On Envy and American Culture

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the envious have their eyes sewn shut with wire because they have gained sinful pleasure from seeing others brought low.

We typically think of Lady Justice as blind so that that she can do justice without regard to who is before her. But perhaps she is blind so that there is no possibility of pleasure in what happens to a sinner. Her blessed blindness is not to achieve justice, but to prevent the ugliness of any pleasure at human torment, even to one deserving it.

But this is a form of envy for which a German word is necessary, Schadenfreude, and for which no precise English equivalent is available. It is one thing to hate the fortune of another — that is envy — and a step further to celebrate the misfortune of another — that is Schadenfreude.

The strength of a culture can be measured by its indulgence of envy and Schadenfreude. A predominance of the former is alarming. A predominance of the latter is corrosive and fatal.

“But it is Schadenfreude,” says Arthur Schopenhauer, “a mischievous delight in the misfortunes of others, which remains the worst trait in human nature. It is a feeling which is closely akin to cruelty, and differs from it, to say the truth, only as theory from practice.”

When certain European intellectuals expressed perverse pleasure at the toppling of the towers on 9-11, that was Schadenfreude in its quintessentially corrupt European and disgusting form. Its finest spokesman was French philosopher Jean Beaudrillard:

That we dreamed of this event, that everyone without exception dreamed of it, because no one can fail to dream of the destruction of a power exercising such a hegemony – that is unacceptable for the Western moral conscience. And yet it is a fact, which can be measured by the pathetic violence of all the discourses that try to cover it up. In the end, they did it, but we wanted it.

Envy, says Kant, is a propensity to view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one’s own. In the Russian version of the game, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, “Ask the Audience” was deleted as a life-line because Russian audiences deliberately gave the wrong answer. They didn’t want to help the player. That is deep cultural cynicism.

I tee this up to insist that the character of a person matters and the character of a culture matters, to insist further that making excuses for the bad character of persons and cultures invites decline, and finally to ask where are we as a nation. Envy in American culture has historically been an isolated vice. Our narrative has tended more toward the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story, the steadfast belief in opportunity, the admiration — rather than envy — of success.

If there is anything to the notion of American exceptionalism, it is rooted in three qualities: (1) a steadfast belief in our culture of freedom, opportunity and hard work; (2) a sincere desire for everyone’s liberty and success — from the Germans and Japanese after World War II to the Iraqis and Afghanis in 2012, with a host of American helping projects in between; and (3) the belief that extraordinary power, contrary to centuries of terrible lessons about power, can in fact be exercised sacrificially and fairly and without demand for real estate, on behalf of global stability. No other country in human history has ever combined these qualities.

Key to our American self-understanding — to whatever it may be that makes us exceptional — is rejection of envy and its corrosive power. Envy is always a net negative. Nothing good comes from it and it shrivels the soul of the envier. It makes him permanently less than he could be because he is fixated on the fortune of another, convinced it is ill-gotten, and no longer productive himself, except as a victim, because his guiding mantra is now the “unfairness” of it all. And the moment a man, or a culture, shifts primarily to a victim narrative, the cynical rot of decline sets in.

We’re confronted now with competing narratives in America. The 1% narrative seems clever — all that solidarity — but it is predicated on envy and demonization of the rich, and demand for free stuff (like forgiveness of student loans) — and why?

Is class warfare good for America? Do we solve anything — seriously anything — by encouraging the middle and lower classes to envy and despise the rich? Is Warren Buffet evil? Is Bill Gates evil?

To be sure, we’ve been fascinated and repulsed by the super-rich. They can be ostentatious and stupid — typically because they’re folks just like you and me who got suddenly rich and behaved hideously. And just as typically, they squandered their wealth and toppled to something like you and me. Life chastens most people. By the time they have a little bit of wisdom, they’ve been whacked.

Except for the super-rich, who do some of the finest things that human beings are capable of doing on this planet. If I had to gauge the good that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have done with their billions, I’d say the 1% fare very favorably as good human beings compared to the 99%.

We should be on our knees thanking that 1%. They’re, on average, better than us.

To whatever extent we wish to be focused on the rich, we’re indulging envy and missing the larger point. There isn’t anything the rich could do to save our economy. Screaming about the rich paying their fair share = envy. It’s not a solution. It’s a political talking point. The rich could fork over all of their fortune and put only a tiny dent in our massive deficit.

