Around this time last year I wrote an article for Optimistic Learner called “Slight and Spite: Salving the Stings of Social Exchange”, because this lady loves alliteration as much as neuroendocrinology and game theory damnit.
It was a practical piece, where I set spite up as the toxic cousin to altruism. The Enforcer. The Punisher for those trying to cheat the game. Or, “deliberately slowing your car down to teach that impatient driver behind you a lesson (even if it makes you late…it’s worth it)”.
But I’m flipping the game’s board. Because we have and we do benefit from spite.
Well, sometimes. On an individual level you do risk being bitter years after payback.
But as a society we have gained from the inventions of the creatively spiteful.
This toxic cousin is still part of the family. And yeah, their invite to the reunion might mean the cops get called, but they pummeled your grade school bully back in the day. So let’s not be too hasty in disowning them completely.
The Fast and the Furious
Enzo Ferrari manufactured some beautiful cars. And a whole lotta spite. In the late ‘50s tractor builder and former mechanic Ferruccio Lamborghini went to Enzo with a complaint about the clutch on his (very expensive) car. Enzo’s response? “You know how to drive a tractor, but you’ll never learn to drive a Ferrari”.
Lamborghini’s existence as a luxury car manufacturer was born not so much out of a love of the industry or even seeking wealth.
But to get revenge. His 350T model was sold at a loss so as to stay competitive with Ferrari.
Ferrari wasn’t done creating competitors. In the ‘60s Henry Ford II’s attempts at acquiring Ferrari were rebuffed.
Ferrari cited the company’s “suffocating bureaucracy”. This led to the creation of the Ford GT40.
The GT40 was designed to take Le Mans, one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world, but more importantly a race where Ferrari had claimed victory for six years.
Ford would win in 1966. Then again in ‘67, ‘68, and ‘69.
Advancements in Telecommunications, Brought to You by Seething Resentment
The story of Almon Brown Strowger was related by relative Ronald Strowger. Described as “cantankerous and irritable” Almon was an undertaker in Kansas City, Missouri.
He noticed his business declining. When he discovered a friend had died and he had not been called about funeral services he started to attribute his drop in clients to a telephone operator who was romantically involved with a rival undertaker, believing she was diverting his calls.
He responded by creating a device which allowed telephone users to place calls directly without the need for operators.
After his initial prototypes the cost estimates of creating his first exchange models went from $80 to $4000. But this is a small price to pay for impressive technological advancement and minor vendettas.
It worked. And worked well. The mechanism of the exchange moved based on pulses from two-part phone signals.
Pulses from the first number would move the mechanism to a certain row, and the second pulse would swing a dial along that row to the column.
In order for this to work, the rotary dial was invented as well. Users could select a phone number by spinning the dial. Each number pulsed a certain number of times, instructing the stepping exchange mechanism to walk over to the right contact.
He announced his invention as “Girl-less, cuss-less, out-of-order-less, and wait-less”. To be fair to Strowger didn’t quite match the Chicago Herald’s gleeful misogyny describing his as, “the first telephone exchange without a single petticoat”.
Fair enough Chicago Herald but there was a whole lotta petty.
Your Boss Won’t Think He’s so Smart When You Win That Nobel Prize
When Shuji Nakamura’s boss told him there could be no such thing as blue light emitting diodes he got pissed.
Pissed enough to find a way. Thereby making flat screen display and LED light bulbs into existence.
And when this Nobel Prize winner was asked how to become an inventor?
“By being always angry…and asking why, why, why.”
And The Writers
There is a saying, “Never piss off a writer, for he will put you in his book, make you a character that readers despise and murder you in a horrible way.”
But that’s revenge. And looking at specific works or characters I found mostly examples of revenge. Louise Colet writing Lui and presenting Flaubert a buffoon and a womanizer, Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway having no problem brutally caricaturing their former loves. Or even Wes Craven using the name Fred Kruegar , a boy who used to bully him, as the name for the name for a child molester who murders people in their sleep.
Sure revenge requires spite but I felt I was missing something.
And I was. The act of writing itself can be (and often is) an act of spite. It can take a lot of fuel to keep writing in the face of rejection, criticism, self doubt, and the value we place on our own words verses the value the market might place on them. Not to mention managing the expectations of readers if you are lucky enough to have them.
Writer Tony Tulathimutte on being pigeon holed as a Thai or Asian writer, “If there’s a basis for pride, it’s in spite”, Dan Rhodes on writing after being dropped by his publisher and the public battle that followed, “I write for revenge”, Kelly Sue DeConnick writer of Bitch Planet, “I am hugely motivated by spite”, JK Rowling on a rough part of the process and wanting to kill off Ron Weasley, “out of sheer spite”.
Whatever you do, or how you spend the limited time that contains your life, I hope it is with love.
That your energy and efforts are put towards something that brings you and others joy.
That your sense of purpose comes from making society, yourself, and the world a little better. A little easier.
But when love is not limitless. And if you need a little extra motivation to keep you moving forward, go ahead and show Enzo Ferrari what you’re made of.
For positive inspiration or more information on Strowger visit The SPARK Museum in Electrical Invention
Watch Matt Damon and Christian Bale participate in a pissing contest in Ford Vs Ferrari out this November.
***This is dedicated to Charity Myhre veteran customer service employee. Where sarcasm is your only shield.