What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast
Our latest podcast is called “What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
The episode is about spite. As in “cutting off your nose to spite your face” spite. That’s where the nuns come in. Lisi Oliver of Louisiana State University tells us about the probable origin of this phrase.
You’ll also hear Bo Jackson talk about a very costly decision he once made that most people would certainly think of as spiteful — and from Dave O’Connor, executive producer of the documentary film You Don’t Know Bo.
The economist Benedikt Herrmann tries to measure spite in the lab (papers are here, here and here), while another economist (Steve Levitt) warns that the real world is more complicated than any lab — and wonders, therefore, if pure spite even exists.
When a person injures himself or herself — say in reputation, in diminishing wealth, causing their own early death, whatever it is — in order to harm another person, you would say, Oh, that’s spite, that’s got to be spite. But it really would be true spite in my mind as opposed to mere risk-taking, or tradeoff for one kind of gain in exchange for one kind of loss taken, if you can’t see a gain. And that’s hard to imagine. Even vengeance has its gain, has a strong emotional award to it. For example, if you harm yourself and your reputation, you accept that if the damage you can do benefits you in some other way or benefits, say, particularly your own offspring in a particular way. You know, like unscrupulous stage moms, murderesses of a cheerleading champion’s competitors. I think you get the drift. Even a mass murderer who goes out and harms a lot of people is taking some benefit, emotional benefit, from that. … So, when you add that factor, maybe real spite doesn’t exist.