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The Complicated Psychology of Revenge

This is a photo of the cover of the October 2011 Observer.A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and for a full minute, as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of Science, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

A thirst for vengeance is nothing if not timeless. It is as classic as Homer and Hamlet, and as contemporary as Don Corleone and Quentin Tarantino; as old as the eyes and teeth traded in the Bible, and as fresh as the raid that took the life of Osama bin Laden. But while the idea of revenge is no doubt delectable — the very phrase “just desserts” promises a treat — much of its sugar is confined to the coating. The actual execution of revenge carries a bitter cost of time, emotional and physical energy, and even lives. That minute before revenge is savory, as the authors of the Science study recognized; but what about the days and weeks that follow?

In the past few years, psychological scientists have discovered many ways in which the practice of revenge fails to fulfill its sweet expectations. Behavioral scientists have observed that instead of quenching hostility, revenge can prolong the unpleasantness of the original offense and that merely bringing harm upon an offender is not enough to satisfy a person’s vengeful spirit. They have also found that instead of delivering justice, revenge often creates only a cycle of retaliation, in part because one person’s moral equilibrium rarely aligns with another’s. The upshot of these insights is a better sense of why the pursuit of revenge has persisted through the ages, despite tasting a lot more sour than advertised.

Keeping Wounds Green

Many early psychological views toward revenge were based on the larger concept of emotional catharsis. This idea, still widely held in the popular culture, suggests that venting aggression ultimately purges it from the body. But empirical research failed to validate the theory of catharsis, and some recent work contradicts it entirely. In a 2002 paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, APS Fellow Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University reported higher levels of aggression in people who had supposedly vented their anger than in those who had done nothing at all.

If cathartic activity fails to dissolve hostility in general, what is to say revenge will dissolve the anger caused by one offense in particular? That doubt laid the foundation for a recent series of tests led by Kevin Carlsmith of Colgate, who conducted the research with APS Fellows and Charter Members Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard. Wilson and Gilbert have often found that people make powerful mistakes when predicting how they will feel about something in the future; with Carlsmith, they asked whether people could be wrong about the expected emotional benefits of revenge as well. Perhaps revenge is sweet, or perhaps the words of Francis Bacon are more accurate: “A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well.”

For the study, Carlsmith and his collaborators placed participants into groups of four and gave each a dollar, which they could either invest in a group pot or keep for themselves. To entice investment, the researchers promised to add a 40 percent dividend to the group total before redistributing the boosted pot among all four members. This created a classic experimental dilemma: what’s best for the group is for all four members to donate their dollar, but what’s best for the individual is to keep the dollar and also receive one quarter of the final pot distribution, which grows through the investments of the others — in other words, as the researchers put it, to be a “free rider.”

At the end of the trial, participants discovered that one member — secretly controlled by the researchers — had acted as a free rider. Some of the participants, called “non-punishers,” learned about this moral violation but were given no chance to do anything about it. Others, known as “punishers,” were given the chance to avenge the selfish behavior by reducing the earnings of the offender. (The decision to punish carried a small fee, to simulate the personal cost of revenge.) Both punishers and non-punishers rated their feelings immediately after the game, as well as 10 minutes later. A final group, dubbed “forecasters,” had no power to punish but recorded how they expected to feel if they could.

The findings were exactly as Francis Bacon had imagined: Punishers actually felt worse than forecasters predicted they would have felt had they been given the chance to be punishers. Punishers even felt worse than non-punishers, despite getting the chance to take their revenge. Ten minutes after the game, punishers continued to brood on the free rider significantly more than the others did — an “increased rumination” that prevented them from moving on, the researchers surmised. All told, Carlsmith and company concluded in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people erroneously believe revenge will make them feel better and help them gain closure, when in actuality punishers ruminate on their deed and feel worse than those who cannot avenge a wrong.

“I think uncertainty prolongs and enhances emotional experiences, and one of the things that avengers do unintentionally is to prolong the unpleasant encounter,” Carlsmith says. “Those who don’t have a chance to take revenge are forced, in a sense, to move on and focus on something different. And they feel happier.”

