"No government of the left has done as much for the poor as capitalism has. Even when it comes to the redistribution of income, the left talks the talk but the free market walks the walk. What do the poor most need? They need to stop being poor. And how can that be done, on a mass scale, except by an economy that creates vastly more wealth? Yet the political left has long had a remarkable lack of interest in how wealth is created. As far as they are concerned, wealth exists somehow and the only interesting question is how to redistribute it." ~ Thomas Sowell
Envy, Guilt and Self-Destruction
By Bob Wallace.
Exclusive to STR
Oh, if only the Left was right and people were infinitely malleable blank slates! My heart would soar if it was true. All the differences between men, women, races and ethnic groups – if they were all environmental, just twiddle some societal knobs, and presto-chango! We’d get just about as close to Heaven on Earth as we’re going to get.
But the Left isn’t right. Actually, they are as wrong as can be, which makes their Procrustean attempts to level people always lead to cultural and societal suicide. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are gone, China has given up its blue Mao uniforms, and Cuba will collapse soon after Castro shuffles off. The United States ain’t in such good shape, either.
But if the Left believes we are John Lockean wax tablets, why is it so obsessed with envy? Leftism, in fact, in based on eliminating envy – making us all identical and equal, like quarters, or those Stormtrooper clones in Star Wars.
Is envy inborn in us? One of the oldest stories in the West, that of the Garden of Eden, tells us it is. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent, a symbol of envy. Worse, murder enters the picture through their children, when Cain kills Abel because of his envy of him.
What a story! The introduction of evil and murder into the world through envy and blaming your problems on other people – through scapegoating. All of it is explained in a short story about four people. Shakespeare should have been so succinct.
Too bad people these days have so little understanding of the destructive effects of envy (and the Seven Deadly Sins in general). Perhaps our “religious leaders” aren’t doing their jobs and are instead regaling their flocks with fantasies about the Rapture and Tribulation.
It’s bad enough when individuals blame their problems on innocent people, but it’s far worse when groups do it. People are herd animals, social, imitative and hierarchical – and herds don’t have much more brains than a sea squirt, though they’re far more dangerous.
Herds not only barely have any brains, they have no gratitude. Not a drop. You can’t be grateful and envious at the same time. Herds embody the worst qualities of mankind and none of the better. Even Aesop noticed that thousands of years ago.
So when one more successful group tries to help a disadvantaged group, it doesn’t work. It not only doesn’t work, it backfires in a big way. What it creates, like clockwork, is ingratitude.
“It is astounding that countless benefactors allow themselves to be persuaded over and over that ingratitude with the resulting hatred is a rare and special case,” writes Helmet Schoeck in his magisterial book, Envy.
Kant wrote this about ingratitude: “Ingratitude towards a benefactor which, if taken to the point of hatred of that benefactor, is qualified ingratitude, but otherwise is termed thoughtlessness, though it is generally held to be a very dreadful vice; yet it is so notorious in man that to make an enemy as a result of benedictions rendered is not regarded as improbable.”
Sooner or later groups that claim they have been exploited and oppressed demandreparations – a euphemism for favors – but to them the “debt” can never be paid no matter how much they are given. Their resentment is bottomless, always ends in protestations and sometimes violence.
The advantaged groups always dutifully ponies up. Whether or not the benefitted ask for favors, the benefactors lose either way, since they always become the objects of ingratitude and scorn.
Why do these things happen? – you try to help someone and you get repeatedly slapped for it? It is because of the relationship between guilt and envy that has plagued humanity, I’m sure since before recorded history.
Throughout history, more successful people have felt guilty about their success, and to assuage the envy of the less successful, have tried to do favors for them. It’s nothing new. It doesn’t work. It has never worked.
Schoeck understood this relationship between guilt and envy. “The guilt-tinged fear of being thought unequal,” he writes, “is very deeply ingrained in the human psyche. It is found among primitive people and existed long before the existence of Christianity.”
That crazed prophet Nietzsche understood the problem, too. In A Genealogy of Moralshe explained, “…the fundamental notion of ‘guilt’ has its origin in the material idea of ‘debt’…‘guilt,’ ‘conscience’ and ‘duty’ [have] origins…thoroughly saturated with blood.”
Saturated with blood? How about self-aggrieved, resentful and hate-filled people, such as the New Black Panthers, shrieking for the murders of “crackers” and their babies? How can there be such racial animosity and hate in the year 2010?
Since the Sixties, the U.S. government has spent over a trillion dollars trying to improve the lot of blacks – mostly through welfare and Affirmative Action. Yet it hasn’t worked and race relations were in many ways better in the Fifties, long before the cornucopia of “favors.”
Worse, there was the horror known as the French Revolution, in which the envious and resentful mutilated and then murdered (in that order) the upper classes. Such is the enormity of the power of hate and envy.
This guilt/envy dynamic has been institutionalized in America by the government, and when the government gets involved with something, you can be sure the consequences will be awful at the best and fatal at the worst.
