On Resentment as the Path to Destruction

Resentment is the most destructive emotion. It seems like hate and anger might be, or jealousy. But, notice that all of these things spring from resentment. Resentment is the underlying foundation that fuels these other destructive emotions. Let's take a quick look at six demonstrations.


Aesop created some fables 2,600 years ago. Those stories are still popular. That's impressive. "The Fox and the Grapes" deals directly with resentment. There are many versions, here's one.

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ONE hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the things to quench my thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.”
        “IT IS EASY TO DESPISE WHAT YOU CANNOT GET.”

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The story of Cain and Abel is 6,000 years old, maybe quite a bit older than that. It also perfectly addresses resentment as the path to destruction.

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1Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” 2And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

8Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

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These stories point out important truths about the world. Specifically, they show how resentment develops and what it leads to. Here are some definitions of resentment.

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a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury

to dislike or be angry at something or someone because you have been hurt or not treated fairly

the feeling of displeasure or indignation at some act, remark, person, etc., regarded as causing injury or insult

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The Fox was resentful, and so was Cain. The Fox was rejected and denied by the grapes, Cain was rejected and denied by God. Then, naturally, they had hate. What do you think would have happened if the Fox had seen someone else eating and enjoying the grapes? I'm guessing bloody things, just like Cain. What follows are historical examples of the same thing in action: the Columbine shooters, Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, Hitler, and Panzram.

For instance, the Columbine shooters were pretty straight forward about why they did what they did. They wanted to destroy the world because in their eyes the world sucked. So, they tried to create the greatest spectacle of destruction that they could imagine pulling off. The plan was much worse than the actual event. They killed 13 people, if they did what they had planned to do they would have killed hundreds.

Eric Harris had long posts on his website where he listed what he loved and what he hated. Here are a couple of examples.

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YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE!!?

---When people mispronounce words!and they dont even know it to, like ofTen, or acrosT, or eXspreso, pacific (specific), or 2 pAck, learn to speak correctly you morons.

YOU KNOW WHAT I LOVE!!?

---Natural SELECTION!!!!! God damn its the best thing that ever happened to the Earth. Getting rid of all the stupid and weak orginisms........but its all natural! YES!I wish the government would just take off every warning label. So then all the dumbasses would either severely hurt themselves or DIE! And boom, no more dumbasses. heh.

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There's some resentment showing through there. These two entries were some of the nicest ones. His partner Dylan Klebold was a completely different personality, but they had resentment in common. Here are some of his journal entries.

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Fact: People are so unaware... well, Ignorance is bliss I guess... that would explain my depression.

I swear -- like I'm an outcast, & everyone is conspiring against me...

The lonely man strikes with absolute rage.

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Now, obviously these kids had other problems too. One was a psychopath and the other had a psychotic break. But, resentment was the driving force.

They are not alone. Here's a disturbing chain of events. The massacre at Ruby Ridge led to the massacre at Waco. The massacre at Waco directly led to the Oklahoma City bombing. The Oklahoma City bombing was an inspiration for the Columbine shooters. An evil chain of events. Here are a few selections from the letters of Timothy McVeigh.

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I chose to bomb a federal building because such an action served more purposes than other options. Foremost the bombing was a retaliatory strike; a counter attack for the cumulative raids (and subsequent violence and damage) that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years (including, but not limited to, Waco). From the formation of such units as the FBI's Hostage Rescue and other assault teams amongst federal agencies during the 80s, culminating in the Waco incident, federal actions grew increasingly militaristic and violent, to the point where at Waco, our government - like the Chinese - was deploying tanks against its own citizens.

When the post-inferno investigations and inquiries by the Executive and Legislative branches of government concluded that the federal government had done nothing fundamentally wrong during the raid of the Branch Davadians at Waco, the system not only failed the victims who died during that siege but also failed the citizens of this country. This failure in effect left the door open for more Wacos.

Some time after the fact they received awards, bonus pay and in some cases promotions for their disgusting and inhumane actions at Waco and Ruby Ridge.