Delivering a Message

That most people fail to feel good after revenge does not mean revenge can never feel good. The hunt for this pleasant side of retribution has driven the recent work of German psychological scientist Mario Gollwitzer. “I think that taking revenge has generally a low chance of being successful or satisfying for the avenger,” says Gollwitzer. “I was interested in those instances in which revenge can be ‘sweet,’ and I wondered what it exactly is that makes revenge sweet for the avenger.” In the service of that interest, Gollwitzer has designed some beautifully elaborate experiments; after all, he says, it takes “careful calibration” to provoke a strong response from participants while remaining inside the ethical boundaries of institutional review boards. (How much more might  we learn about revenge, one can’t help but think, if researchers were allowed to murder a participant’s father and marry the mother?)

Gollwitzer has explored two theories for why revenge could be satisfying. The first is known as “comparative suffering,” the idea that simply seeing an offender suffer restores an emotional balance to the universe. If this were the case, then victims of wrongdoing who learn of an offender’s misfortune should feel equally satisfied whether or not they were personally responsible for that misfortune. The second theory — the “understanding hypothesis” — holds that an offender’s suffering is not enough, on its own, to achieve truly satisfactory revenge. Instead, the avenger must be assured that the offender has made a direct connection between the retaliation and the initial behavior.

In one recent study, Gollwitzer and his collaborators asked participants to solve anagrams and assigned them a partner who was presumably doing the same in another room. Each correctly solved anagram earned the team a raffle ticket for a gift certificate worth €25. At the end of the trial, the researchers asked participants to divide the tickets fairly. Most participants chose an equal split, but the partners — actually research confederates — assigned almost all of the tickets to themselves. When participants were informed of this decision, they were given the chance to reduce their partner’s ticket total. About 60 This is a photo of four ice cubes.percent of participants took this chance to the fullest, leaving the partner many fewer tickets than the initial fair distribution had provided. In a practical sense, these participants had taken revenge on the partner’s unjust action.

Other studies might have stopped there, but Gollwitzer took the additional step of giving avengers the chance to send their partner a message. The majority of those who chose to write this retaliatory note made reference to the injustice (“Sorry for taking tickets away, but unfortunately, you only cared about yourself,” one wrote). In response, the avengers then received one of two types of replies prepared by the researchers. Some of these, meant to test the revenge theory of understanding, acknowledged that the retaliation had come as a result of their selfish behavior. Other messages, meant to test “comparative suffering,” showed no such understanding and even expressed a little indignation over their reduced ticket total. To conclude the test, the researchers asked all participants to rate their level of satisfaction with the exchange.

The findings suggest that revenge can succeed only when an offender understands why the act of vengeance has occurred. Among participants who chose to avenge the selfish action, those who received a message of understanding reported much more satisfaction than did those who received an indignant response. In fact, the only time avengers felt more satisfaction than participants who took no revenge at all was when they received an indication of understanding. Put another way, unacknowledged revenge felt no better than none at all. Successful revenge is therefore about more than payback, the authors conclude in the April 2011 issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology; it is about delivering a message.

“The finding that it is the offender’s recognizing of his wrongdoing that makes revenge sweet seems to suggest that — from the avenger’s perspective — revenge entails a message,” Gollwitzer says. “If the message is not delivered, it cannot reestablish justice.”

Your Justice or Mine

The reestablishment of universal justice certainly seems to be at the heart of revenge. In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.” After the September 11 attacks, Kaiser and colleagues returned to these people and assessed their responses to the event. In a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, the researchers reported that the more a person had believed in a just world before the attacks, the more this person experienced distress after them — and the greater this person’s desire for revenge.

The problem with a revenge structure based on rectifying injustice is that the definition of justice varies from person to person — and, even within a single person, from perspective to perspective. A few years ago, a group of researchers led by Arlene Stillwell of the State University of New York at Potsdam asked people to describe two events that had occurred in their lives: one instance in which they had responded to an offense with retribution, and another in which they had been on the receiving end of revenge.

