mjj (flemmings) wrote,

When bad things happen to unlikable people

Lying awake last night in an epic fit of insomnia, during which I plotted out the middle portions of the current story whose middle portions have eluded me now for over a year (and what a relief it is to know what happened to join the beginning and the 3/4 mark, and I hope I can remember it when I come to write it because awake lying down in the dark is still not the same as awake sitting up in the light)...

...and since the middle portions involve impeccable Kaiei being his impeccable self and the 3/4 point that I've been writing this past two weeks involves him getting bitch-slapped by fate, which is satisfying on some basic level...

...what *is* the word for the satisfaction in seeing people one doesn't like suffer? As I understand it, true schadenfreude doesn't involve any prior ill-doing on the part of the unfortunate person, and the misfortune isn't any kind of retribution for even fancied offences. One is just happy that someone else is worse off than oneself, presumably from a feeling of 'I'm not the only one who has it rough.' I think I don't understand that emotion. So you're happy if a friend has a reversal or lost their job? Sounds daft to me. I wish my friends well and suffer when they aren't.

But when people I don't like are in trouble, it gives me a momentary but satisfying view of how the world would look if there actually was a moral principle at work in the universe. (Obviously I don't think there is, not short term. Maybe over successive incarnations, if there really are incarnations, but in one lifetime? Nope. The wicked flourish as the green bay packers.) But if there *was*, then indeed- that barking bully of a woman has back-to-back migraines: someone who makes others suffer gets to suffer in turn, and the universe continues to unfold as it should. Clearly though the offence and the punishment needs to be low-key: because major offences, like physically abusing others, need formal sanction, not the universe's random slapdowns.

(The other deep-seated and knee-jerk Christian reaction I have, in this case to the implied existence of a moral order, is that if the barking bully gets slapped down for her trespasses I will be slapped down for mine, since we're all sinners alike after all. Knee-jerk Christianity being as it is, that's actually reassuring.)

But with someone like Kaiei who doesn't actively offend, whose actions and attitude are both blameless and undeserving of retribution, whose virtues are unlikable only because they point up the shortcomings of others, and- ahah- whom one dislikes only because he lacks charm or wit or those superficial characteristics that make one like much worse people- I don't know. Maybe it is schadenfreude with him. He's a solidly good, dutiful, capable person, neither smug nor self-righteous, who has no weaknesses that make him easy to identify with. And there's a great deal of satisfaction in seeing him sweat.

(As for why one is happy at friends' misfortunes- well, there are friends and friends, and English is very bad at identifying the various gradations of knowledge and liking between people. The friends whom one likes more than not, on a good day when the sun shines and they haven't had yet another new crisis that you must listen to for three hours and do something about now this very instant because ohhh life is so unfaaair to them, are exactly the same 'friends' as the people one is always happy to see and who make the world a brighter place. One may well be happy if fate bites the former on the ass, except that they'll call you up and tell you about it for three hours.)
Tags: dragons, rl, writing

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