Related to the aggression resulting from frustration is hostility engendered by envy and jealousy. (Erich Fromm)

Related to the aggression resulting from frustration is hostility engendered by envy and jealousy. (Erich Fromm)

Related to the aggression resulting from frustration is hostility engendered by envy and jealousy. Both jealousy and envy constitute a special kind of frustration. They are caused by the fact that B has an object which A desires, or is loved by a person whose love A desires. Hate and hostility are aroused in A against B who receives that which A wants, and cannot have. Envy and jealousy are frustrations, accentuated by the fact that not Only does A not get what he wants, but that another person is favored instead. The story of Cain, unloved through no fault of his own, who kills the favored brother, and the story of Joseph and his brothers, are classical versions of jealousy and envy. Psychoanalytic literature offers a wealth of clinical data on these same phenomena.

Another type of violence related to reactive violence but already a step further in the direction of pathology is revengeful violence. In reactive violence the aim is to avert the threatened injury, for this reason such violence serves the biological function of survival. In revengeful violence, on the other hand, the injury has already been done, and hence the violence has no function of defense. It has the irrational function of undoing magically what has been done realistically. We find revengeful violence in individuals as well as among primitive and civilized groups. In analyzing the irrational
nature of this type of violence we can go a step further. The revenge motive is in inverse proportion to the strength and productiveness of a group or of an individual. The impotent and the cripple have
only one recourse to restore their self-esteem if it has been shattered by having been injured: to take revenge according to the lex talionis: “an eye for an eye.” On the other hand the person who lives
productively has no, or little, such need. Even if he has been hurt, insulted, and injured, the very process of living productively makes him forget the injury of the past. ability to produce proves to
be stronger than the wish for revenge. The truth of this analysis can be easily established by empirical data on the individual and on the social scale. Psychoanalytic material demonstrates that the mature, productive person is less motivated by the desire for revenge than the neurotic person who has difficulties in living independently and fully, and who is often prone to stake his whole existence on the wish for revenge. In severe psychopathology, revenge becomes the dominant aim of his life, since without revenge not Only self- esteem, but the sense of self and of identity threaten to collapse. Similarly we find that in the most backward groups (in the economic or cultural and emotional aspects) the sense of revenge (for example, for a past national defeat) seems to be strongest.. Suffice it to say here that in view of the intense narcissism with which the primitive group is endowed, any insult to its self-image is so devastating that it will quite naturally arouse intense hostility.
By compensatory violence I understand violence as a substitute for productive activity occurring in an impotent person. In order to understand the term “impotence” as it is used here, we must review some preliminary considerations. While man is the object of natural and social forces that rule him, he is at the same time not only the object of circumstances. He has the will, the capacity, and the freedom to transform and to change the world—within certain limits. What matters here is not the scope of will and freedom,6 but the fact that man cannot tolerate absolute passivity. He is driven to make his imprint on the world, to transform and to change, and not only to be transformed and changed. This human need is expressed in the early cave drawings, in all the arts, in work, and in sexuality. All these activities are the result of man’s capacity to direct his will toward a goal and to sustain his effort until the goal is reached. The capacity to thus use his powers is potency. (Sexual potency is only one of the forms of potency) If, for reasons of weakness, anxiety, incompetence, and so forth, man is not able to act, if he is impotent, he suffers; this suffering due to impotence is rooted in the very fact that the human equilibrium has been disturbed, that man cannot accept the state of complete powerlessness without attempting to restore his capacity to act. But can he, and how? One way is to submit to and identify with a person or group having power. By this symbolic participation in another person’s life, man has the illusion of acting, when in real-ity he only submits to and becomes a part of those who act. The other way, and this is the one that interests us most in this context, is man’s power to destroy.

To create lite is to transcend one’s status as a creature that is thrown into life as dice are thrown out of a cup. But to destroy life also means to transcend it and to escape the unbearable suffering of complete passivity. To create life requires certain qualities that the impotent person lacks. To destroy life requires only one quality—the use of force. The impotent man can transcend life by destroying it in others or in himself. He thus takes revenge on life for negating itself to him. Compensatory violence is precisely that violence which has its roots in and which compensates for impotence. The man who cannot create wants to destroy.

 

 

 

 

The Heart of Man
Erich Fromm



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