Stillwell and her collaborators found that when people were avengers they believed their action had fairly restored equity to the relationship; when they were the recipients of revenge, however, they considered the payback excessive. This shifting viewpoint explains why revenge often occurs in endless cycles; no sooner did U.S. Navy Seals avenge September 11 by killing Osama bin Laden, for instance, than Al Qaeda vowed to seek revenge for his death.

“Successful revenge appears to make the avengers feel satisfied that equity has been restored, but in many cases the recipient of revenge will perceive the aftermath of revenge as marked by inequity and negative out comes,” Stillwell and her coauthors conclude in a 2008 issue of Basic and Applied Social Psychology. “The divergent perceptions of avenger and recipient will make it difficult to bring an end to the cycle of revenge in a way that both avenger and recipient will regard as satisfying, positive, and fair.”

Beyond Revenge

The long history of vengeance in art suggests a basic instinct for retribution ingrained in the human spirit. Indeed, recent facts largely confirm this age-old fiction: Revenge has been cited as a factor in one in five murders that occur in developed countries, and a report from 2002 found that between 1974 and 2000 three in five school shootings in the United States were driven by vengeance. At the lighter end of the spectrum, the popular urge for payback has inspired some business ventures. Rahm Emanuel reportedly once hired a company called Enough is Enough to avenge a polling error, and although a recent call to this business found it defunct, a newer outfit, Alibis & Paybacks, currently advertises its services in Los Angeles.

But if revenge tastes so bad to the person, why does it remain a favorite dish of the people? In response to this apparent contradiction, many psychological scientists have embraced an evolutionary explanation of revenge. Michael McCullough and Benjamin Tabak of the University of Miami, along with Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania, recently prepared a book chapter that outlines payback’s adaptive function. They argue that individual acts of vengeance serve as group announcements that certain behaviors will elicit retaliation. In other words, the purpose of revenge might be less about responding to one particular offense than about preventing several others.

Seen this way, revenge provides a great cultural benefit — leading to more cooperative, and therefore productive, societies — in exchange for its great personal costs. This larger function takes three forms, McCullough and his coauthors argue. The first is through direct deterrence. Simply put, revenge directly discourages an aggressor from subsequently performing the same offense. The second effect of revenge is indirect. By avenging specific actions, a person can establish a general definition of acceptable conduct and, in the process, avoid future confrontation. In this sense, reputation precludes revenge.

The third adaptive function of revenge goes beyond simple deterrence of negative behaviors and actually coerces beneficial ones. To understand this idea, says McCullough, it helps to envision life as an early human. Suppose in that existence you and a neighbor must take turns guarding your camps from jaguar attacks. If you fall asleep one night and the animal kills a neighbor’s child, this negligence, in the eyes of natural selection, is functionally similar to killing the neighbor’s child directly. The threat of revenge in response to such failed cooperation — a concept known as altruistic punishment — would entice you to stay awake (with the expectation, of course, that your neighbor will do the same on his watch).

Pervasive as this revenge instinct may seem, modern civilization can feel fortunate that resisting the urge to retaliate is even more common. The decision to forego vengeance is not necessary born of human kindness; on the contrary, the body may have evolved some type of internal scale that weighs the adaptive benefits of revenge against its various costs — from the potential for retaliation to the severance of important relationships. More often than not in today’s world, this scale tips in favor of forgiveness.

“You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time,” says McCullough, who is also the author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct (2008). “We think what has evolved is a secondary system” — the forgiveness instinct — “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.” That might not be the most uplifting interpretation of how the brain governs human relations, but it is at least a relatively peaceful one.


Nice article, but the expression is “just deserts,” meaning getting what is just and what is deserved.

Actually it’s not “just desserts”, it’s “just deserts” ( for example). But I do like the idea of one’s natural reward or punishment coming in the form of a pudding 🙂

Excellent article. Amazing how some people cannot wait to point out the negative. “Deserts” or “Desserts”, the message is clear. Thank you for supplying information that I perceive will aid in composing my next psych paper.

I don’r know who you talked to who said they felt worse after revenge. I took my revenge and felt great! Relieved, vindicated.