Stop the envy. Give no quarter to Schadenfreude. Our nation powers forward on the strength of people believing in themselves, never as victims, always resolved to succeed, and admiring success. Make it a little less, make it about blaming, and we are a culture in decline.



37 Responses to On Envy and American Culture

  1. jmgoyder says:

    Wonderful food for thought even though I’m in Australia where, however, the situation is very similar.

  2. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    There are other emotional reactions toward the super wealthy that have nothing to do with envy. Adopting a facile view that envy is at the root of our disgust with the super rich is dismissive. Please allow for other reactions that have more to do with a disdain for obscene consumerism and conspicuous consumption against the background of so many with so little. Please understand that many of us do not believe in trickle down theories. And I look at skepticism at the belief that the super rich wish for success for everyone. American society has become a place where classism is necessary – but it is not because the 99% have created the divide – the hegemony of money and access as entitlement has existed for a long, long time. The U.S. now has more poverty within its borders than it ever has. This is the concern. Not what someone else has, but what so many do not.

    • Jean, your pointed sensitivity is misdirected. I did not foreclose or criticize a broad range of emotional or intellectual reactions. I focused on one and suggested it was corrosive and culturally destructive. You’re entitled to your own emotional reaction and to the belief that it is pure and uninfected with envy or Schadenfreude. Knowing you, I suspect that is true. As I replied to Jeff, my piece is not about advocacy of particular policies, but about the class demonization rhetoric in which they may be couched and certain attitudes that may (but do not invariably) underlie such demonization rhetoric.

      I’m frankly a bit surprised at the intensity of your reaction. What’s so disagreeable about the proposition that it is possible to advocate for liberal policies without demonizing the rich?

      • Jeff says:

        Envy is certainly not a productive quality in a person or a culture. Schadenfreude is what the right wing has shown toward our President since the instant he won the election. “Welfare momma.” “They have babies just to get more money from the government.” “They think the government owes them a living.”… Talk about Demonization! It just is not a sympathetic position to assert that the rich, whose lives are so unbelievably easy (irritated by airport traffic?…take a limo and have a cocktail…) somehow are owed a tip of respect and that the prior cultural destruction did not initate this backlash of new “class warfare. It’s a road we have been dragged down by economic injustice not one we navigated toward.

        • Come on Jeff. There is a difference between Schadenfreude as a cultural phenomenon and standard electoral politics. Republicans are not going to like a Democratic president. Done. Given. Democrats are not going to like a Republican president. Done. Given. Do I need to resurrect the vitriolic hatred of George W. Bush by the left? The swastikas, the bulls-eyes, the vile profanity directed at him? The point of my post was not at all about electoral politics — but about an attitude about the rich that is culturally destructive, even granting that the rich do bad things and so forth.

          And wow, you sort of make my point. You hate the rich. “Take a limo and have a cocktail.” You’re exactly instantiating my point. You want to rail about “economic injustice,” and to do it you feel compelled to gig the rich. Why couldn’t you make the “economic injustice” point without slamming some detail of rich life?

          I get your “economic injustice” point. You stated it eloquently. Anytime a person wails on poor people, as a class, I see that as exactly the thing I’m arguing against. But there are policies and there are class stereotypes. Not to be confused. Advocating certain policies, based upon certain economic assumptions, is not class warfare — unless you truly are a Marxist and conceive all economic policy through the lens of class warfare. And I know you are not a Marxist. So the point you are making (I think) is that more needs to be done on behalf of the poor and underprivileged. And we could debate what that might look like, and largely agree, without demonizing the rich. Making your economic injustice point, and demonizing the rich, squanders your point.

      • Snoring Dog Studio says:

        Miscommunication. Interpretation. Misinterpretation. Blogging. I’m close to having had my fill of it.