It was in this climate then, that I reached the decision to go on the offensive - to put a check on government abuse of power where others has failed in stopping the federal juggernaut run amok.

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You can see that this thinking is quite a bit different than the Columbine shooters. Harris and Klebold resented the world in general. Harris for everyone being stupid and having no worth or value. Klebold for being a rejected outcast. They chose the closest, easiest, and most brutal target they could think of. McVeigh resented the US government specifically and made his choice for that reason. Cain resented the person that was getting what he thought he deserved, and God. The Fox resented what he couldn't get.

This is not a fun article to write, I've kind of emotionally exhausted myself at this point by even paying attention to all of these evil thoughts and deeds. But, it's important to see the bad and how it works so that we can both avoid it and seek the good. I only have three more examples to go.

Theodore Kaczynski was a math prodigy that went to Harvard at age 16. While there he was put into a psychology experiment that he was lied to about. He had to develop essays on his personal life philosophy. Then he was subjected to military style interrogation techniques specifically designed to mentally break enemy combatants and spies. This experiment went on for 3 years. The records of all of that were purposefully destroyed to keep them secret from the public, but I think we can get a pretty clear idea of what the essays were about from the Unabomber's manifesto that he wrote later in life. Here are several selections.

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1. The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in “advanced” countries.

59. We divide human drives into three groups: (1) those drives that can be satisfied with minimal effort; (2) those that can be satisfied but only at the cost of serious effort; (3) those that cannot be adequately satisfied no matter how much effort one makes. The power process is the process of satisfying the drives of the second group. The more drives there are in the third group, the more there is frustration, anger, eventually defeatism, depression, etc.

60. In modern industrial society natural human drives tend to be pushed into the first and third groups, and the second group tends to consist increasingly of artificially created drives.

178. Whatever else may be the case, it is certain that technology is creating for human beings a new physical and social environment radically different from the spectrum of environments to which natural selection has adapted the human race physically and psychologically. If man is not adjusted to this new environment by being artificially re-engineered, then he will be adapted to it through a long and painful process of natural selection. The former is far more likely than the latter.

179. It would be better to dump the whole stinking system and take the consequences.

211. In the late Middle Ages there were four main civilizations that were about equally “advanced”: Europe, the Islamic world, India, and the Far East (China, Japan, Korea). Three of those civilizations remained more or less stable, and only Europe became dynamic. No one knows why Europe became dynamic at that time; historians have their theories but these are only speculation. At any rate, it is clear that rapid development toward a technological form of society occurs only under special conditions. So there is no reason to assume that a long-lasting technological regression cannot be brought about.

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The Unabomber was resentful about all of science and technology. He's written several books specifically on this.

Lastly, we have Adolf Hitler. The entire story of Hitler is filled with all kinds of resentment. On a larger scale we have the surrender of Germany in WW1. This was seen by the German army as a betrayal by the government officials. The signers of the Armistice were called "The November Criminals." The Nazis promoted this idea and said that it was the Jews that had stabbed the nation in the back to take power. This is called the stab-in-the-back myth today.

Then, there were a bunch of war reparations imposed on Germany. They had traditional German land taken, they had to pay billions of dollars in damages, they suffered a hyperinflationary economy, and had severe restrictions on a bunch of other things. To a large extent resentment was the fuel behind all of WW2.

But, let's just look at Hitler the man. It's commonly known that he wanted to go to art school when he was young. He used his inheritance from his dead father to move to Vienna. He applied to the art institute in Vienna twice, and was twice denied. He was told he was good at drawing and painting buildings, but he lacked talent in representing the human form. During this time his mother was dying of cancer. He made a poor living trying to sell his art. Some of his friends, his art dealer, and some of his patrons were Jews at this time. After that he joined the army and fought in WW1, then went into politics. But, he never let go of art. Here's a quote from Hitler in 1939 from the "British War Blue Book".

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I am an artist and not a politician. Once the Polish question is settled, I want to end my life as an artist.