Immediately after the act of revenge there will be an overwhelming sigh of relief……this is immensely therapeutic for your emotional well-being.
Moreover, revenge is an unequivocal deterrent to future wrong- doings. Only consequential people resort to revenge (of course within the legal framework). The revenge of Gengis Khan on the Persian empire epitomizes such consequentiality. As Shakespeare wrote: If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?, If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

From personal experience, I can say that revenge feels incredibly good, and the effect lasts for as long as the memory. The only thing that can make the pleasure of revenge end is the discovery that it was all an illusion. God has put in each and every one of us the capacity to feel otherworldly pleasure from revenge. God truly is Just.

From reports here, it seems that there are people who feel that they gain a lasting satisfaction from revenge. However that doesn’t counter the finding that a large number of others do not obtain such satisfaction. And a key issue is whether revenge supplies a necessary and effective deterrent against future action. The Hatfields and McCoy’s didn’t find that to be the case and eventually abandoned the strategy.

Unfortunately this report doesn’t address the possibility of un-vengeful retribution. If you make signs of repeating an attack on me I might take action to prevent that without having the intention of revenge, but of simply defending my future well-being.

I’m going to be honest, i’ve been contemplating revenge for over a year now, and i’m not religious, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the thought of revenge is poison to the mind. I’ve been obsessing over it, and i’ve been wanting the person who wronged me, and doesens of other people to die. But now that i really think about it, I don’t think revenge is the answere. My friend Liam was murdered by his own brother, and I wanted so badly to pay him back, but then I realised that if i continued down that path, then I would end up being just as cruel as Liams brother. So I honestly believe that revenge isn’t a healthy outcome for any situation. Would I take revenge if the oportunity prevented itself, I don’t know. What scares me, is I think i would , but in the end, I hope i don’t. And I guess it depends on the person, but if I took revenge, then I think it would make me feel worse, not better.

Not acting to have justice in the world makes you feel like a helpless victim, and causes future suffering. You must take revenge in order to have self respect.

For anyone who has not sinned, let them cast the first stone. Mercy has its place, but not at the expense of a world where you cannot thrive.

As I indicated above, there is no substitute for the sweet revenge. If you wish to be identified as a “consequential” human being you must resort to revenge if you are wronged. Believe me, God never avenges you….there are numerous historical examples of this. I disagree with the concept that God has created everybody equal. On the contrary, we each have a different “genetic makeup”, which influences our judgment and decision making. Do not hesitate to take revenge, by interrupting the cycle of viciousness. Do not wait for the next world to avenge you. Of course, any act of revenge should be incessant and relentless, albeit, within legal boudaries.

I hate revenge and feel stressed and ill if I am being nasty to people: I have wondered if Freud did not feel sexuality in his childhood and therefore thought all children do, overt sexuality as in counscious, still if he did nor did not the ideas that stem from such cconsideration of childhood sexuality seem to me very valid for all, some of them do, i wonder if he did not get children who had been abused and decide they were fantasying about sex so tha tpart of his talk does not seem real to me.Talking of sex so a tremendously astute proceedure for a person who wanted to get psycology thought changed, who wanted people to revamp ideas on it. I did not feel any thing sexual overtly in childhood.
People are different, some feel good from revenge and some don’t it seems. Could feeling good after revenge have to do with what you expect to feel, what you have been taught you should feel. Suppose it could just depend on so many things. My finding in adult life is that peoples behavior, if you come to know their failies well, has much more to do with how they were educated than their “humors” to talk Shakespearian style psycology, choloric, phlegmatic etc. I have met shy people who turned out to be as they were because they come from a family who want dignified meadults as ofspring, what in childrens stories are lord mayor types, who dont talk or behave in a friendly sort of way or act in an amusing interesting one, their whole act being to show how seriousness they are, their families idea of seriousness being the aspect of it not the serious thoughts serious people have. They had always heard any extrovert behavior or minimally emotional behavior criticised and ridiculized by a parent or both, what child wants to be ridiculous? Their behavior is determined by their parents not their own tendencies to a greater degree than I had ever imagined as a youth. I tried terribly hard to cure shyness that turned out to be aloofness.

