from Mark Goldfarb
That natural selection
endowed us with envy thereby making it a desirable, efficacious
and excusable practice rests on the same logic that suggests
untempered might makes right.
You say: “Stripped of everything that doesn’t
properly belong to it, envy, as was biologically intended, is
the recognition of an advantage that we want for ourselves.
The ill will or unhappiness that invariably proceeds from the
recognition is the first effect of envy, and is what moves us
to remove the conditions responsible for our unhappy state.
Which makes the attribute of envy directly implicated in the
well-being of the species, which confers both pleasure and proof
of the pleasure principle.”
But ill will and unhappiness are two very different
things, as are our actions that stem from these feelings. And
an advantage is not the same thing as an essential need. Hunger
and weakness are biologically intended recognitions of an essential
need – namely, food. My longing to look like Michelangelo’s
David is not. Three crucial questions your essay raises
are: when does the basic human act of recognizing and fulfilling
a need cross the line into envy territory; at what cost; and
why must envy be an integral part of an appetite that could
be gratified just as easily without it? You satisfy the first
two but not the last.
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, envy and anger are unique
in that they’re the only two that are emotions. As such,
it’s natural and appropriate that most, if not all humans
experience them from time to time. However, if my anger or envy
over a particular matter endures for many years, those feelings
will generate disharmony and ultimately disease, both internally
and externally. The distinction between jealousy and envy is
a hazy one because these two emotions, conjoined contiguously
from head to toe, operate in a continuous state of symbiosis
with other emotions as well as with the other Deadlies, coalesceing,
as you put it, into a very sin-uous stew.
In THE HEART OF JEALOUSY,
a report on Psychology Today's jealousy and envy survey,
jealousy is defined as the thoughts and feelings that arise
when an actual or desired relationship is threatened; envy as
the thoughts and feelings that arise when our personal qualities,
possessions or achievements do not measure up to those of someone
relevant to us. I’m going to go with this definition for
the sake of simplicity.
Should I infer that my wish to be as skilled in
acupuncture as X or as accomplished a painter as Y or as handy
with a wrench as my car mechanic requires an RDA of envy? Is
jealousy the source of a newly discovered vitamin required in
microscopic amounts to maintain normal metabolism and growth?
Or can I, with nothing but respect, admiration and a modicum
of intelligence, emulate those people to the best of my ability
and, without the damaging and destructive effects of envy, jealousy
and the knots they tie me up in, aim to reach their lofty heights?
I know I can. Positive connotations of envy exist only in the
realms of psychoanalysis and reality TV shows. Ask Cain. Better
yet, ask Abel.
There are good reasons why little, if anything,
has been attributed positively to envy. To envy is
to be human and envy can be a teacher and move us to
be better and happier than what we have been. But if that path
of evolution doesn’t at some point grant us the wisdom
to realize that a policy of envy is a dead end choice, and a
tragic end at that, no matter how you spin it, stir it, sauté
or steam it, we will find ourselves at best rudderless in an
inenviable Salierian swamp; at worst burnt out in the ashes
of a Freudian flame.
from Robert Landes (editor of Augean
Let’s hope more rigorous thinkers tackle