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Vendetta Logic and the Perpetuation of Violence

Updated: Mar 19

“Freedom is universally synonymous with the ability and will to exact revenge. Revenge is the great equalizer."

Contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists have looked at the subject of vengeance in terms of human health and come up with some interesting theories involving principles that were first enunciated by the ancient Greeks.

Justice or, more precisely, injustice as perceived by the victim, is not only interpersonal but also intergenerational.

Think October 7, 2023, and the resultant War in Gaza. Think any day in the USA. Many Black Americans believe they are natural-born victims of institutionalized, white racist police harassment. Even some whites believe that. Sadly, there isn’t sufficient indignation to impact the status quo, to move the needle. After all, 73 million mostly white Americans thought that a professed racist, shameless misogynist, and highly successful con artist deserved a second term as their president.

Like the social vendetta that began with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, the seesaw of institutionalized hatred and cycles of revenge continue unabated from generation to generation: lynchings, assassinations, lethal traffic stops, ad nauseam. To the white American mind, the injustice experienced by some as the status quo is perceived as such only by the victims; nonetheless, what they can’t avoid acknowledging is that it’s intergenerational. The hatred it generates is self-perpetuating, cloning and recloning itself until its own genesis is unrecognizable, its root cause forgotten.

Aristotle (384–322 BCE) asserted, “…a man can give something if he likes, but he cannot suffer injustice if he likes — there must be somebody else to do him the injustice.”

Plato (428–348 BCE), who ascribed a high role to demons, explains that the evil acts of a wrongdoer can impact the entire human community through succeeding generations. A direct correlation exists, therefore, between a people’s collective sense of injustice — something that can vary from culture to culture — and aggressive acts of retribution carried out by descendants of the perceived victim or victims, known in Italy as la vendetta.

Even more than bible stories, white Christian America loves a good gangster tale (Noir) involving (you guessed it) Italians, or at least Italian-Americans which in the nativist mind is the same thing. It isn’t, but that’s another topic. Being Italian-American myself and living in the Mediterranean, I’m going to share some insights into how vendetta logic works.

"Lo hanno trovato morto ... con dodici lupare nella schiena...(they found him dead...with twelve slugs from la lupara in the back." - Giuseppe di Lampedusa. Image credit: Bluedog, CC BY-SA 3.0

My paternal grandfather immigrated to the USA at the end of the 19th century after killing the man who murdered his father. With that moth-eaten history, I shall claim a stake in my own thesis. As Plato pointed out almost 2-1/2 millennia ago, proactive/reactive, aggressive acts of retribution can become intergenerational. The story has been retold by my children and will surely be retold by their children, just as it was passed down to me. The hatred is renewed with every telling.

When I visited my grandfather’s humble village for the first time almost 125 years after his hasty departure, some of the locals acknowledged the story. My impression was that the family of the man he murdered in 1893 were passing down their version of the same tale. I prudently abandoned that line of enquiry and have not returned to the village. When a cousin visited the place shortly afterward, he found all the tires on his rental car slashed. Coincidence? Perhaps.

In vendetta logic, murder avenges murder to appease the murdered, that is, the already dead. The root causes and intergenerational aspects of la vendetta are best illustrated by such situations as the murder of a father, the consequences of which can profoundly alter the lives of his children and grandchildren. My grandfather was three years old when his father was murdered, but he waited until he was seventeen before taking revenge on the killer, setting in motion a cycle of retribution that compelled him to leave the island. He ignored the old Sicilian admonition:

“The man who waits less than 20 years to take his revenge is a fool.”

George Floyd was a father and a fool. Daunte Wright was a father. Ronell Foster was a father. I could go on but the list is seemingly endless with new victims added daily. As Plato pointed out, injustice is not only interpersonal but intergenerational. One thing is certain, that regardless of their criminal histories (or lack of) the sons and daughters of America's dead icons will nurture a fear and hatred of all cops and a prejudiced attitude toward whites generally; thus, the cycle of hatred and revenge will perpetuate itself through many more generations. Hatred, like population growth, increases geometrically. The application of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its institutionalization in education guarantees the perpetuation of vendetta logic in American society.

While George Floyd has become a folk hero alongside that other George (Washington, not Santos), Dr. Martin Luther King, and Jesse James, the record shows that Floyd was an incorrigible career criminal. New evidence put forward by documentary filmmakers Liz Collin, JC Chaix, and Josh Feland in their 2024 release "The Fall of Minneapolis," asserts hard evidence that Floyd - with longstanding 75% arterial blockage - died of a self-induced stroke after swallowing a large dose of fentanyl during his arrest by a Black officer, and was not killed by Derek Chauvin. Nonetheless, the current public narrative is the only one possible given the CRT-driven cycle of hatred eating away at the fabric of American society. Floyd's bereaved family - the nest in which a viper was spawned and nurtured - was awarded $27 million by the City of Minneapolis but it wasn't enough to stop the violent backlash by a deluded, revenge-driven public.