Interesting article and responses. I’m not sure quite where I fit in because the recipient of my revenge doesn’t know it was me, and I don’t want him to. He may suspect, but he doesn’t know for sure.

I exacted revenge on a man at work who sexually harassed me and put me through psychological trauma for far too long. I had asked him not to do what he was doing, but he did it again and again and was getting quite brazen because he knew I was weak. However, he miscalculated a little in choosing his victim. I snapped one day.

I submitted a formal complaint to management with documentation of times/dates/incidences, and he denied everything in his interview. I had some witnesses, but to my surprise he wasn’t fired.

Soon after I found out from an ex-employee that he had done something similar to her several years prior, and had received a warning and was forced to give her a formal apology.

This enraged me. One night, I woke up at 4am and suddenly remembered something I heard about him many years before. Some of his friends once whispered about his qualifications being fake. Had no idea whether or not it was true, but reported it high up, and suddenly he was gooooooooooone. Guess they checked, but they never confirmed or denied it. Wish I had thought of it earlier!

Quit the job after that ‘cos I was annoyed they didn’t back up female staff on two occasions that I know about. I am in a much better and safer workplace now.

The only thing I feel guilty about is my deep sense of satisfaction many months after the fact. I seem to be almost gloating (inwardly anyway) about it. Maybe that’s even why I posted here. Look what I did!

I feel that it must be wrong to feel so good about revenge almost a year after the fact. The pleasure gives me a warm flush in my stomach and I want to do a Mr Burns “Excellent!”.

I suppose I feel like I needed justice. My workplace wouldn’t give it to me, so I got my own. I don’t need this man to know about it. I just wanted to make him pay.

I have felt the need for revenge on many occasions, but always resisted knowing I would probably cool off after a few months, which is usually the case.

This one time though, I’m glad I did it.

I wonder if there is a psychological difference between two types of desiring revenge. Firstly, their is the obsession with revenge intent on maximizing harm to another individual, which some have mentioned seems to be poisonous and tends to ignore the boundaries of law and negative effects on self – a revenge totally focused on inflicting harm. Secondly, there is the more rational kind of revenge that seems concerned with self-preservation and community preservation – a revenge more concerned with a better future. I wonder if the later is the kind that some find satisfying whereas the former tends to be less satisfying.

Since my last comment, I have read the actual article, and the comments several times and I have become increasingly convinced that revenge on “nasty” people or systems is a sine-qua-non for a healthy psyche, and for a healthy society. Try it! It is our moral duty to retaliate against unjust systems or people who violate the very principle of social justice only to serve their own interests. Let us revenge now,and leave the next world to God. Based on my own personal experience, revenge is exceedingly and abundantly gratifying.

Life is not that simple sir. As a physician people can gang up on you. Take a Doc like me 15 yrs of ED medicine, 13 yrs of psychiatric nursing with an Master’s degree., 5 years of Occupational medicine .
With 5 degrees. I come into this Urgent care after 8 m thats how long it took. With Bullshit like well your start date is delayed and when I started they hired a PA and NP AHEAD me then said we over hired and fired me 1 month later.But that is not the reason my first da.y in epic training I was deemed disruptive. By the trainer I confronted as going to fast. Whom when I confronted said she felt I was criticizing her, I never got to evaluate her ..she reported me undercover to my director as disruptive well. Then when I met with the director one week later for orientation did she tell me? No, but she was rude and I thought what is going on here.I just got hired.The writing was on the wall.
The borderline disordered obese female who felt critizied decided to pull a great one. That day in training there were 3 other people one was an expert, one said it did not apply to him and another psych nurse was acting weird and left and did not show up the next day accept to take a test. That left 3. Now this woman said I was so disruptive that people requested another day of training. All I ever did was raise my hand ask her to slow down, share an experience and shut my mouth
. I was raised Catholic. I am PHYSICIAN AND LOST MY JOB

When the director did introductions at the Wed monthly meeting in front of everyone she said “I”d like you to meet our new provider Ben (he is a PA) and everyone knows him him he’s been there 2 months before me I just got there 3 weeks, then she says and ” of course “Dr..Klenow”. I thought I was going to die. Right there Little did I know behind the scenes was the negative comments from the Epic trainer.. that I was so called disruptive(what, who me a catholic girl?)

