Two recently published articles on inter-group violence highlight the how the cycle of vengeance is remarkably similar across two different cultures: one in tribal peoples from New Guinea, the other in street gangs from Chicago.
In an article for The New Yorker Jared Diamond writes about the cycles and social customs surrounding vengeance in New Guinea by examining how one Handa tribesmen sought to exact revenge on another tribe for the death of his uncle.
The social customs about what counts as vengeance, how and whom it may be exacted upon are complex, but it’s interesting that Diamond concludes that the desire for vengeance is a powerful motivation (ranking alongside love, anger, grief, and fear) which feeds the cycle of retribution even past the point where the original cause of the conflict has been lost in the sands of time.
The project uses an interesting method which thinks of violence like a disease which can be transmitted through vengeance, and so applies an approach taken from disease prevention models to try and stop the spread of shootings.
Slutkin employs mostly ex-members of the Chicago underground who know both the streets and the players to intervene and mediate disputes when violence has flared on when the situation seems ready to explode.
The idea, just like in clinical epidemiology, is to target the most ‘infected’ members to reduce transmission – in this case, by engaging those causing the most violence and cooling the need for vengeance.
After a quick search, there seems to be remarkably little research on the role of vengeance in violence (although almost all supports its role).
This tends to parallel the research into violence in general. As one of the biggest killers in the world, I’m always struck by how little attention it gets.