        • Don’t go there Jean. You feel passionately, so admirably, and it quickly looks hopeless to you. I get that. Miscommunication and misinterpretation are part of the dance, perhaps, sadly, more common than understanding. That’s exactly why it’s so important to remain respectful, because there are few rushes better than disentangling a misunderstanding and arriving back at good will. I know how strongly you feel about the OWS movement and its progeny, for example. I respect that. You and I have tangled about that — but not for reasons that call into question the good faith of either of us. So I thought perhaps some of your pointed reaction to my post here had a little to do with feeling protective of the OWS movement, which again I respect. I didn’t believe you needed to call my thesis “facile,” but I understood the impulse, and I certainly wasn’t being “dismissive” of all narratives (including yours) about the “super wealthy.” In the OWS movement, there is a little envy and entitlement, there is a little Schadenfreude, there is a little intelligence, and there is a little sublime. Not surprisingly, it’s a mixed bag. Which is what we almost always confront: mixed bags. The commentators who have it all figured out, with no mixed bags, are almost always wrong. We make the mistake, too often, of believing we have to cater to a perceived audience, and jettison the mixed bag in the service of cheerleading from the thoughtless. Fire up the (conservatives)(liberals) and we get lots of strokes. Frankly, every conservative thinker should poke at the excesses of conservatism and every liberal thinker should poke at the excesses of liberalism. That’s not popular, but it’s honest.

          You’re testier and a bit angrier lately. You’ve suggested in the past that you won’t blog about politics anymore, but happily you have. You do it very well, if a bit angrily. The key for you is managing the emotions — seeing them for what they are, accepting them as part of your essential self, and never letting them control you. This is excruciatingly difficult (I haven’t managed it yet), but it’s how we learn, in T.S. Eliot’s phrase, “to care and not to care.” And that is exactly as difficult as it appears. Much affection Jean. Don’t let the miscommunication disturb you overmuch.

          • Snoring Dog Studio says:

            Thank you, dear Kendrick. You are very kind. To care and not to care – oh, it is next to impossible for me! This is me – and you may know this – but I can tend to be an absolutist at times. Sometimes I see shades of gray, sometimes I see black and white and after spitting and fuming for a while, I can see some grays. And, yes, I’ve been so, so angry for too long and it is why I rarely post about politics anymore. (Except everything I said about Newt still stands! 😉 )

            I have supreme admiration for the wealthy in this country who are serving humanity in the most meaningful ways they can, whether it’s through influence or funds or both. Sadly, we have to dig to find examples of this that go beyond Bill Gates’ and Buffett’s efforts, because, you’re right – the narrative now is too much about the greedy rich.

            But, hey – I’m going to say this much in the way of politics … I really don’t believe Romney gets it. He seems so far removed from understanding the struggles of the rest of us as evidenced by his lack of perspective regarding money and resources. He doesn’t sound like the kind of businessman who got around the building and got a feel for the underlings. Just a sense here.

  3. lbwoodgate says:

    I concur with SD’s assessment Kendrick. Your post is a thinly veiled attempt to generalize on the criticism aimed by some in the 99% at some of those within the top 1%. It is another attempt to categorize the OWS movement as an anti-rich movement when the reality is that it simply is bringing to light the fact that there are those within the 1%, unlike the Buffets and Gates, who stack the deck against the rest of the players through their vast empires that effect the social message around the globe with their ownership of most media outlets and most politicians who are supposed to represent all of us reasonably equally.

    I find it below you also to imply that “the super-rich, who do some of the finest things that human beings are capable of doing on this planet” are not capable also of doing or supporting some of the most heinous acts imaginable to man. Wealthy interests, through their puppets in government, prop up some of the most despotic regimes in the world so they can access that countries natural resources. Please tell me I don’t need to google information for you to support this contention.

    On the brighter, side your opening comments were revealing and educating regarding the existence of Schadenfreude. It’s just a pity that you tried to align that concept with people who have lost their homes, jobs and retirement savings because some of the super rich engaged in practices that were far from doing “some of the finest things that human beings are capable of doing on this planet”.

    • No, you don’t need to google information to support the proposition that rich people do bad things! 🙂 It was never my point to suggest otherwise. But given the disproportionate and often malignant focus on how bad rich people are, I think it appropriate to restore the balance with some focus on the good they do.

      • lbwoodgate says:

        We know that rich people do benevolent things Kendrick because as I pointed out in my recent post Unable to See the Forest For the Trees, rich sympathizers like the investment banker point out to us that their names are all over the buildings they donate to.

