Vices

We are held in thrall by two dark angels. There is our roguish Mephistopheles, who is mocking, impish and malign. And there is the cool devil of profit, the prince of this world, who is grave, reputable, prudent, grasping and well-liked. He keeps you to casual crimes and casual virtues, and bans any kind that strays from the common path. He cautions you not to do wrong, but abets you in absconding when you do. He advocates none but unavoidable evil, as he knows that those who have sold their souls need only be perfectly upstanding to gain the whole world. Like Baudelaire’s merchant, he exhorts, ‘Let us be virtuous, since in this way we shall bag much more cash than the sots who act dishonestly.’

It may be true that most virtues are vices in disguise, as La Rochefoucauld showed. But aren’t many vices merely more arduous virtues? ‘Many might go to heaven with half the labour they go to hell,’ as Jonson wrote. My self-interest and vanity prick me with the stigmata of a saint, and rack me with a martyr’s anguish, just so that I can earn a clerk’s scant pay.

Even the devil’s disciples are sure that they are doing God’s work.

Sermonizers can’t quite make up their mind whether turpitude is proved more by the filthy bliss that it wallows in or by the buffets that it brings on its own head.

The Lord may have made our metal, but it’s the devil that beats it to the shape he wills.

God made this globe for us to thrive in, and the prince of sin to teach us how. God’s existence accounts for the creation, and the devil’s accounts for everything thereafter. The Lord made the heavens and the earth, but the devil made the world. God may be the chairman of the board, but he leaves its day to day running to Satan, his trusty lieutenant. Who has not seen enough of destructiveness to believe in the fiend, or enough of our own rapacious race not to need to?

In this world to have God on your side is the next best thing to having the devil. The sanctimonious are in the saddle since they have the both of them.

My vices are not pure, though it’s not virtue that contaminates them. When my motives are not mixed, they are all bad.

Most of us are too callous to be cruel, too smug to envy, too jaded to betray, too pleased with our lot to lose heart, too acquisitive to sit idle, too inconstant to nurse a long revenge. Some of us have such grave faults, that we need to grow strenuously good in order to live them down. Virtue is a balance of conflicting vices. We don’t hold fast to a single vice because we are torn between so many of them.

Those who childishly crave approval cravenly idolize transgressors. Timid and ailing people, like Nietzsche, make fools of themselves by celebrating the crimes of the strong and hearty.

1 Anger

I give way to anger, because I can’t control myself, or in order to control others.

Anger is the screech emitted by naked will grating on the unyielding steel of circumstance.

Fury is the sudden explosion of a will that has been long compressed by its own ineffectiveness.

A person in a rage acts like a man who tries to cure a headache by hammering himself on the head.

When you sense that you’re annoying people, you may be tempted to keep on doing it, to prove to them that you don’t mind or that they ought not.

As Franklin points out, lose your temper and you’ve lost the debate. Hold on to your good humour, and you won’t need to find good reasons.

2 Greed

Life is greed, thirsting for one more day, for one more brief taste of sugar. Consumerism has changed how we feel about death. Now we are not even afraid to die. We are just too possessive to let go of this life which has given us so little. As consumers we seem to be reborn with each fresh desire. We feel that we will never die, since there is always one more want to fulfil. We no longer fear death as the king of terrors. We merely resent it as the cessation of all our getting and spending. We loathe it because it cuts short our career of guzzling and devouring, though we never think of it because we are too busy cramming our maws. Life is what is next, and we hate death, because when it comes, nothing at all is next.

We lose ourselves in our mad haste to gain so much costly trash. We have drained the globe of significance by clogging it with objects. But we hoard like gold nuggets the scum that we’ve scooped up, since it seems to have so much more solid actuality than we do ourselves.

Everything that we possess threatens to possess us. Yet we never really own what we have got hold of.

Our greed is a calculating insanity.

Life leaks away, and we try to bung its holes with dollars and replenish it with our bottomless wants. It brings us such meagre satisfaction, that the best we can do is scramble to get more of what has failed to satisfy us. We boom along to sweep up more and more of what we crave, so that we won’t have to see what a handful of sand it all adds up to.

We are ghosts striving to devour as much as we can in our rage to gain some substance in this spectral world.

Greed fills up each of our lives, and hollows out life as a whole.

We have to keep multiplying our desires so as to give some purpose to our affluence. What was all that frantic accumulation for, if we could have satisfied our needs so much more economically?

