Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s……

Covet? What the heck does that mean? Why does that admonition begin the 10th Commandment? Speaking of which, don’t you just hate that word, commandment? It implies that someone has the power to compel you. We can’t have that in the year of our overlord—the ego—2020. Coveting = envying = I want what you have and if I can’t achieve it then my satisfaction comes from you losing it. Coveting is not driven by the desire for equality, but rather by the spirit of to bring others down to your own level; it’s not so much a desire for more as a desire for no one else to have more. Here are some great examples of metaphors for coveting as well as the satirizing of coveting.

First, the satire, since I love it. Kurt Vonnegut’s 1959 novel The Sirens of Titan dealt with coveting by portraying the Space Wanderer, a guy who left earth in search of adventure. When the Space Wanderer returns to Earth he finds a society in which handicaps are used to make all people equal, eradicating the supposedly ruinous effects of luck on human society. The narrator claims that now “the weakest and the meekest were bound to admit, at last, that the race of life was fair”. The strong are burdened with “handicaps” (consisting of “bags of lead shot” hung from various parts of the body) and the beautiful hide their advantageous appearance through “frumpish clothes, bad posture, chewing gum and a ghoulish use of cosmetics”. The citizens in The Sirens of Titan choose to wear these handicaps voluntarily as an act of faith towards the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, although it is suggested that not to do so would invite social condemnation. Mr. Vonnegut also wrote a short story in 1961, Harrison Bergeron, on the same equality theme, but in that story the illusion of equality was compelled by the law, and any attempts to remove the artificial handicaps required by law were punished severely. I find it interesting that there are also lots of metaphors for envy, or coerced equality: crab mentality, dumbing down, the law of Jante, Procrustes’ bed and tall poppy syndrome.

Crab mentality, also known as crabs in a bucket mentality, is a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you”. The metaphor is derived from a pattern of behavior noted in crabs when they are trapped in a bucket. While any one crab could easily escape, its efforts will be undermined by others, ensuring the group’s collective demise. Dumbing down is the deliberate oversimplification of intellectual content. The term “dumbing down” originated in 1933, as movie-business slang used by screenplay writers, meaning: “to revise so as to appeal to those of little education or intelligence”. Dumbing-down is the deliberate undermining of intellectual standards, thus trivializing meaningful information, culture, and academic standards, as in the case of popular culture. The Law of Jante is a code of conduct known in Nordic countries that characterizes not conforming, doing things out of the ordinary, or being overtly personally ambitious as unworthy and inappropriate. Used generally in colloquial speech in the Nordic countries as a sociological term to denote a social attitude of disapproval towards expressions of individuality and personal success, it emphasizes adherence to the collective. Procrustes’ bed: In the Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon with a stronghold on Mount Korydallos at Erineus. There he had a bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night. If they were too short for the bed, he used his smith’s hammer to stretch them to fit. If the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fitted the bed exactly, and all the “guests” died as a result of Procrustes’ efforts. The tall poppy syndrome describes aspects of a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down, strung up or criticized because they have been classified as superior to their peers. This metaphor refers to a tale whereby a prince asked his father how he should rule his kingdom. The father did not reply, rather he took his son out to a field of poppies, and had a servant ride through the field cutting every poppy to the same height. That last one describes collectivist philosophies like communism and socialism. The “killing fields” of Cambodia under the despotism of Pol Pot was the perfect example.

Wikipedia describes Pol Pot as one of the most secretive of national leaders. His bland face and unthreatening manner, his self-effacement, his rare and turgid public statements and his life in hiding — even during his years of absolute power — were some of his chief tactics in keeping his rivals off balance and his hold over his followers. There was little evident in Pol Pot’s background to suggest any personal drama. Since his childhood, the phrases used to describe him were uninspiring: polite, mediocre, soft-spoken, patient, even shy. Still, people who knew him described him as warm and reassuring, especially in small groups. His smiling face and quiet manner belied his brutality. He and his inner circle of revolutionaries adopted a Communism based on Maoism and Stalinism, then carried it to extremes: They and their Khmer Rouge movement tore apart Cambodia in an attempt to ”purify” the country’s agrarian society and turn people into revolutionary worker-peasants. Pol Pot conducted a rule of terror that led to the deaths of nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s seven million people, by the most widely accepted estimates, through execution, torture, starvation and disease. Beginning on the day in 1975 when his guerrilla army marched silently into the capital, Phnom Penh, Pol Pot emptied the cities, pulled families apart,abolished religion and closed schools. Everyone was ordered to work, even children. The Khmer Rouge outlawed money and closed all markets. Doctors were killed, as were most people with skills and education that threatened the regime.

That’s leveling folks, envy writ large in death and misery, the only means by which collectivism can be imposed on an otherwise free society. In 2020, it appears from surveys that most high school students and college undergrads in the United States, as well as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren think socialism is the way to go. I wonder if their indoctrination education has anything to do with their ignorance. Nah, can’t be……? Perhaps it’s time to teach the 10th Commandment in schools……except that commandment implies a superior being with the authority to compel. So the 10th, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s”, means nothing without the first Commandment, “I am the Lord thy God, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Least of all the god of equality (envy).