I’ve ranted about the perniciousness of envy a huge number of times. It’s an inexhaustible topic. But there’s an aspect of its evil force that deserves more consideration than I’ve given it to date.
Consider the completely immaterial occurrence of envy: the envy of someone who is:
- Not richer than you;
- Not healthier than you;
- Not handsomer than you;
- Not more popular than you;
- Not more capable than you;
- Not more admired than you;
- Not luckier in love than you;
- Not more powerful than you.
Have I left out any reason for Smith to envy Jones? Why yes, I have: virtue envy: Smith’s recognition that Jones is simply a better person than he, by Smith’s own reckoning according to his own standards. It might not be something of which Jones is conscious. Indeed, it might well be that Smith isn’t fully aware of it himself. Yet it happens. Indeed, it can be utterly overpowering.
“Better” does not mean “perfect.” Perfection is an unattainable state for members of Mankind, regardless of the standard to be applied. But there are certainly recognizable differences in virtue among men. They don’t have to be huge or dramatic to incite the envy I speak of here.
I’m beginning to think such envy has a dominant role in power politics.
Mind you, I’ve reached the “terminal state” as regards politics: I want it to go away and not come back. However, watching the gyrations of politicians and their hangers-on can still provide a modicum of entertainment, especially once you’ve gone completely through all the British murder mysteries on Acorn and BritBox. (We have, haven’t we, Sweetie?) It’s become plain that some of them are so consumed by envy of others who are simply better people than they, that it’s warped their brains – perhaps permanently. And of course, an individual overcome with envy will naturally set out to destroy the object thereof. That’s what envy is about: the desire to harm another even though it can bring no gain to oneself.
Consider for a moment Alvin Bragg’s determination to prosecute, convict, and imprison hero Marine Daniel Perry. Bragg is high among the reasons crime has exploded in New York City. He draws a large salary as the Manhattan District Attorney, surely more than whatever Perry earns today. As one of the critical individuals in New York’s “justice system,” he must know himself to be a low creature – and that Daniel Perry is the better man. Such men must not be allowed to show Bragg up by doing the job he refuses to do!
You’ll probably find virtue envy a strange category for this little story, though I contend that it fits perfectly:
A hunt is on to find a phantom pothole filler who appears to be doing the council’s job for them.
The pothole in question was a rather large crater in Lostwithiel, Cornwall, that was so big the road had to be closed to drivers.
Cornwall Council has kept it shut since the beginning of April while its roads repair company Cormac deal with more pressing potholes.
But the mysterious do-gooder got fed up of waiting and unofficially opened the road after filling the hole themselves.
Town hall bosses took offence at the unsanctioned act and closed the road a second time.
It’s set to stay shut until June 9 when the council will hopefully have repaired it.
Cornwall’s councilmen don’t even know the name of the “phantom pothole filler”…but do they ever hate him! He did a job they were unwilling to do, despite high taxes and incontestable responsibility for fixing the problem. Should his identity even come to light, he’s in for the proverbial world of hurt. For the moment, the only outlet for their fury is to punish the general public to whom they’re responsible, by keeping the road closed unnecessarily. Envy-suffused people do that sort of thing.
Private citizens are aware of the envy of officeholders and their means for expressing it. The reactions vary from contempt through indifference to abject, groveling terror. It tends to explain why, when a private citizen takes a nominally public responsibility onto his own shoulders, he excites as many cautions as praises. Read this old piece and the comments to it for the flavor.
Think not that anyone might be immune to virtue envy. Suspect it in anyone who contends for public office. Challenge him on it in public! Give him a case such as the one above and ask him, should he be installed in the office he seeks, how he’d react to being “one-upped” by a private citizen. At the very least you’ll make him uncomfortable. He’ll either dance around the question or refuse to answer a “hypothetical.” Then remind him of this stunning quote from Eric Hoffer:
A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business…The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice the utmost humility, is boundless.
…and of this one, which pertains to bureaucracies, committees, and councils of every sort:
There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations doubts, and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgement.
Have a nice day.