Now that we have cheapened all that is truly precious to the sordid touchstone of money, what is left for us but to sell our souls to get as much of it as we can? When everything can be weighed and counted, the sole gauge of value comes to be quantity. And when we can measure most goods, we denigrate the few that we can’t. So we will stop at nothing now to snatch as much as we can of what’s most readily measured.

Money acts like an Archimedes lever, which has wrenched the world from its rightful station. Nothing now could put it back in its proper place.

The racket of our hectic greed has drowned out the sad canticle of our forlorn hopes. How could we hear the voices of the luckless and the lost above the buzz of our devices and the fizz of our churning desires? ‘Man was made to mourn,’ as Burns wrote. But now all that we care to do is chortle and make money and forget.

Money is dense yet abstract. Its density fills up our emptiness, and our fantasies fill out its abstraction. Though it seems so tangible, it turns to wind all that has real worth. It makes everything transitory, liquid and volatile. ‘All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.’

We can now pile up such fabulous sums of money, that money itself looks as if it were something fabulous and transcendental.

We can’t get our fill of our cupidity. But since nothing suffices for us, almost anything will do. Junk is good enough for us, so long as we hope to grab enough of it. We would rather want anything at all than not want something. We forge our chains when we choose our iron desires, and these eat into our souls and rust them.

We bring to the banquet a yawning maw, but neither taste nor gusto. Why can’t we curb our hunger for what we know we don’t even want?

Life is a child’s game in which we play for a prize that we can’t carry home.

How profitless for philosophy to recommend what all deem to be good. But how vain for it to do otherwise. No one dares to speak up for a vice such as greed, since no one needs to, as all of us are pledged to its service. As Johnson said, ‘You never find people labouring to convince you that you may live happily on a plentiful income.’

Money has no memory, and leaves none. It scorns the past as a dead force which would trammel its desires. And since it has no stake in the future, it feels no remorse for the rich heritage that it’s squandering. Why should it mind if the game will be broken up the minute it has raked its own winnings off the table? And why would it care to bequeath a slow and exacting work to live on in our remembrance? It is the solvent of time. Greed is the voracious now labouring to fill the future with its sieve of gold. Our world and its rapacious scheming will soon be consigned to the oblivion which is all that it’s good for.

The world that we leave behind us will only prove how much we craved and how little we mattered.

The future shines with all the tinsel trinkets that I hope to win. It’s there out in front of me glittering vast and vacant and waiting to be glutted with my tingling lusts.

We don’t want to be happy. We want to be left free to keep on doing all the things that have failed to make us happy in the past.

Nostalgia, like the rest of our avocations, now garnishes our gaping hunger for the bliss that we hope awaits us. It piques us to find new forms in which to reprise our old pleasures. It tries to recapture the past by pandering to our lust for more of the crude stuff that we guzzled then. And it drives us to duplicate in a more opulent form the synthetic sludge that filled our childish dreams. We grind up all that is good in the world, to paste our lives with gaudy nostalgia and anecdotes.

We are tethered to the world from the front by all that we can’t stop desiring and from the rear by all that we can’t help remembering. Our cravings and our memories divide up time between them, and leave nothing for the present. By living in the past, present and future, we multiply the dimensions of our unhappiness.

In this age it is greed and not God that wards off moral misrule. Avid wants incite us, but also discipline us so that we can grab our cut of them. Avariciousness, Tocqueville said of the americans, ‘disturbs their minds but disciplines their lives.’

Moral regeneration trudges like a halting gleaner at the heels of speedily advancing greed. Pity hobbles in the rear, as avarice strides to its electric dawn. ‘The greatest meliorator of the world,’ Emerson says, ‘is selfish, huckstering trade.’ Philanthropy spiritualizes our lust for gain. Grasping individualism is warmed by the spectacle of random and unavailing charity. It throws a sop to our conscience, while leaving in place the system of privilege that we’re profiting from. We dole out charity so that we can withhold justice.

The dream of do-gooders is to lift the poor to the same level of rapacious affluence as the rich.

Constant in our selfishness, we grow inconstant to one another. How wantonly we wound the hearts of those we love, in our hunger to glut our own with the crass stuff that won’t content us anyway. We are always gazing past them to some gaudy toy that we hope to grab. They don’t ask much from us, and we are loath to give them even that. We could so easily make them happy, but we are too busy doing all we can to make ourselves unhappy. And all the small things that we withheld from them come back to haunt us when they’re gone.