        But such generosity is not the result of their wealth as much as it is the nature of their character. This a shared trait with people of all income levels. The fact that some have more money to give doesn’t make them a better lot of people, it just gets them more publicity.

        • Good heavens yes Larry. The widow’s mite is better than the rich man’s donation. But the rich man’s donation is better than no donation. And many a rich man’s donation, by the way, is anonymous. Secret Santas paid off lawaway tabs across the nation at Walmart. That’s rich people doing good. And nobody knows who they are. Why do you steadfastly resist the notion that rich people can be good people? Why do you imagine rich people as invariably calculating publicity-hounds? Why do you hate rich people?

          • lbwoodgate says:

            The fact that I haven’t come to the defense of rich people is indicative to you that I hate rich people?

            Since when does silence reflect an absolute in one direction or the other? My critique, that you seem to keep missing, is not about rich people per se, but about power and accumulated wealth in the hands of a few and this situation’s correlation with incomes shrinking of more and more people.

            When one person’s wealth truly benefits many others or at least doesn’t negatively impact hard working people I’m not up there shouting epithets at them. I am discouraged however, as we all should be, that the actions of a few in the 1% and their puppets in government, actually create conditions that foster greater wealth for themselves to the detriment of others. This situation has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 2-3 decades and the arguments that support an entrepreneurial spirit and the capital gains from that effort is the wrong argument to support this growing cancer.

            There’s a malignancy within the capitalist dogma and ethics are set aside to praise wealth as a stand alone entity, as if it was humbly and honestly gained in all situations. Where it has, I have no argument against; where it hasn’t is where you’ll see me most vocal. If that is indicative to you that I “hate rich people” then you’re not the objective discerner I give you credit for being.

            You bring into play the 3 qualities of what you refer to as American exceptionalism but seem to be oblivious that two of them – a steadfast belief in our culture of freedom, opportunity and hard work and a a sincere desire for everyone’s liberty and success – are loosing ground as the accumulated wealth in this country is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of few.

            I pointed this out in my “Can’t See the Forest for the Trees” essay when I quoted Paul Krugman who noted that:

            “Highly unequal countries, … have low mobility: the more unequal a society is, the greater the extent to which an individual’s economic status is determined by his or her parents’ status. … this relationship suggests that America in the year 2035 will have even less mobility than it has now, that it will be a place in which the economic prospects of children largely reflect the class into which they were born.”

            Thus, to conclude Kendrick, it is not rich people and capitalism I protest, it is greedy rich people violating basic ethical tenets of capita;ism that gets my ire up.

          • Good heavens Larry — look at your last sentence: “it is not rich people and capitalism I protest, it is greedy rich people violating basic ethical tenets of capitalism that gets my ire up.” It’s not rich people, it’s rich people! Yes, to be sure, you’re personally disturbed by rich people doing bad things, not rich people per se, but that’s what you do. You write incessantly about rich people doing bad things. You hate rich people doing bad things. And that’s what you write about. Don’t you see how this glides into hating rich people? Do rich people do good things? Do poor people do bad things? You don’t care! You’re focused entirely on rich people doing bad things. And that’s my point, and I’m sorry if it makes me less than the objective discerner you gave me credit for being. When the narrative is incessantly about the alleged sins of the rich, it’s imbalanced. It fundamentally fails to credit the abundant good that rich people do, and it suggests an animus about the rich, as a class, that is both stereotypical and destructive. And that’s abundantly reinforced by your use of phrases like “capitalist dogma” and “puppets in government.” Your lens is evil rich people. That is the lens I decry. It’s not good for America. I’m with you on concentrations of power generally — be they political, economic, bureaucratic or otherwise, and there must always be a challenge to such concentration — but the focus must be on that particular concentration of power, not “rich people.”

          • lbwoodgate says:

            Your perception that I am focused “entirely on rich people doing bad things” is a bit of stretch Kendrick. No. you won’t see any post posts by me praising what rich people do for us but then I am but one person in the blogosphere. My blog doesn’t focus on rich people doing bad things. Such posts are only a part of what I write about.

            I think I qualify my comments too by making it known that only “some” rich people are guilty of unethical behavior. Logically one would conclude then that I’m not saying that all rich people do bad things.

