understand 98% of the unhappiness in the world–whether it is on the stage of international politics or the stage of your kitchen or bedroom or wherever your arguments happen, continue reading…
The book I have finished is called Immortal Combat- Confronting the Heart of Darkness and my thinking for this book has been much influenced by Rene Girard and the German philosopher Max Scheler. Scheler’s little book Ressentiment is stunning. He picks up on Nietzsche’s idea of ressentiment and corrects Nietzsche. Both Germans use the French word ressentiment because they didn’t have a German word for their concept.
I simplify it in my discussions by capitalizing the word “Resentment”. This Resentment is not just feeling bad because Henry got a bigger piece of pie or Sally called me a bad name. Instead Resentment is the brooding review or a grievance over and over again in our minds. I call it a “Resentment Loop”. We go over a conversation in our mind…”Next time I’ll really tell her what I think…I should have said…He never should have done that. Next time I’ll teach him a lesson…You wait and see.” This inner monologue is really an inner dialogue. We play a scene out in our minds over and over again in what can be an endless cycle of bitter resentment.
I think most everybody has moments like that, but most people who are struggling for maturity move on. The Resentment Loop is no more than a way of venting or coping with a grievance. If the person has faith they learn how to hand it over to God and seek forgiveness which breaks the Resentment Loop. They learn to give the other person the benefit of the doubt and to see their own Resentment Loop as an immature and prideful bit of stupidity.
But not all of us do that. In fact, we often continue to run the Resentment Loop and we become addicted to it. It becomes “Our Precious”. We cling to the Resentment Loop.
One of the brilliant details in Peter Jackson’s film version of Lord of the Rings is his portrayal of Gollum locked in a resentment loop-talking to himself and going over the same Resentment continually like an addict in love with his drink or drug.
Why do we do this?
We feed the addiction for the same reason we feed all addictions: because it feels good.
When we are in the Resentment Loop we are powerful again. We’re in control . We’ve told that other person exactly what we feel. We’ve put him or her in their place. We’re on top of the world. We have the answers. We’ve shown him who’s boss. In the Resentment Loop we’ve got power and if we have been abused or hurt–if we are on the bottom of the heap or lack self esteem–if we’re down and out and lowly it feels great to be on top. When we’re in the Resentment Loop we’re on top and that feels great.
Now, here’s where it gets really interesting…Like all addicts, the high we get from the Resentment Loop doesn’t last. We need another fix and a bigger dose, so we let the anger grow within us and we start to generalize about the person who has hurt us. It’s not that white man. It’s all white men. It’s not that woman it’s all women. It’s not that Muslim. It’s all Muslims. It’s not that Democrat or Republican or rich person or poor person. It’s all the people in that group.
Now the target of our Resentment is bigger and the Resentment Loop is no longer a Resentment Loop it’s a Resentment Spiral–getting bigger and bigger in our minds. Now we are powerful and strong against all those people. We’re better than all those people. We’re the tops. We’re superior to them all! Boy, that REALLY feels good.
Then the flip happens. The flip is when the Resentment stops being bitter and negative in our lives and we start to see Our Precious as a good thing. This curse is a blessing. We see that we are are martyr to a cause. We have been persecuted by all those bad guys out there. The Resentment Spiral becomes a source of self esteem for us. It not only makes us feel good. It makes us believe that we ARE good, and not only good, but superior to all others.
The next step is that we find other people who are on the same Resentment Loop and we either join a campaign, a political party, an activist group or a pressure group or we start one. It becomes our life. It becomes our ideology. It becomes our false religion. It becomes our campaign.
Along with the others in the group we have something to live for. Our lives have meaning and purpose. We are righteous warriors and courageous campaigners. We might even do good things in our campaign. We might achieve justice. We might feed the hungry. We might bring down the mighty from their seat. We might do great things–but they will all have been achieved through Resentment and Hatred–not through charity and grace.
We can spot this sort of Resentment Campaign because once they win a battle they are not appeased. They can never be satisfied just as Gollum and every addict can never be satisfied. If they do win a campaign very often they will sabotage their success because they don’t really want to win. If they were to win their Resentment Loop would be destroyed and their meaning and purpose in life would be destroyed.
That is why, if they do not sabotage their own success, they will immediately, on the heels of their success, launch into a new campaign. Any appeasement by their enemy will be tossed aside as they continue their campaign of hate–and it is a campaign of hate even though it is cloaked in faux victimhood, self righteousness and crybaby tactics.
Most frightening, those who are in the Resentment Campaign are invulnerable to criticism of any kind. They are right. They know they are right. They cannot be wrong. To be wrong in any way would be to undermine their Resentment addiction. They must be right. All. The. Time. If you dare to criticize — even in the most diplomatic, gentle and kindly way — you will be rejected and cast down among their worst enemies for the only person worse than the real enemy is the “friend” who betrays them by criticizing.
If you have read this far you will have spotted these behaviors in a whole range of political, religious, educational and relational conflicts. You see these behaviors within the family, within the school, the military, the parish, the church, the academy, within business and international relations.
It is everywhere. It is wherever people meet.
It is the heart of darkness in man and it only takes a few moments’ thought to realize that this Resentment eventually leads to bloodshed.
Cain takes his brother Abel out into the field and enacts the Final Solution.
Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.
Go here to purchase Immortal Combat.
Go here for links to the e-book and audio book versions.