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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Die Akonomie der Vergeltung. Einige Aberlegungen zur Atiologie und Bedeutung des Geschafts der Rache

Throughout the history of mankind, revenge and vengeance have been deeply ingrained in the social fabric and have been richly portrayed in literature, music, drama, and film. Vengeance can be understood as a defence against annihilation anxieties, stimulated by the reactivation of injuries and losses experienced earlier in the lifetime of a system, fed by an institution's inability to acknowledge guilt and to integrate love and hate, and driven by the desire for (repair) via retaliation. As open and direct acts of both revenge and violence are largely taboo, they are broadly denied in contemporary society at large and in organizations in particular. Despite that denial, the underlying feelings and the desire to persecute remain real. Thus revenge often is wreaked unconsciously by sophisticated and hidden means. In the same way that violence can be understood as an attempt to overcome mortality, vengeance can be viewed as the violent attempt to deny mortal fears and anxieties through the (potential) annihilation of the Other. To the extent that organizations are unable to acknowledge guilt for their aggression, sadism and destructiveness, the actual experience of injustice, loss and injury within the organization is projected outside, thus turning the (Other) into an evil object which can then be blamed or persecuted. The paper is guided by the working hypothesis that the psychoanalytic perspective on vengeance does not sufficiently take into account the social understan- ding of vengeance. From a socio-analytic perspective, vengeance appears as a psychosocial phenomenon and dynamic of the collective, i.e. the community or polis of related people. Vengeance in social (political and economic) contexts and its inherent aggression and annihilation often must be hidden behind an apparent logic of rationality, justice and competition. The question that presents itself is: how are feelings and actions related to revenge and vengeance actually contained, maintained and digested and how are they expressed individually, organizationally, societally and economically? In the last section we illuminate some ways that vengeance is a constituent dynamic of contemporary economy.