            Perhaps it is your focus on anyone commenting negatively about some rich that is at issue here. If I were truly beating up on all rich people then you would have an argument. If every post of mine were negative comments about rich people your argument would also have merit. But the fact that I see flaws with some people of great wealth and how they have hurt many innocent people doesn’t preclude that their are not poor people equally guilty of such flaws.

            But the actions of the poor or people of modest means that engage in practices that deprive others of their resources, as bad as that is, doesn’t quite have the impact as someone who has enough income to allow many small nations to live comfortably for years. What some poor people do that deprives others of their resources are clearly violations of the law where the actions of the Koch Brothers and other wealthy people like them can deprive millions of people of their income, health and futures and it’s all legal because they have worked with those they helped get elected to rig the rules in their favor.

            It’s not my job to throw the wealthy a bone. They have more than their fair share. I honestly don’t begrudge them that but when some of them use their great wealth to deprive others of opportunities to succeed then I will voice my outrage about it. You should too.

            I think most people are smart enough to see that much of what wealthy people do is of benefit to society. We must be careful though that when their actions are less than honest and detrimental to the general population, bringing that into the public arena is necessary to make sure that other good people don’t follow their example, lest they think no one cares.

          • I think I agree with you Larry. I think I appreciate what you do, and yes, when rich people do bad things, it should be hammered. But I don’t believe that because some rich person does something bad, that makes makes rich people “bad” — anymore than I believe that when a poor person does something bad, that makes poor people “bad.” Yes, to be sure, rich people have more resources. They’re better equipped to to do bad. I give you that. But what’s the choice? I think most rich people follow exactly your descriptive in your last paragraph.

          • Terrance H. says:


            You once accused me of erecting what you called a “massive straw man.” After reading this post and your clarifying replies, I’d have to say that’s the pot calling the kettle black.

            First, none of us have suggested that rich people are inherently evil, or always do bad things. I haven’t said that; Larry hasn’t said that; Snoring hasn’t said that.

            Second, we don’t write posts about poor people doing bad things – though we know they do – because it’s usually not of the same scale. The bad we accuse rich people of doing has an impact that can be felt globally. That’s the difference you don’t seem to be aware of. We’re not singling out rich people, we’re merely focusing on bad actions that leave a global impact that hurt millions if not billions. It just so happens that rich people tend to be those committing said actions. When a poor person is able to exploit third world nations or corner markets with his vast supply of spaghetti noodles, I’ll be the very first to pipe up.

          • Well of course none of you has suggested that rich people are inherently evil or always do bad things. That would be indefensibly moronic. I’m focusing on a tone, an animosity, an emphasis, a selective hostility, an eagerness to parade the latest “outrage” of rich people, an urge to buy into the carefully-vetted Democratic party talking points that pit “us” against “them.” It sells politically. And it’s unbalanced. That’s my point Terrance. It’s unbalanced.

            Yes, of course rich people have a substantially greater capacity to do reverberating mischief than poor people. I acknowledged that in one of my responses to Larry. That’s exactly why rich people also have a substantially greater capacity to do reverberating good than poor people. And they do do good. I’m not asking you to point out bad things poor people do. I’m asking you to acknowledge good things rich people do. Why should this be so difficult?!

            Don’t you see yourself sucked into a political rather than human narrative? The extent to which you ever feel tugged in the direction of demonizing the rich is precisely the political impulse I’m targeting. And it’s particularly ironic because, as a political proposition, Democratic senators are richer than Republican senators, and the rich contribute enormously to Democratic candidates. And why this should be so when the Democratic party appears determined to declare war on the rich is yet another irony — unless you view it through the cynical lens of rich people hedging, Democrats emptily yakking, and everybody focused on business as usual. You’ve suggested as much yourself.

            So, after a stormy season of OWS demonization of the rich, Democratic party sympathy, widely-circulated Democratic party talking points confirming that 1% rhetoric sells politically — and even the president’s “fair-sharism” hammering in his State of the Union address, which fundamentally misled the American people about the difference between income taxes and capital gains taxes — yes, I’m still thinking a restoration of balance in this discussion is appropriate.

          • Terrance H. says:


            Your first paragraph is presumptuous and not a little bit haughty. It’s as though you believe we on the Left are mindless drones frolicking about life parroting “carefully-vetted Democratic party talking points,” lacking the savvy – apparently inherent in all conservatives – to realize we’re being played like a tune.