Money addicts us but fails to intoxicate us. I dread to lose the things that I took no joy in possessing. ‘Riches,’ as Epicurus says, ‘do not exhilarate us with their possession as much as they macerate us with their loss.’

We chatter about our dreams and aspirations, but we mean our greed. We keep spawning more and more exorbitant fancies, to justify our sharp-toothed voracity. We drudge like donkeys, whipped on through the joyless years by our wants, broken by the weight of all that we have gained and lost. How little we have to show for a life devoted to extortionate greed. The scant victories that life rations out to us are not worth all the venal devotion that they cost us.

A child is a natural consumer, and a consumer is an overgrown and unnatural child. Both of them drool for the synthetic and the flashy, the cosy, instant and saccharine. And now that we have all become as little children, the only kingdom that we will enter is the voracious kingdom of global cupidity.

Each plump devourer now feels like a little Napoleon or king Ubu, a triumphant gullet that has wolfed its way through such fat years. All that we gobble swells our faith in our importance and prosperity by exhibiting our taste or wealth. Half the pleasure that we take in a thing comes from the pride that we feel in our own success, that we possess the means to procure it and the taste to enjoy it. And when we think that we are savouring a scene or experience, we are in fact exulting in the trophies that make us feel so important. Our expensive pleasures assure us that we’ve made it.

People feel an almost religious ardour and a voluptuous pleasure in those activities that bring them profit.

When we are rich enough to get all that we want, we will grow used to choosing the worst that is on offer.

The tame shall inherit the earth, but why would they want it? Are their dreams as vile and venal as those of the rich who tread them down?

Our greed keeps us in too much of a spin to learn how best to placate it. I’m scuttling so furiously to grab what I want, how could I find time to chart the most undeviating route to reach it?

How vast an object looks when it’s out of your reach. But how soon it shrinks once you’ve got it in your clutch. We call grapes sour when we fail to obtain them, but would they have tasted so sweet if we had caught hold of them?

One half of the world is a slave to scarcity, and one half to surfeit. And now they are joined in a confederacy to enslave the untainted earth to their shared greed for more and more.

Our nature could be satisfied with so little. But it’s our nature not to be satisfied with a single thing. We’re lashed on by a fundamental need to want more than we fundamentally need. We could so easily have all that we require, if we could just stop clambering to snatch all that we don’t even want. Greed rides us at such a furious gallop, that we’re forced to postpone life from one hungry instant to the next, till we have raked up more than we could ever need. One day when we have got hold of more than anyone could use, we will no doubt find the time to start to live.

Life is a mad scramble for things that we wouldn’t want if we didn’t have the chance to heap up more of them than others.

Wealth frees you from every kind of captivity, save that of having to waste all your time labouring to stash up more of it.

The old patrician states chose the long glory of the few before happiness. Our new democracies choose the instant greed of the many before happiness.

The last dark day will dawn on mortals still dreaming of plunder and scrabbling to wring some reckless profit from the gangrened earth. We will be too busy rummaging the corpse to grieve for the life that we have murdered.

Opportunity may make a petty thief. But a great rogue makes every occasion an opportunity for pious swindling.

We can set a limit to our physical proclivities for food or sex, but not to our societal drives of venality, contention, maliciousness or revenge. We did not need to need this much. Each smile or sorrow, bane or blow acts as material to swell our selfishness. I want more than I foresaw I would. But I need less than I think I do. The importunity of my own cupidity dismays me as much as that of others appals me. People are not uniformly better or worse than you surmise, but they all crave more than you suspect. Those who don’t want much still want more. Even those who have moderate cravings still crave them immoderately.

To live in this age is to have too much and to lack the self-control not to want to get more.

The poor are worn down by life’s abrasions, and the rich are overworn by all the accretions of flotsam that they’ve skimmed up.

Greed will do whatever it needs to do in its rage to get what it does not need.

How jovially I could abjure most of the things that I drool for, if only I were first accorded a sumptuous glut of them. How nobly I would lay down my life, if the world were so ordered that I would lose nothing by it. ‘Many disrespect money,’ as La Rochefoucauld notes, ‘but few know how to give it away.’

Others lay waste their powers by getting and spending, but I flex and strengthen mine. Their covetousness disfigures life. If I had a fortune, I could make mine graceful. My plain need is their uncontrolled greed.

Anyone poorer than me must lack the sense to know how to get money, and anyone wealthier lacks the taste to know how to spend it.