"If we don't stand for the truth, we'll fall for the lies." - Liz Collin

Allegory of Justice Punishing Injustice (1737) by Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766)

Here in Sicily, special types of guns and knives are traditionally associated with revenge killings. That’s the bad news. The good news is that racism isn’t the issue here that it is in the USA. One is far less likely to become a victim of racist police violence - or any violence - in Palermo, say, than in New York or Atlanta or Minneapolis.

In the Odyssey, Homer’s lyric tale began in the Sicily of 800 BCE. It was Ulysses’s slaughtering of Antonous and the others who, in his absence, had lain with Ulysses’s wife and with other women of his household that inspired his call for sulphur to expunge the stench of blood from the house. Sulphur (brimstone) is the very essence of this island, blasted and scraped from beneath the volcanic native soil from which all human, animal and plant life come and to which they must eventually return, to the Zone of Sulphur.

In modern-day Sicily, thousands of years after Homer, the responsibility for preserving the genetic code by avenging any injury to one’s own bloodline is still passed down from father to son to grandson until the historic cause of a vendetta is lost to living memory. All that remains is the hatred after the root cause is long forgotten. Vendetta logic is a law unto itself; hence, the slashed tires, which is less traumatic than a slashed throat, thank you very much.

Author screenshot

In vendetta logic, where blood calls for blood, premeditated murder is entirely forgivable and carries the weight of social obligation, despite whatever penalties the civil code may prescribe. Anyone lacking the intestinal fortitude to fulfill his role in the matter of ‘blood of one’s blood’, considered an injury or threat to the survival of the genetic line, is deemed a coward and often shunned by his community. In Sicily, by the observance of omertà, or secretiveness, a man shows that he is truly a man by his silence, especially to the civil authorities, and in this way, he puts time on his side in settling personal scores. ‘Premeditated’ is therefore not equated with ‘in-cold-blood.’

That doesn’t stop anyone. La vendetta is alive and well. It’s practically coded into our DNA. If a human isn’t given a motive for revenge, he’ll soon find one. Why? Because revenge is freedom.

Like Italy, America is a mostly Christian nation. Sure, we proclaim our multiculturalism and religious diversity, but that’s mostly BS. We hate one another. According to recent studies, 92 million white Christian Americans believe they will soon be called to arms to defend their religious values against ‘The Other.’ The country teeters on the brink of civil war as angry, armed Christian legislators threaten other legislators in the halls of Congress. Call it the Lunatic Caucus (Marjorie ‘Q-Anon’ Taylor Greene, Lauren ‘Boobs-N-Bullets’ Boebert, Paul ‘mad dentist’ Gosar, Ted ‘Cancun’ Cruz, Matt ‘idiot fringe’ Gaetz, et al) but even Mussolini’s blackshirts and Hitler’s SS started small. A few clowns here, some firecrackers there, then the Holocaust.

Nonetheless, Christian teaching relies heavily on Aristotelian logic for the articulation of Christ’s ethical doctrine, and the Roman Catholic Church continues to be characterized by Aristotelian formulations, although one would never recognize it, given the Church’s traditional endorsement of chattel slavery, institutionalized misogyny, condemnation of diversity, and its historical alignment with totalitarian regimes. Not to mention child sexual abuse, laundering money for the Italian mafias, and financing CIA-style regime change. Again, another topic, another essay.

Before Garibaldi united all the sundry kingdoms on the Italian peninsula under a single national government in 1870, the Papal States (all of central Italy) was - like today's Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh) in the Middle East - a police state frozen in the Middle Ages and its torture chambers were legendary. It was the Holy Inquisition that gave Hitler’s Nazis a blueprint for their Final Solution, right down to the yellow stars of David, the one fashion accessory that Hugo Boss didn't design for them.

Judicial and extra-judicial executions, as well as the industrial-scale murder of innocents (e.g., the Holocaust), are ignored or even supported by conservative Christians, especially when the targets are non-Christian peoples and those deemed pariahs (i.e., Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, American Blacks). Although these killings may be ethically acceptable according to a state’s or institution’s norms or laws, even in a so-called Christian nation, they would be eternally forbidden by God, hence the irony. An American court might wrongfully convict Derek Chauvin for the non-murder of George Floyd, but it can do nothing to mitigate the intergenerational impact of that event or derail the chain of revenge killings and massive property destruction perpetrated by both sides after the fact.

