In response to Dionissis’ request, I post some of the reading I’ve assigned to my students in my Honor-Shame class. Dionissis, you might be particularly interested in the Walcott readings on ancient Greece.
I also append some of the notes I took while preparing for and during the discussion. I welcome comments. Will post earlier readings over time.
Envy, Jealousy and the Politics of Scarcity (Zero-Sum)
Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, chap. 1,
Schoeck, Envy, chap. 3
Schoeck, Envy chap. 5 (Envy and Economic Underdevelopment)
Schoeck, Envy, chaps. 7, 11. (Envy in Social Science (7), in Philosophy (11). Interesting material on Nietzsche, who clearly inspired important parts of Schoeck’s thinking.
Schoeck, Envy, chap. 22 (Envy in Human Societies)
Walcott, The Greeks and Envy chs. 1-3, and
Walcott, The Greeks and Envy chs. 7-9
George Foster, “Anatomy Envy“
Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, “The Natural State: The Political-Economy Of Non-Development”
Landes, The Emotional Logic of Game Theory
Some of the issues raised:
Definition: Envy is an emotion that is essentially both selfish and malevolent. It is aimed at persons, and implies dislike of one who possesses what the envious man himself covets or desires, and a wish to harm him. Graspingness for self and ill-will lie at the basis of it. There is in it also a consciousness of inferiority to the person envied, and a chafing under this consciousness. He who has got what I envy is felt by me to have the advantage of me, and I resent it. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings, (Edinburgh, 1912) vol. 5, p. 322.
Envy is classic zero-sum. Your gain is my loss; your success robs me of my sense of value; admiration for you is humiliation for me.
Envy is malevolent: If you have something that makes me envious, I’d rather harm you than get the object. “I wish Boris’ goat were dead.”
Envy is a ferocious policeman of conformity: any tendency to step out of the conforming group brings retaliation. Key dimension of early social solidarity. Schoeck almost argues that envy is what permit the levels of functioning software of solidarity that first enabled homo faber/sapiens to peel off from the hardwiring of instinct.
Envy is a form of vengeance: retaliating against someone who has robbed you of… (honor, prestige, sense of self-worth, property).
Resentment at another’s success: the desire to do harm
Schadenfreude: joy at another’s failure: To what degree do news media become Schadenfreude-mongers? “If it bleeds it leads.”
Malignant envy and shame: the invisible force field that inhibits people from seeking success: Crabs in the basket – if we’re all here together it’s somebody else’s fault (the aristocracy, the man, phallo-logocentric partriarchy, the 1%); if you get out, then I’m at fault (lazy, cowardly, lacking in the necessary qualities).
Envy aims at equals: the narcissism of small differences; but in matters of “human dignity”, everyone is given the right to consider themselves equal, therefore, to be resentful of anyone.
Honor and Envy
Honor a great good: in principle expandable (somewhat); in practice (through envy) zero-sum
Sharing the spotlight: honor/glory a self-limited good: honor of a millionaire in Hollywood or in Welsh village
Aristotle: those who love honor are more envious
The importance of honor – more precious than life: among other things driven to it despite the assault of envy it elicits.
Glory as the ultimate: people remember you when you’re no longer alive
Philotimea (love of honor) is difficult and most productive of envy
Paradigms of Justice:
pre-modern (h-s, prime divider): “my side is always right.” invidious cognitive egocentrism: I envy all better than me, and assume that all worse than me envy me. A world in which one assumes malevolence as the norm. Denial of responsibility and projection of guilt the norm.
modern (integrity-guilt, civic polity): “whoever is right, my side or not.” liberal cognitive egocentrism: i do not wish others ill and presume, at least as an initial default, that others do not wish me ill. Benevolence the norm. Self-criticism and acceptance of responsibility (among other things for failure) necessary.
post/hyper-modern (masochistic omnipotence, hyper-self-criticism, cultural suicide): “their side right or wrong.” Progressive cognitive egocentrism: if I blame myself for everything, others will forgive me and like me, and I can fix anything. Complete denial of envy (and of self) in order to posture as the most moral.
The double edge of envy: emulation and excellence? Or resentment and sabotage? Partly depends on the self-confidence of the person. Looking at the successful and wanting to learn and imitate/adapt reflects self-confidence; feeling inadequate and wanting to tear down and do damage reflects fear of failure (one of the plagues of h-s cultures, since failure is so often punished).
Chinese vs. Arab responses to the West (and to Jews)
Ubiquity of envy: institutions only tell you how a culture manages, not whether there’s envy.
Managing envy, the public secret.
Envy as a brake on economic development (Schoeck, chap. 5): if the headwinds of envy are gale force, few ships will leave harbor of conformity to try innovation.