Hopeful greed learns to enthuse, and thwarted greed loves to moralize. Those who have put a thing up for sale must learn to gush effusively. Those who suspect that they have been robbed of their due dredge up some moral law which has been infringed. ‘As soon as one is unhappy,’ Proust says, ‘one grows moral.’ I have money troubles, because others have moral flaws. I would have more in the bank, if they had more integrity.

No class is impervious to the blight of greed. The penniless may seem to be, since they have not yet contrived the means to get as much as they want. We mistake incapacity for disinterest. Wealth may impoverish, but indigence does not enrich. The poor are just as covetous and crooked as the rich, but their privation gives them less scope to show it.

We tally what we have gained and lost with minute irrationality. I prize a bargain or rue a loss out of all proportion to the sum I make or lose by it. A skinny but tangible gain or loss weighs heavier with me than a far bulkier intangible one. My winnings don’t please me half as much as my deficits grieve me, so it’s lucky that I can eke them out with my boasting. I feel each loss like an unmerited wound. But I take windfalls for granted as my right.

How was the frontier of pioneering self-reliance swallowed up so soon by the sale yard of huckstering self-promotion?

3 Corruption

We live our real life through our compromises with the world. The blurred prints of my ideals fail to come into sharp focus. Most of us mislay our ideals before we get the opportunity to barter them. I may seem to play them false, but I never quite cared enough for them to find out what they meant, though they live on to tell me what I have failed to live up to.

We have no lack of ideals, but they are too polite to get in the way of our pushing self-interest.

Those who have no faith are not hard to suborn, since no creed holds them back. And those who do have faith are not hard to suborn, because they’ll stop at nothing to push their cause, since their cause is worth just as much to them as the devotion that they’ve invested in it.

Some people lie with no compunction because they have no principles, and some because they are serving such high-minded ones.

Few of us believe in any principle enough to be capable of betraying it. We betray routinely in order to get what we want, not purposely to spread our beliefs. Our desires debauch us, though most of them yield us so little pleasure that they seem quite innocent.

Our accommodations with the world diminish us, though they lend us an exaggerated stature in our own and others’ eyes. They tempt us not into crime but into littleness. The cramped arenas in which I conduct my mean schemes motivate my mean shifts and then deck them out as the most solemn duties.

The world is not content just to see pure hearts defiled. It wants to see them of their own free will defile themselves. And it pays a high stipend to those who are expert in respectably depraving others.

How keen I am to be corrupted, if I get the chance. And how sullenly I hug my virtue, if I don’t. Some people weren’t made for this world, and yet were not made for a better one. Are there any more pitiful than the few whom the world has had no need to seduce? They’re left beached on their desert island of integrity, desperate to be called like the rest of us to a life of gainful connivance.

The world has no need to corrupt us, we corrupt our own hearts by wanting it too much. The world is still a magic zone, so long as you could do without it.

‘Most people sell their souls,’ said Logan Smith, ‘and live with a good conscience on the proceeds.’ But most of us don’t see that we have done so, since we have got such a meagre yield for it. The price of souls is kept low, because there’s such a queue lining up to bargain day by day. But does anyone feel so burningly irate as one who has closed the deal and not received the world?

We are willing to sell a lot more than our souls to gain a lot less than the world.

We have no soul to traffic. What we trade is the chance to mould one. This life is, as Keats said, a vale of soul-making, but we pass through it most smoothly if we don’t have one to make. Those who have gained the world are glad to find that they had no soul to lose. How could you find time to make a fortune, if you had first to make a soul?

Society is a system of conveniences which gives us the means to thrive without a soul.

The world has always been as raddled with corruption as it is now, but at no time have the inducements to it been so vast.

4 Cowardice

Suicide is a crazed and craven act, which few of us have the sense or courage to commit. The ones who do need the deserter’s desperate recklessness. They must screw up their resolution for a moment, since they can’t bear to have patience for a lifetime. Pride nerves you to stay alive. And if it fails, then fear and shame have to do it.

Since we lack the decision simply to die, we need to keep up the vitality to dance.

Suicide, like all consolations, comes too soon to be necessary or too late to be useful.

A suicide is always too late. If it were not, there would have been no need for it.

Some people lack the courage to be constant cowards. So they have to shrink life to a regimen so strait and safe, that they are seldom called on to act timidly.

