McCarthy-Jones provides a few real-world examples of 'counterdominant spite,' in which spiteful actors take down the powerful. He cites research on contemporary hunter-gatherer societies showing that swaggering group members who attempt to bully and dominate others are frequently killed ...His argument that spite promotes fairness, however, relies mainly on a famous economics experiment known as the 'ultimatum game.' ... Unfortunately, as McCarthy-Jones proceeds through his survey of the psychological literature, his category of spite broadens into incoherence ... Distinct phenomena—envy, sadism, schadenfreude, reckless idealism, world-historical malice—get flattened. Lost in all this is spite’s peculiar emotional texture, its blend of childish vindictiveness and rashness ... These conceptual confusions and truisms mar an otherwise promising exploration. In turning our attention to spite, McCarthy-Jones has identified an important element in the emotional climate of the present.
... [a] thorough and entertaining book, which poses a provocative thesis ... McCarthy-Jones is a funny, playful writer, especially for a psychologist ... McCarthy-Jones stretches his argument a bit when he makes the case for the virtues of spite ... He also makes short shrift of spite in social media, a topic that could be a chapter (or even a book) in itself. But this is a small quibble with a highly entertaining book that should be read more as an illuminating examination of an under-discussed topic than as a prescription for how to behave.
At times, the conclusions McCarthy-Jones draws seem to go well beyond the evidence he describes ... We need to be careful, then, to distinguish genuinely spiteful motivations from those that might appear superficially similar but are actually centered on conceptions of justice and are hence morally valuable and admirable. Unfortunately, McCarthy-Jones’s descriptions of various experiments are not extremely detailed. A fuller accounting of those studies might have reassured readers that he is not going well beyond the conclusions warranted by the data. Still, many readers who feel such concerns will nonetheless find the book an interesting and at times provocative exploration of an emotion that has to this point been underexplored and, if McCarthy-Jones is right, significantly under-appreciated.
McCarthy-Jones (Can’t You Hear Them? 2017) probes the subject of spite in this fascinating study ... McCarthy-Jones’ thoughts and research provide a compelling view of how we perceive spite, making this a book that could stimulate many conversations.
According to Simon McCarthy-Jones, spite gets an undeserved bad rap ... This idea at first sounds wildly illogical, but the book presents enough well-reasoned arguments, backed by a plethora of research, to convince us otherwise. And, fortunately, the author’s humorous observations and his way with words keep the book moving along ... The book lays out how social dominance theory triggers spite and how spiteful actions in defense of sacred issues can devolve into grievances or blossom into just causes. We learn the positive or negative impact that moral outrage has in generating spite and how it can be channeled into pro- rather than anti-social behaviors and movements. And we come to see how spite can be used as a powerful force for good: to prompt us to create, excel, cooperate and prevent injustice.
This work draws heavily upon current scholarly sources in the behavioral sciences and philosophy, and is soundly reasoned and well arranged. It will find a natural place in all major academic libraries, as well as in larger public library collections.