Monday, October 17, 2011

Pure Envy

It's fascinating to watch the latest round of protests against the monstrous (but possibly benign) forces of Capitalism played out on the streets of various capitals and the sheets of various media. (Yes, I know 'sheets' doesn't really work here, but I like the rhyme. And notice my attempts at balance with the bit in brackets.) I've been particularly struck by the accusation that the protests are fuelled by envy, especially when this is levelled by commentators such as those on the Fox News Channel who know this for an absolute, undeniable certainty. For how does anyone actually know for sure what the motives of the protesters are? And is it reasonable to assume that all of them are spurred on by exactly the same motivation?

My guess is that those who level the accusation are aware that they themselves are envy-driven individuals and assume that this is a common feature of our fallen human nature. And who's to say they are wrong? Certainly it's not difficult to think of lots of supporting evidence regarding the roots of our motivations. Personally I honestly can't figure out if my envy of their 'success' lies at that the heart of my fairly obvious animus against the kind of bankers who precipitated the latest crisis in our markets.

But even if it is pure envy on my part, and that of all the protesters, I also can't see how this makes any difference regarding what is happening. If envy is a reasonable motive for trying to out-do your fellow man in the marketplace, and as far as I can tell the world of Capital thrives on that notion, why would it somehow undercut people's protests against other people having cornered far too many of the world's resources just because they are envious of them? I suppose the argument then would be for 'good envy' - the type that drives you to work hard and succeed in the marketplace - as opposed to 'bad envy' - the type that leads you to stick a metaphorical bomb under said marketplace. But the problem is that if the marketplace is seen to have failed the vast majority of those in it - and we seem to be looking at a storyline with this worrying ending tacked onto it - then it doesn't seem to matter which species of envy is operational.

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