Irresolute people love to flaunt their staunchness where they’re not in jeopardy. Mean people love to proffer what would cost them nothing to give. Cruel people love to show off their gratuitous chivalry by sparing someone who is sure to be pilloried in any case. We like to give poignant voice to our gratitude, when there is no one in particular that we have to be beholden to. We are fond of parading our virtues where there is least need of them.

Some of us fritter away our courage on a fight for a mean cause, since we lack the audacity or clarity to find a deserving one.

Those who are weak to dare must be strong to endure. Some people have to use up all their strength to extricate themselves from the consequences of their own mistakes. Cowardice foists on them such rigours, that it leaves them no alternative but to act nobly.

Fear bids us entrust our safety to people of dubious valour, whom we think brave since they have a brand of cowardice that is at variance with our own.

Cowards prize the cold aggression of their protectors, too craven to fear that they might one day use it to hurt them. They cheer on any kind of cruelty that makes them feel more safe. It’s thus that the faithful adore their god.

People are willing to take a lot of risks in order to feel safe.

If bullies were cowards, the world would be in a quite different state. Nor are tyrants sadists.

Some cowards sleepwalk into danger, because they can’t bring themselves to wake up and face their real fears.

Fear jolts some people to acts of mad fearlessness, and imposes on others such a long and exasperating circumspection, that they are at last stung to act rashly just where rashness will bring them to ruin. ‘Timorousness,’ as Clausewitz wrote, ‘will do a thousand times more damage than audaciousness.’

Cowards, like tottering autocracies or our ebbing democracies, squander their strength battling phantom enemies, because they lack the courage to discern who their real ones are.

In order to keep up their courage, some cowards have to steel one another with the dangerous lie that their enemies lack the grit to put up a fight.

Fools have no choice but to act fearlessly, since they don’t dare to be wise and sit still.

Cowards tend to treat most amicably those whom they like least, since they dread lest their dislike will be detected, and being cowards they quail at what they hate.

5 Treachery

Most of us have too much guile to act like patent traitors. So we withhold our disloyalty as warily as we withhold our assent.

In this double-dealing world even the perfidious may be betrayed by their own conniving loyalties.

We are all traitors. We just don’t agree on what country we belong to. And we keep up our fidelity by our opportune defections.

Don’t we betray most eagerly the ideals that we know are too good for us? We are glad to sling off their yoke and to prove that they were not worth our allegiance since they were too weak to keep it.

Can’t we count on an unfeeling corporation, such as a bank, more than on the most upstanding individual? People’s competence is of more use to us than their probity.

When you hear someone extolling trust, look out for your independence.

We conceal our curiosity so that those whom we plan to entrap will entrust us with their secrets. Who has not cast out a small confession of their own as bait to net more scandalous disclosures from others?

The most trustful partisans are those who refuse to see the truth regarding the people or the cause that they serve. To stay loyal to persons, you must avert your eyes from the truth. And to stay loyal to the truth, you would have to turn your back on persons. We trust others, not because we have found them honest, but because we know that we can count on them not to be. We trust that they’ll pretend to share our self-deceits and not blurt out what might hurt us.

The institution that people have served devotedly for years they would be glad to see collapse the day after they leave it, since there could be no stronger proof of how indispensable they were.

Tell the truth, and you will lose everyone’s trust. Hold fast to your truth, and they will all desert you. The world is sure to make a fool of you, if you’re foolish enough to refuse to fool yourself.

Life is a treacherous game, in which the worst form of betrayal is to tell the stark truth.

In order to bring down one person, ten must stand by their sacred pact of trust.

If you want people to trust you, there are a bevy of things that you have to be prepared to betray.

It’s the disloyal to whom we give unwonted devotion. We spot their duplicity but stay affixed to them. So they have our bad faith and fear, which knit sturdier cords than normal fidelity. Only the most wholehearted adherents will still stick to you once they have witnessed your lies. No glue holds more firm than shared but unadmitted perfidy. Treason is the most reliable token of trust. You know that you can lean on someone, when you have securely leagued with them to double cross a third party.

We hitch our wagon to the treacherous, since we sense that they are best qualified to get on in this crooked world and drag us up in their train.

Some of us can think of no more convincing way to prove our loyalty than by offering others as an oblation to it.

6 Cruelty

It’s rare that we act cruelly, not because we feel others’ pangs too piquantly, but because we scarcely feel them at all. We are too heartless and insensible to take pleasure in maltreating people. Only those who feel what others suffer could enjoy torturing them. We picture the pain of others too dimly to savour occasioning it or to writhe in rapport with it. Squeamish people can be the most cruel. They feel distress most acutely, and so may gain some relish from the infliction of it. And though they quiver at the small unkindnesses of day to day life, they may be numb to its real atrocities.