Vendetta logic leads to the torching of whole cities. Like the partial torching of Minneapolis by Black Lives Matter (BLM) adherents, the firebombing and near-total destruction of Dresden during the Second World War by the RAF and USAF was a simple act of revenge. Winston Churchill called it "an act of terror."

Left: Minneapolis after the George Floyd riots. Image credit: Mason Dockter, Souix City Journal.

Right: Dresden after the firebombing of February 1945. Image credit: Deutsche Fototek

Fearing for their personal lives and livelihoods, a Minneapolis judge and jury were compelled to ignore critical evidence and cave-in before a tsunami of hatred that condemned four innocent police officers to prison. Neither Aristotelian thought nor Christian teaching stopped the injustice. To profess a Christian faith, one needs the ability to entertain two diametrically opposed thoughts at the same time without any qualms of conscience. Reward the guilty party, punish the innocent, count the rewards.

As Plato explained, vendetta logic is intergenerational. 79 years have passed since Dresden but only three years since George Floyd inspired the firebombing of Minneapolis. The payback cycle always involves another tsunami of hatred blowing from the opposite direction; the simple question being "when."

Affirming Aristotle’s admonitions about settling scores before the whole community is irreparably damaged by drawing Divine wrath down upon all, la vendetta finds its roots in Judeo-Christian mythology. The wholesale destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one such tale. “For the sins of their inhabitants, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim were destroyed by fire and brimstone (i.e., a rain of burning sulphur) from the Lord out of Heaven” (Genesis 19:24–25).

The biblical episode describes the role of angels as messengers and intermediaries between God and men, peacemakers. Like the Abraham Accords. According to the Judeo-Roman historian, Flavius Josephus (1st century CE), when messenger angels came to Sodom to find good men, they were instead greeted by rapists and sodomists who proceeded to molest them:

“And the angels came to the city of the Sodomites….when the Sodomites beheld the young men, who were outstanding in beauty of appearance and who had been received into Lot’s house, they set about to do violence and outrage to their youthful beauty….Therefore, God, indignant at their bold acts, struck them with blindness, so that they were unable to find the entrance into the house, and condemned the Sodomites to destruction of the whole population” (Jewish Antiquities 1:199–202).

Not an LGBTQAI+ friendly story.

Muslims share the moralistic tale of Sodom and Gommorah in their own collection of fables known as the hadiths and safirs. From an early Islamic standpoint, however, the principal offences of Sodom were not sodomy but idolatry, avarice, and lack of hospitality.

The background destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Lucas van Leyden’s “Lot and his Daughters,” 1520. Public domain image

We all know what came next, that is, a deluge of Western paintings depicting the cataclysmic destruction of the two towns followed by the impregnation of Lot’s daughters by their drunken father. According to scripture, engineering the seduction of their father as an act of revenge saved the entire human race (environmental activists, please take note). I’ve always enjoyed the story of Noah’s ark a lot better. At least he got the animals properly sexed and paired for posterity.

According to the Bible, evil acts of wrongdoers impact both victim and perpetrator into the next generation, and even beyond (even beyond the grave?), though in somewhat different ways. The Bible is full of moralistic yarns about the sins of parents being inherited by their offspring and leading to mostly undeserved consequences. Start with Genesis and the expulsion from Eden  the original Garden of Good and Evil  - leading to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (dumbass father favours one son over another, then spurned son murders his luckier sibling). And there’s incest too, but we’ll get back to that later.

The payback flowchart is both vertical and horizontal, extending to the immediate relatives of a wrongdoer as well as to his descendants. The revenge impulse, therefore, finds its justification in both the Greek and Judeo-Christian ethical systems, these being cornerstones of Western civilization, and later finds expression in Islamic culture and Sharia law and the codes of other institutions that partake of the Abrahamic tradition, in particular, the Italian mafias.

In the interest of the public good, modern society has usurped the individual’s historical right to exact revenge against wrongdoers and placed its administration in the hands of the state. The underlying principle, however, remains operative. In some Islamic states of the Middle East and elsewhere, for example, a murderer might be arrested by the police and condemned by the criminal court, but it is often the head of the victim’s family who carries out the execution under state supervision with an assault rifle. An alternative involves the paying of blood money to the family of the victim. For blaspheming the Prophet, the faithful demand their revenge.

Execution of a Jewess in Morocco by Alfred Dehodencq, circa 1861

For a Christian nation - "In God We Trust" - the whole idea of public vengeance is to avoid another Sodom and Gomorrah. God rains down destruction on people don't heed Aristotle’s warning, who fail to find another way. Genocide is sometimes the only outcome, therefore, it's always better to enjoy first strike capability.