The “oppressors” (a loaded Marxist term if there ever was one), then by law become permanently guilty, a guilt that is to never be expiated no matter how many favors are given or how much the “guilty” grovel or throw themselves in flames onto the altar of self-sacrifice.
The “oppressed,” instead of exhibiting gratitude because of concessions made, respond with envy and rage. Unfortunately, hate is an integral part of envy, so those who try to make reparations to the oppressed, trying to ease their burden of self-imposed guilt, are instead going to be the shocked targets of a lot of wrath and not the slightest scrap of gratitude.
The main reason why there is hate instead of gratitude is that when you do favors for groups when they don’t ask you to do (and I repeat, even if they do ask you to do them), they see the people doing the favors as looking down on them. They see themselves as being patronized and condescended to and so dutifully respond with torrents of hate, envy and rage.
The attempt to deflect envy leads to some bizarre stratagems. I am reminded of a scene in Tom Wolfe’s book, Hooking Up, in which a wealthy white teen in New York City wore baggy pants and his hat sideways, trying to deflect envy from him by imitating his homies. Did this teenager know what he was doing? I’m sure that, consciously, he did not.
Giving money to the “oppressed,” or acting like them, are self-abasing attempts at impotent bribes that lead to the self-destruction of the benefactor, since you cannot placate the envious unless you let them utterly crush you flat, or better yet, rub you out.
What we’re dealing with today – the guilt of the “oppressors” and the envy of the “oppressed” – is, again, nothing new. It is probably the de facto state of human existence. If it wasn’t the natural state of humanity, then Cain’s murder of Abel would not have happened, because Cain would not have felt it necessary to slaughter his brother because of his envy of him.
Perhaps a better word than envy is ressentiment. There is no easy translation of it, but it can be described as people dwelling on real or imagined grievances and imaginatively enlarging them until they are consumed by them.
White Guilt and the resultant favors given to eliminate envy and resentment are obviously not working. Nietzsche had some comments that apply today to the belief of the resentful in permanent racial guilt: “The act of making another suffer by way of compensation for a debt unpaid seems to have produced the highest kind of pleasure, as if it were a kind of festival, and have to ended in a kind of disinterested malignity.” Yikes!
The guilt of the “oppressors” leading to favors never creates peace, only more envy and hate toward the benefactors. And as the story of Cain and Abel tells us, that envy leads to murder. I consider that a law of human nature, one you will never see taught in any college psychology class.
The guilt/envy dynamic means multiculturalism will never work. The least successful groups will be envious of the more successful ones, and the more successful will try to eliminate the envy directed toward them with showers of money, make-work jobs and special rights. This is the antithesis of political liberty and the free market.
It’s been noticed for centuries that envy is worse when people are in close proximity to one another. The farther they are from one another, the less envy. The closer they are to one another, such as different ethnic groups trying to share the same land, the more hate, violence and crimes of the less successful toward the more successful.
The West did at one time learn to manage and therefore minimize envy through private property and the free market. Schoeck claims private property deflected envy from people onto property.
He writes, “…the merciful effect of private property is evident, though it is seldom recognized. It is not the cause of destructive envy, as the apostles of equality are seeking to persuade us, but a necessary protective screen against people. Whenever there have ceased to be any enviable material goods or where these have for some reason been withdrawn from the enemy’s field of vision, we get the evil eye and envious destructive hatred against the physical person. It might almost be said that private property first arose as a protective measure against other people’s envy of our physical qualities.”
The free market (and it corollary, very small government, or to anarchists, no government at all), minimizes envy, while socialism, which is supposed to eradicate envy, instead turns it into an ever-expanding Blob, because without private property, envy is deflected back onto people. And while you can’t murder private property (only steal it), you certainly can murder people.
Patronizing the least successful by giving them unearned money and fake jobs, or jobs for which they are unqualified, will just lead to more envy, hate and violence from them. They need real, free-market jobs, not fraudulent State-created ones. Even the not-so-bright know fear and condescension from their “benefactors” when they see it, and it’s just going to make them foam at the mouth.
The only workable choice we have is for this country to head back to the free market and political liberty, so we again will have plenty of high-paying jobs (wages stopped going up in 1973, courtesy of our grotesquely bloated government). Then, this vicious destructive envy would be minimized because nearly everyone could have a good job and own property. Envy, unfortunately, will never be eliminated, because, as C.S. Lewis amusingly but perceptively wrote, the human race is permanently “bent.”
I cannot see this correction toward political liberty and the free market happening anytime soon. Fortunately, the U.S. is still about 50% free market, which advances society, while unfortunately the other half is socialized. Bizarrely and perversely, we’re stomping on the brake and accelerator at the same time. Or, to use an older saying, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.
I close with a perceptive quote from Schoeck: “…in any group the envious man is inevitably a disturber of the peace, a potential saboteur, an instigator of mutiny and, fundamentally, he cannot be placated by others.”
Like the Terminator, or the Giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the envious will not stop, until society learns again – after a lot of heartbreak -- how to stop them.