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Spite angers and enrages us, but it also keeps us honest. In this provocative account, a psychologist examines how petty vengeance explains human thriving.
Spite seems utterly useless. You don't gain anything by hurting yourself just so you can hurt someone else. So why hasn't evolution weeded out all the spiteful people?
As psychologist Simon McCarthy-Jones argues, spite seems pointless because we're looking at it wrong. Spite isn't just what we feel when a car cuts us off or when a partner cheats. It's what we feel when we want to punish a bad act simply because it was bad. Spite is our fairness instinct, an innate resistance to exploitation, and it is one of the building blocks of human civilization. As McCarthy-Jones explains, some of history's most important developments—the rise of religions, governments, and even moral codes—were actually redirections of spiteful impulses.
A provocative, engaging read, Spite shows that if you really want to understand what makes us human, you can't just look at noble ideas like altruism and cooperation. You need to understand our darker impulses as well.
About the Author
Simon McCarthy-Jones is associate professor of psychology at Trinity College Dublin. His research has appeared in Nature Communications, Clinical Psychology Review, and elsewhere. He has been featured in Newsweek and New Scientist and on BBC News, ABC Radio, and the BBC World Service. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.
“Would you risk harming yourself just to hurt someone else—out of spite? That ancient emotion is back in full-force, as you may have noticed. We’d better understand it, as both a destructive and productive force. This is a timely book.”—Aaron James, author of New York Times bestseller Assholes: a Theory
“Spite tempts us with the promise of deep satisfaction, but it’s a satisfaction that often comes at a high price: Why bother harming others when we end up hurting ourselves in the process? Drawing together insights from evolution, economics, politics, psychology, and neuroscience—and leavening it all with fascinating anecdotes and vibrant writing—McCarthy-Jones has shed important light on a highly misunderstood feature of our life together.”—Michael McCullough, University of California, San Diego
“Essential reading for anyone interested in human social behavior. Simon McCarthy-Jones has delivered an engaging reckoning with the darker side of social interaction, organizing recent research in psychology and biology into a profound argument that spite may have a key role to play in human lives.”—Patrick Forber, Tufts University
“Spite is an eye-opening examination of humanity's nastier impulses—from Achilles to Trump. An erudite and eloquent guide, McCarthy-Jones deftly examines cutting-edge psychological research and evolutionary theory, with some truly startling insights for our personal relationships, business and politics. You will never look at your human nature in quite the same way again.”—David Robson, author of The Intelligence Trap