So I go home and and Email my director. Come to find out. The wrong thing to do. But Revenge right. Letting her know that her words have power. That they convey a meaning, that it may be taken in a group setting as perhaps well let me give you an example
I would like to introduce you to our to our new provider: cheryl and ben versus Ben and of course….
that can be be taken either way.

So after my emails. She emailed me back for a meeting and who was there? HR and her and I was drilled and of course why then she said if I was your doctor well then HR said well it could be taken either way. Well, then the director said she went to everyone in that meeting and asked them what they thought ( so apparently she felt she had to be right) huh?Then that just places me in even a worse position with people. So after that what chance do I have . Then I am set up to work with the very people that were in that meeting a few days later. Then in that meeting she appoint a 25 yr PA to be Director of the Walk in Clinics. That weekend I have to work with her but believe me my experience of her prior to that was not a good one. First, 1. She was rude and abrupt, she did not even know I was suppose to orient with her. She was down right mean. She has a stance which is upright chest thrust forward and and unyielding attitude. She is a yes man AND COOK BOOKIE. jUST WHAT THE dIRECTOR ORDERED

This was the worst experience in my life worse than my breast cancer and chemo. I would rather go thru that again than what I went thru here and I really mean it. These people were the worst I have dealt with ever in any system anywhere ever, never, ever have I ever experienced this atrocity.

You have nothing to fear from me but what you should fear is the medical entity that does not supervise the young. I am of the ones that cannot fight nor want to. I forgive. I had platform here to air. I have a good life. The job was never meant to be from the day I filled the paper work out.
I have a family I love. My only question to you to answer is:

What type of personality is irritated by a narcissist?


I put a tube down a man throat after he was stabbed in the neck, I got in just before his trachea shut, just in the nick of time.. know where I was … Bogalusa Louisiana Emergency room . St Tammany. I”ll never forget. that trachea.

or the man who life I saved

I was trained a as a surgeon

You need to see the magnificent movie titled (Count of Monte Cristo). It entices you to reciprocate when you are wronged by evil-minded people.

Great article. I learned and enjoyed it

A GREAT EXAMPLE OF RETRIBUTION IS THE STORY OF KING Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar of Persia who, as a child, was brutally castrated by his adversaries. He later became a consequential warrior, massacred his enemies, and founded the Qajar Dynasty. He was indeed an epitome of “vengefulness” and consequentiality. Unequivocally, he proved” what comes around goes around”.

The Church discourages us from resorting to revenge. The reason is clear…. Religion is designed to pacify people, in particular those who live under oppressive regimes. Hence, the heartless financiers and profiteers of such regimes will be at ease with their malevolent life styles!

I would like to ask ıs there any law or an item in law that justifies the revenege? which institution justifies revenge?

In response to Ms.Esma Birtek, revenge should be within legal boundaries”eg. power of words”. Illegal revengefull acts are committed by oppressive political regimes that hold a large population of prisoners often for financial or political gaines. Such massive incarcerations are underpinned by wicket laws ”, which are manufactured by such predatory regimes

In response to Ms.Esma Birtek, revenge should be within legal boundaries”eg. power of words”. Illegal revengefull acts are committed by oppressive political regimes that hold a large population of prisoners often for financial or political gaines. Such mass incarcerations are underpinned by wicket laws ”, which are manufactured by such predatory regimes

With revenge we reclaim that part of our soul that the other person took from us when they wronged us. So long as the crime remains unavenged our life force is supressed. After avenging ourselves we become complete again. Though of course in the Christian cosmos we are not allowed to embrace these triumphant feelings and move on.
There is nothing wrong in taking revenge per se, after all the so called “justice” system is only legalized revenge. What concerns society is the preservation of its monopoly on violence, something that is treatened when people take retribution into their own hands. In truth the powerless in our societies do not have the means to to revenge themselves while the rich and powerful can indulge themselves all they want.
Forgiveness for the wretched of the earth is simply an accomodation with their own powerlessness, it is a practical necessity, not a moral imperative.

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