Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Spite is defined as ill will or hatred toward another, accompanied with the disposition to irritate, annoy, or thwart; a desire to vex or injure; petty malice; grudge; rancor. Spite is usually associated with the desire to inflict or apply some concept of justice with regard to repaying selfish behaviour. The actions taken are malicious in their intent. Spite is often a more subliminal version of vengeance, no less malicious, no less purposeful, no less provoking, but often the effect is to leave in question the intent of the action so that there are no further repercussions to the offensive action. The intent is to harm and create misfortune without offering the opportunity for the offended party to have recourse for challenging or outright questioning of the offending action. The corrective nature of spite is usually lost on the victim and for the most part the offended party is just that offended.

Psychologists have experimented with the human psyche with regard to altruistic behaviour, which is that behaviour which seeks the benefit of another versus the opportunity to exhibit selfishness. There is a game which is played called the 'ultimatum game', one party is given a sum of cash and the power to determine the sharing of that cash at any division seeming appropriate to them. The catch is, the receiving party, the one not determining the division, if unhappy with their allotment can refuse the 'gift' and in the refusal negate the prize for both. In this we see the development of spite, if the selfishness of the first party is too great, the receiving party will refuse so that neither party receives any benefit from the game, this is spite. Goes back to that old adage - 'cutting of their nose to spite their face'.

Built into this is the concept of punishing selfish behavior and there seems to be a catch, for neither party at the start of the 'ultimatum game' had the money. It was a 'gift' to both, however the spiteful nature, our fairness gene, kicks in and determines the outcome based on an understanding of fairness and justness which is selfish. The strength of the definition is found here, that in spite of not having any money, a party will insure that no one has the money or the gift. We will refuse to give benefit to another if we deem the cost to fairness and justness is too high, if we can affect an outcome with our sense of equity. Most people are prepared to forsake personal benefit to punish selfishness. In the language of evolutionary psychologists, we are spiteful. Evolutionary psychologists recognise four basic forms of social behaviour: mutualism, selfishness, altruism and spite. Spite is uniquely human.

It brings to mind the question of when a gift is actually a gift and when isn't it?

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