Cruelty requires as much imagination as kindness, and a lot more than we are prepared to lend it or than our everyday niceness asks of us.

Children love to play at cruelty. It tickles us when we’re young and unstained by the world. But as we grow up our calculating interest cautions us to drop it, since it fails to yield us the pleasure or profit that we hoped for. A child, like a cat, dabbles in sadism with an offhand curiosity. Like innocence, it is as natural in an infant as it is abhorrent in an adult. Our instinct for inflicting pain forsakes us at the same age as our purity of heart.

Honour and its codes necessitate a vast deal of cruelty. In them shame is more to be shunned than torture, and pride means more than life.

We take pride in our brutality as a duty that we owe to our unique mission.

7 Envy

The sickness of envy is cured by the same conceit that caused it. ‘The pride that rouses in us so much envy,’ says La Rochefoucauld, ‘often also conduces to mitigate it.’

We don’t think well enough of people to envy them, though we would be right to, if we saw how well they think of themselves.

I think so well of my merits, that I assume others must envy me, but they think so well of their own, that they don’t. I suspect that those who dislike me must feel jealous of me. But they feel less jealous than I fear or desire.

No one envies, but we all hope to be envied, and most of us assume that we are. Envy keeps us in its grip, not because we envy our rivals, but because we burn to be envied by them.

We would all prefer to be envied than pitied, as the proverb says. So why make envy a sin and pity a virtue? Your jealousy would gratify people more than your kind heart could aid them. If you wished to do unto them as you would have them do to you, should you not show that you think them enviable rather than pitiable?

We like to believe that we pity others almost as much as we like to believe that they envy us.

I pity or depreciate people for the lack of some small gift that I have, instead of envying them for the possession of a great one that I lack. He may own a billion dollars, but can he play chequers like me? ‘He is a poor creature,’ Butler says, ‘who does not believe himself to be better than the whole world else.’

All their external advantages are wasted on them, though at times I fear that my vast talents might be wasted on my unpropitious circumstances.

It is not merit that we envy but fortune. We don’t doubt that we have more than enough merit, and lack only the good luck to profit from it. ‘Most people,’ as Chesterfield wrote, ‘complain of fortune, few of nature.’ I don’t feel jealous of what others are or of what they do but of what they get. And I don’t want to get what they have got but what they have not got.

‘Envy,’ as Gay said, ‘is a kind of praise,’ and we set too much store by our own gifts to pay our rivals the tribute of jealousy. Envy stews, but admiration froths. Disdain cools our praise, and checks it from simmering over into jealousy. Envy is the most reluctant and hence the frankest form of praise. Why else would it be so rare?

When we envy, we set ourselves aflame so as to light up the achievements of our rivals.

I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of those for whom I feel a genuine regard. They have plain and costly virtues, and I prefer my cheap and crafty ones.

8 Revenge

Revenge is a prime duty of honour, equity and defiance. It is therefore paid less than the rest of the wily virtues in this world of chill utility and rectitude.

Some proud and revengeful people have to turn their hearts to stone, so that they won’t vibrate unendingly to the sneers and stripes that they dream they meet with. Indifference is the one kind of requital that costs you less than the person it is meant for.

How slyly revenge slinks into the most effusive eulogy.

How I hate those who have hurt a hair of the one I love and have hurt much more.

Revenge is a kind of violent restorative. We are goaded to take revenge because we are weak enough to be wounded, but strong enough to wound in return.

The sole reprisals that I regret are my ill-judged or unnecessary ones. But most of my reprisals are ill-judged or unnecessary. Vengeful people learn that vengeance always founders, and this rankles as one more wrong that the world does them. What meal tastes more appetizing or is less filling than retaliation?

The most arduous retributions are those that must rely on the justness of their claims. Injustice would have had readier confederates and a smoother passage through this rough and thorny world.

Ordinary avengers put their victims to the knife, outstanding ones, like Hawthorne’s Roger Chillingworth, seduce, dismantle and instruct them, rendering them participants in their own demolition and the spectators of their own perdition. And the gods scheme with the dumb world to wreak just such a subtle retribution on the best and the worst of us.

All successful revenges are self-inflicted, and, as Pavese said, ‘there is no finer requital than that which others visit on your enemy.’