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A resentful and rejected artist, plus a resentful generation of army veterans, plus a resentful national populace equals WW2.

I think all of this clearly shows the dangers of resentment at multiple levels and across different contexts. There is value in the real-life stories, but I think the pure stories are more valuable for a couple of reasons. One, they are less depressing to think about and research. Two, they are a hyperreality, meaning that they select what is important and leave out what is not. With the real-life stories there is just too much information, it's overwhelming. We can see that the same principles apply, but it's much easier to see in "The Fox and the Grapes" and "Cain and Abel" rather than in the other examples. Three, there is a little detachment in the stories. You can get a better perspective because they are less real. This helps you to clearly see what is happening, how it's happening, and why. In the real-life stories important points can be lost in the details.

I've heard it said so many times that no one can know why these horrible things are done. That just isn't true. It's very easy to know why horrible things are done. It's very easy to know how these people think. It's fairly easy to find out why they did what they did and what motivated them. Most people just don't want to know, and hey, fair enough. It's not fun. But, self-deception is a dangerous thing. It's important to realize that we are all susceptible to resentment. And, that's a problem that has to be dealt with on the inside, in the attitudes and views that we take towards the world. These attitudinal values are the most important values.

Most of us let our resentment become some sort of passive aggressiveness, mostly resulting in snide comments. This is a lot better than violence, but it's walking down the wrong road and is sure to lead to nothing good. Others run rather than walk down that road. One last example, here are some excerpts from the letters of Carl Panzram.

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After serving about 2 years there I was pronounced by the parole board to be a nice, clean boy of good morals, as pure as lily and a credit to those in authority in the istatution where I had been sent to be reformed. Yes sure I was reformed all right, damn good and reformed too. When I got out of there I knew all about Jesus and the bible so much so that I knew it was all a lot of hot air. But that wasn’t all I knew. I had been taught by christians how to be a hypocrite and I had learned more about stealing, lying, hating, burning and killing. I had learned that a boys penis could be use for something besides to urinate with and that a rectum could be use for other purposes than crepitating. Oh yes I had learned a hell of a lot, from my expert instructors furnished to me free of charge by society in general and the state of Minnesota in particular. From the treatment I received while there and the lessons I learned from it, I had fully desided when I left there just how I would live my life. I made up my mind that I would rob, burn, destroy and kill every where I went and everybody I could as long as I lived. That’s the way I was reformed in the Minnesota State Training School. Thats the reasons why.

If you or any one else will take the trouble and have the inteligence and paitince to follow and examine every one of my crimes and actions you will find that I have consistently followed one idea thru all my life. I preyed upon the weak the harmless or unsuspecting. Those I have harmed were all either weaklings either mentaly or phisicaly. Those who were strong in either mind or body I first lied to and led into a trap where they were either asleep or drunk or helpless in some way. I always had all the best of it, because I knew ahead of time just what to expect and the others did not. I therefore was strong in my knolledge and stronger in body than those preyed upon. This lesson I was taught by others. Might makes right.

You know that I spent several years in one of those places [reform school] when I was a boy and the so called Training that I recieved while there is mainly the cause of my being the degenerate beast that I am today. I have thought about that system of Training young boys for all of my life and I know that the whole system is wrong. That system of beating goodness, religion and Jesus into boys in the 99 times out of 100 has the direct opposite effect of taking all of the goodness, kindness and love out of them and then replacing those with hate, envy deciete, tyrany and every other kind of meaness there is.

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You see the same type of pattern here. Now, I'm not giving a solution to resentment here. What I'm saying is that it's important. It's an important problem to confront and overcome, lest we become overwhelmed by it. We cannot ignore this type of problem, but we can seek to understand it and do something about it by changing ourselves. By knowing about evil we can learn to avoid it and to seek the good.

(In the book "Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves" Albert Bandura breaks down the eight mechanisms that allow people to do these types of things. But, for today, I'm done with this subject. Maybe that's a topic for another time.)

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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