There is a curious corollary to the destruction of Sodom, thought to have been the abode of homosexuals, and Gomorrah, a nest of lesbianism. Lot, into whose house the angels had been invited to shelter overnight, confronted the townsmen who were demanding that he turn over the handsome young men to them for their pleasuring. Instead, he unconcernedly offered his two virgin daughters to the male crowd to do with as it wished, on condition that they leave the angels unmolested. That pretty much tells us everything we need to know about gender apartheid in the Abrahamic tradition, but it’s not the end of the story.

Lot’s sacrificial offer was rejected by the crowd. Later, the pious patriarch and his family was spared destruction in the hail of fire and brimstone that rained from the sky. During their flight to safety in the desert, Lot’s wife, whom we know as ‘Ado’ although Genesis does not specifically mention her name (who cares, anyway?), ignored her husband’s advice and took one last backward glance at her hometown and was instantly turned to a pillar of salt that melted away in the rains that later washed clean all traces of the holocaust.

Lot and his daughters, by Peter Paul Rubens. Wikipedia Commons, public domain

Lot and his offspring took refuge in a cave, believing themselves the last remaining humans on earth. The still-virginal, now motherless daughters, doubtless recalling their father’s recent offer to sacrifice them to the lustful designs of his townsmen, decided to make the old man drunk with wine in order to commit incest with him and thereby propagate his seed into future generations. They accomplished the task quite successfully, first the older girl, then later the younger. Despite some mild tut-tutting among bible study groups, there has been little concern for the escapades of this peculiar three-some, thought to be the progenitors for successive generations of humankind.

It would have been kinder on history had they gotten the old man drunk then slit his throat in revenge for having offered them to be raped and perhaps even murdered. But hey, this is only an essay. It’s not my purpose to rewrite Holy Scripture.

Jews are accustomed to the depredations of foreign invaders and one pogrom after another characterize their past; and yet, despite continual persecution at the hands of Christians for having been the offspring of incestuous parents — that is, Lot and his daughters — not to mention having rejected and killed Jesus — they have not usually demanded revenge. Well, not until October 7, 2023, anyway.

If the Bible is to be believed, and the Bible is the keystone document for Islam, Palestinians too are descendants of a drunken, lustful father and his incestuous daughters. The post-October 7 war on Hamas is a radical departure from the historical Jewish tendency to passively go with the flow, to placate their Christian persecutors, to stroll resignedly into the gas chambers. Eradicating Hamas is a whole new ballgame, although the fire from the sky thing is simply another tired rerun of Sodom and Gomorrah which, despite all the fireworks, had no significant long term impact.

If a Christian is wronged - killed, wounded, raped - by another Christian, or even by a Jew, then an act of revenge is initiated at high level, that is, by the state. The Jew is indistinguishable in his impulses from the Palestinian or even the Gentile, just as Blacks are - theoretically at least - indistinguishable under the law from whites, Asians, Latinos, and other races in the USA and elsewhere. The dilemma is expressed in the art of William Shakespeare:

“If you wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.” (Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice).

Pure Elizabethan vendetta logic. Which takes us back to the October 7, 2023 massacre in Israel.

Freedom - a concept conspicuously missing from the Islamic holy books - is universally synonymous with the ability and will to exact revenge. Revenge is the great equalizer.

The rain of fire and brimstone visited on the European continent during World War II, followed by the current status quo involving mutually assured destruction, should have compelled the offspring of the incestuous daughters of Lot (i.e., us) to set aside vendetta logic, and take a breather. While the European Union has been largely a monetary union concerned with economic prosperity and trade, the European continent has nonetheless remained relatively peaceful for several generations with only some minor hiccups such as happened in Bosnia where religion (Christianity versus Islam) again played a role in the conflict. National, cultural and religious rivalries are gradually being sidelined in favour of a single universal value system driven by economic prosperity and a common currency. The antidote for conflict naturally involves money, which is at the same time the easiest applecart to upset.

Nonetheless, with the current resurgence of anti-Semitism in the world, and the rather poor role models displayed by our educators and national leaders, aggravated by a vicious epidemic of Islamic terrorism, a resurgence of la vendetta and reliance on Old Testament-style tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye justice is practically unavoidable. The blood feud in Palestine is yet another feature of contemporary society’s slide into tribalism. Money hasn't been enough. The applecart is listing dangerously and will soon overturn.

The word ‘vendetta’ is included in the top 1% of word searches, suggesting what is on everyone's mind.

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