Ressentiment (Fr.): A particular form of resentment or hostility.
Now, I’m neither a philosopher nor a psychologist, do not play either on television, and have not recently stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. Yet, the level of resentment and hostility on open display in our society (historically and now) seems to need an easily grasped and shared explanation. I would rather have it done away with altogether, but that will not happen short of the Eschaton! Therefore, I performed the minimum amount of unverified research possible by visiting Wikipedia for an answer!
The entry for ressentiment on Wikipedia, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ressentiment, provides history and perspectives stated to originate first from Kierkegaard’s attempted definition from a Christian viewpoint, then countered by Nietzsche from an atheistic viewpoint further hardened by Sartre in keeping with existentialist thought. To paraphrase Wikipedia’s entry, an existentialist is one who denies the existence of Natural Law, of unchanging human nature, of any objective rules. Life is without ultimate meaning, individuals are cursed with freedom and must make their own way in the world. What a sad condition in which to find oneself!
Blame for One’s Frustration
In either of the two approaches to an explanation for this behavior, based in radically different concepts of eternity, life, human relationships and love – ressentiment is expressed as “…hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration.
“The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the ’cause’ generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability.”
The victim of this self-imposed disease does not find personal fault for their situation. Someone else caused the problem or perhaps “The devil made me do it”, as Flip Wilson used to say. Pontius Pilate “washed his hands” of his obligation to Truth in the face of frustration with the people he was supposed to rule. Others employ their own variety of self-justifying morals and ethics, then proceed to action – or inaction including apathy, shame, guilt and obstructionism – to bring down their identified foes to their level or to claim superiority over them.
The results are often sealed with a further, “This hurts me more than it will hurt you” pronouncement. In the short-term, the statement is usually not correct. In the long run, it is very often correct.
Ressentiment differs from “mere” resentment. “While (resentment) speaks to a feeling of frustration directed at a perceived source, (it does not) speak to the special relationship between a sense of inferiority and the creation of morality, as does ressentiment.
So, when one engages in ressentiment, one is unconsciously performing a kind of self-justifying leveling to re-establish self-desired equality or superiority over the source of one’s frustration, and to deny guilt or blame for one’s situation! Such a “Take that, you Philistines!” approach too often leads to self-destructive behavior and violence, whether verbal, organizational or physical, against those assigned to be “foes” of one’s self-defined morality. The ensuing havoc that wrecks self, relationships and community is evident throughout history and all around us today.
Swat It Down!
The best approach is to learn to recognize when the urge to adopt this dangerous attitude attacks from within or from outside, pause and take a deep breath, swat approaching resentment, hostility and ressentiment down like flies, and work to avoid it altogether!