Anti-Narrative: Envy, the rottenness in the bones.

We start the tour of the narrative sausage factory with the emotion of envy, which is the beating heart of the following narratives: 1- inequality is bad, equity is good; 2- inequality is de facto evidence of discrimination; 3- historical wrongs should give a people group extra rights in the present; 4- groups matter, individuals don’t; 5- free speech is not hate speech; 6- attacking those who disagree with you is not tyranny, as long as you are more moral. That fact is directly evident in narratives 1-4, and indirectly in 5-6.

Welcome to the ugly world of envy, defined by philosopher Immanuel Kant as…”a propensity to view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one’s own. [It is] a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another’s because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others. [It] aims, at least in terms of one’s wishes, at destroying other’s good fortune.

Envy is almost as old as the world itself. Cain killed Abel out of envy, that God accepted Abel’s offering but not his. Cain was angry, and The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7. Envy is clearly a manifestation of sin, which is portrayed by this passage as a stealthy predator, ready to pounce. Several thousand years ago, the tenth of the Ten Commandments warned of envy’s close relative, “coveting.” Many Biblical passages from both Old and New Testaments caution against it, including Proverbs 14:30 (“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”) and Ecclesiastes 30:24 (“Envy and wrath shorten the life”). It comes in several shades.

The less harmful version, for example, is when you count the other guy’s blessings instead of your own but try to attain them for yourself peacefully—by trade or by emulating the decisions of the successful. A more malicious type takes this form: You despise someone for who he is or what he has and take personal delight in punishing him for it in the hope that you’ll benefit in one way or another. Maybe you’ll get some of his stuff or attain power by vilifying him. The worst kind of envy shows up when you take action to make sure no one can ever possess what the successful person has because you believe equality in misery is more virtuous than inequality, period. Narrative #1, inequality is bad, equity is good is a direct manifestation, regardless of whether we are referring to inequality of wealth and income—the most common concerns—or inequality of crime. What is wrong with inequality of wealth and income? Is everyone supposed to be equally adept at creating value, thus wealth, or making the same income, regardless of their preparation, abilities or intelligence? Is everyone equally inclined to save and invest rather than spend? No one thinks that, which is where the usage of “equity” comes in. Equality means equal worth and rights, equity means equal results. What a sneaky substitute! How do you get equity, equality of outcome? Either everyone above an arbitrary line must be torn down to the line, or everyone below the line must lifted up to the line. Since the latter is not really possible, the former becomes the strategy of the “social justice warrior.” Thus, narrative #2, inequality is de facto evidence of discrimination. The purposes of this narrative are to: Induce guilt in those above the arbitrary line–other than the politicians themselves–into allowing government to level them down, while giving politicians cover for noble-sounding sausage programs (affirmative action anyone?) that purport to “level the playing field” for those below the line, while NOT teaching the behaviors that keep someone above the line (thrift and saving for instance).

What does equality of crime have to do with this? If a group of people representing a particular race, ethnicity or nationality commits more crimes in the same society than other groups—inequality of crime—and thus has more encounters with police and prison, narrative #2 is also invoked. The logical, rational person will say, “inequality in both wealth and crime is related to behavior and decisions.” That principle is true, but harder to apply for wealth. The formula for wealth, according to the Millionaire Next Door (if you haven’t read it, you need to), is spend less than you earn and invest the difference over a long period of time. You may not end up a millionaire, but you will be much better off than the spender. However, the principle is obvious in the case of crime: Don’t break the law. There’s no corollary that says, “or blame discrimination.” Why do most lawbreakers commit crimes? Envy! (I deserve what you have).

Both capitalists and anti-capitalists frequently accuse capitalism of being a system driven by selfishness and greed. Capitalism’s defenders sometimes say: “By nature, man is selfish, which is why socialism will never work. Capitalism better reflects the fundamental characteristics of human nature.” Anti-capitalists claim that capitalism promotes the worst characteristics in man, especially greed. But are greed and unbridled selfishness really the driving forces of capitalism? Human self-interest is one—not the only—driving force of all human action. But this has nothing to do with a particular economic system. Rather, it is a human nature constant. In capitalism, however, this self-interest is curbed by the fact that only the entrepreneur who prioritizes other people’s needs can be successful. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that empathy, rather than greed, is the true driving force of capitalism. Empathy is the ability to recognize and understand another person’s feelings and motives, and this is the most important characteristic of successful entrepreneurs.

Take Steve Jobs as an example. He came up with the iPhone and other products because he understood modern consumers’ needs and desires better than most. For many years, the Albrecht brothers were the richest people in Germany. They earned their fortunes from the food discounter Aldi, which was founded on the principle of offering good quality products at very reasonable prices. This was the same recipe for success followed by Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, who was consistently one of the richest people in the United States. Consumers’ purchasing decisions confirm that Jobs, the Albrecht brothers, and Sam Walton had correctly understood their customers’ desires, needs, and emotions. Like most successful entrepreneurs, it was consumers who made Steve Jobs and the Walton family so rich.

In socialist/communist systems, on the other hand, consumers are powerless and at the mercy of state-owned companies. If a state enterprise acts with no regard for the needs of consumers, they have no alternative under socialism because there is no competition. Under capitalism, consumers can (and do) punish companies that behave selfishly and lose sight of the needs of their customers. Every day, customers vote on the company with their wallets—by buying its products or not. Monopolies under capitalism are a temporary phenomenon. Even companies that appeared omnipotent were eventually ousted by new competitors as soon as they overreached their power and lost sight of their customers’ needs.

But suppose you despise and seek to punish an entire class of people because they’re rich or successful. Is that bigotry, or is that the foundation of a political campaign? Sadly, it’s both. Frequently. Second only to Donald Trump—a specific individual whose sins and virtues we can largely identify and hold him responsible for—the number one punching bag every political season is “the rich.” They are monotonously demonized by candidates who vie for your vote and affection and count on your ignorance and myopia. We will tour the other sections of the narrative sausage factory in subsequent posts.

Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

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