Saturday, December 6, 2008

Envy

“Thou shalt not covet…”

I’m dedicating the next several Friday Philosophy posts to the Seven Deadly, or mortal, sins. Those are, in no particular order, wrath, greed, pride, lust, gluttony, sloth, and envy. I’ve already covered wrath and greed. This week’s post will discuss envy: what it is, why it’s one of the deadly sins, and it’s emergence in American culture (and others) through class warfare.

What is envy? Many confuse envy and jealousy, believing that the two terms are interchangeable. Nothing could be farther from the truth: jealousy is the fear that you’ll lose something you already have, while envy is the resentment of something that someone else has that you don’t. Many times, envy is a product of a lack of belief in one’s own talents and abilities.

Envy is, perhaps, one of the more destructive of the seven deadly sins. The resentment of what another has, whether it’s his or her home, wealth, talents, or happiness, is often based in a belief that, no matter what you do, you can’t have anything even close to similar. This belief often leads to the destructive desire to ruin what that person has. That selfish desire to destroy what the individual envies often leads into dishonest, hurtful behavior in other areas of life, and the emotion often comes between the envious individual and his or her relationship with his or her family members, friends, and with God.

If someone has a happy marriage, the person who envies that happy marriage will attempt to sow discord, by starting rumors, or by trying to change the attitudes of one or both spouses. If someone envies a talent, they start spreading rumors about the talented individual, attempting to bring them down to the same level the envious person feels they’re at. If someone envies another’s home, they often try to interfere with home ownership, through odd rulings in homeowners’ associations, or occasionally through fraudulent tax or real-estate sales value assessments.

If someone envies another’s income, they go to the government.

The forced redistribution of wealth that the government does when it collects taxes on the rich and hands out “earned income tax credits” and welfare to the poor is based in envy: politicians campaign on the idea of taking “unfair distributions of wealth,” and making them fair. This Robin Hood version of politics works because politicians have tried, with greater and greater amounts of success, to tell people that they can’t make it out of the poverty they’re in, leading people to believe that they cannot earn what they wish to have. That belief breeds resentment toward those who do work, and do earn a higher income and standard of living. The resentment is what gets politicians elected: they promise to “punish the rich,” while tap-dancing around actually defining what “rich” is.

If someone envies his neighbor’s income and directly steals his money, it’s called either theft or robbery (depending on how they do it), and they go to jail. If they have the government do it for them, it’s called welfare, and they get a check in the mail every month.

Again, this isn’t one of the sins that I really understand. I’ve come a long way from where in society I was born. I’ve earned my way through hard work. I’m relatively content with my life, and if I weren’t, I’d simply try harder to fix what’s wrong, rather than decide to pee in someone else’s dessert.

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