Saturday, March 28, 2015

More on Envy, or, I Have So Much of it I Can't Stop Writing About It

I hate taking so long to do each of these posts, but I feel obligated to try to work through to some extent any theme I have felt a compulsion to take up. Also the new baby is currently providing still another (temporary) distraction preventing me from being able to immerse myself in thinking and writing.

I am clearly bothered by this question of envy from below being the real ugliness and cancer afflicting economic and political life, and the horrible suggestion that I am myself afflicted and necessarily even further reduced by this poisonous condition. It is a condition I have always wanted very much to avoid succumbing to, knowing how much it is despised by the enviable in all ages. This avoidance involves in most instances a fair amount of self-persuasion (if no credible reassurance from one's own social community is forthcoming) that one's life is to some degree a success, his occupation and romantic life and intelligence worthwhile. My success as far as this self-persuasion goes wavers. When one has reached this state, he has no ground on which to defend himself against charges of envy. If you concede your own life and thoughts to be entirely inadequate, and yourself to have failed to attain any degree of self-mastery, but must confess that those of another are perfectly adequate, even powerful, it seems inevitable but that you must be overcome by envy, to some degree.

The alleged envious reveal themselves to be resistant to what the markets and other competitive measures ubiquitous in society have determined to be just, and refuse to take responsibility for their shortcomings in these areas, it is strongly suggested. They have been granted the liberty, and encouraged besides, to develop desires that have proven to be unattainable for them, and they have no alternative, more solid self to contrast against the slightest demonstration of wealth, before which they fold immediately in tacit acknowledgement of their essential worthlessness. "How much of what I earn do you think you are entitled to?", says the productive citizen to the redistributionist. Nothing, nothing, provided we are not speaking of contracts and obligations already in place, though personally I would prefer to live in a society where the powerful few were not quite so dominant, and the mass of the population did not appear to be, and was not treated as quite so weak and insignificant. In brief I should like the general organization and tone of whatever society I inhabit to tilt more favorably in a direction where I could claim more of a sense of identification with and participatory role in its successful functioning. This does not seem to me envy, but basic human nature.

The distortion in the extremes of income and general remuneration that different individuals have access to while being forced to spend/pay for the rudiments of life, as well as legalities, fines, etc in roughly the same economic milieu at some point leads to a situation and society that is highly undesirable and unpleasant to inhabit. It is a sign of how confused and muzzled the spirit of the American commoner is that he has such a difficult time standing up for his own self-interest, even though he can sense that the most brazen capitalists are not nice men who care nothing for him and would have him and his entire family impoverished or imprisoned or even killed and think nothing of it if his/their continued existence became too inconvenient to their interests. Yet there is a fear of making any demands on or heartfelt criticisms of these people, who make endless demands on the American public to accommodate and enrich them beyond what most other first world societies find it necessary to do, because you will expose yourself to their ridicule and brutal judgement, though judgement passed by way of a very narrow vision of acceptable humanity that most people by definition have no hope of attaining.

I keep harping on this point, but the ability of certain individuals to generate these massive sums, equal in some instances to the GDP of entire nations of 10 or 20 million people, and keep  nearly all of this money for themselves, with which they are able to dominate and distort national political and civic life to an uncomfortable extent, should be resisted and stopped by the mass of the populace for their own preservation, and dignity.

The global inequality issue, which compares the American middle class with slum dwellers in India and Brazil, and asks, what has the average American ever done to deserve the lifestyle he has? and concludes from this that the American needs to be reduced to a considerably more humble diet and material existence, is little more than a brazen ploy to further attack, under the guise of reason, the confidence of the American citizen to believe that his life and labor have little more value than that of an animal, and to sap his will to insist upon being treated as a free and noble citizen, which all people have difficulty doing when they are financially weak, but Americans especially. The American continues to have to live, be educated, receive health care, go to prison, etc, in a specific economy where these things remains expensive and that are not showing indications of re-adjusting their costs (and the consequent salaries of the leaders in those industries) in anything like a satisfactory manner to accommodate the reality of a declining personal income. It is certainly possible to lead a worthwhile and even a serious life at a material level far below that of the American middle class, but the culture of capitalism that prevails in the country will make it very difficult for the rank and file to ever do this.

Maybe there is a germ of an essay somewhere in these two attempts to deal with my feelings on this subject, which did not however much get at what bothers me so much about it. However I need to leave it off and move on to something else now.

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