            The Left believes big business and crony capitalism are to blame for the current economic mess we all talk incessantly about. But you don’t see it that way. You see the Left, with their fancy anti-Semitic protests, unjustly laying the blame on the rich. And that’s the problem. You don’t for a minute consider that everything we’re saying is absolutely true. That big business and crony capitalism are to blame. Because if they are indeed the culprits, then your entire post – lecture, rather – is rendered meaningless..

  4. Jeff says:

    Beautiful writing and well stated and you make some great points. However, I come down more with Jean. I immediately got a wry smile as I saw where you were going, thinking, the same intellectual foundation could be used by almost any political perspective these days to dismiss another. This whole class warfare thing really pulls my chain. The poor, minorities, the disenfranchised, the disabled, have long been subject to class warfare. I think of the Gingrich led “Republican Revolution” of the 90’s, when legal aid to the poor was drastically cut and the victims of domestic abuse, residents of substandard housing and the disabled, lost access to benefits and due process. Class warfare has been been conducted against the poor for almost two decades. The right wing and right wing media cry “class warfare!” In elementary school, I knew three kids, who had never been in a fight, who went after a bully and ended the bullying. In our myopic view it might be called class warfare, I call it “fighting back.” On the whole, it is really hard to feel sorry for the rich who are not paying attention to all of the hub-bub. In a gated world of private jets (dang I want one of those, oops, a little envy…) and closed inner circle, there just isn’t much time or inkling to wonder why people are camping out in parks, or standing in line for jobs. I think perhaps even Warren Buffet would not agree with your conclusions as he has advocated for higher taxes on the rich, while not indicating that he would reduce his massive philanthropic efforts. He believes the rich should do more. No, seizing wealth will not solve the problem, but some adjustment to the fairness of the tax code certainly will not make the problem worse.

    Oh, and I am so highly offended by your statement that the rich are on average better than us, I have chosen to ignore it, except to say that I trust that time, contemplation, and a finger close to the backspace key would have produced a later draft that did not contain that phrase.

    • Thanks Jeff. Your reaction, along with Jean’s and Larry’s as liberals, is entirely understandable. In fact, I agree with much of what you say. Many rich people would too — and thanks for the particular observation about Warren Buffett. Good example. But I think you mistake my broadly general cultural analysis with some sort of “absolution” of the rich. I’m not saying the rich don’t do anything bad, and much less am I suggesting particular social policies. In fact, everything I wrote would be fully consistent with advocating robust funding for legal aid, to use your example. My point is not to disable any particular advocacy, but to keep the advocacy focused constructively, rather than mired in demonization of the rich.

      As for the statement about the rich being better than us, it was intended as a kind of shock-scold because it might behoove some of the people who are angriest about rich people to take a look at what, for example, the Gates Foundation actually does. It would be time-consuming research, and that’s kind of the point. (That said, yes, every draft could always be better!)

      • Jeff says:

        “My point is not to disable any particular advocacy, but to keep the advocacy focused constructively, rather than mired in demonization of the rich.” That was the bigger take away for me on first reading and I think you are absolutely right that the message about the 1% could be more focused and less “personal” although Jean and lbwoodgate make convincing points that many of the 1% are also among the biggest users and abusers of natural, economic and physical resources on the planet. Also, I think everyone knows about the Gates Foundation. They also know the Koch brothers are huge philanthropists for the Arts and hospitals. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t burn in hell for their other activities. Sorry, that was just a shock – scold because it might behoove those who are angriest about having to pay their fair share take a look at, for example, the amount of government resources that subsidize their ability to get even richer. I really enjoyed your thought provoking post and I expect it will continue to have a passionate string of posts!

        • Thanks Jeff. I sort of see what you’re doing as well. And it’s clever. 🙂 But really? Burn in hell? Do you hate them that much? What do the Koch brothers do that George Soros doesn’t do? Why do liberals have no problem with George Soros’ funding of hundreds of liberal advocacy and attack groups — but get apoplectic about the Koch brothers funding conservatives? And by the way, George Soros’ “other activities”? Might be sobering.

  5. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I’m hoping you can explain the comment about the rich being better than us, frankly. I was so taken aback by it I couldn’t address it earlier. And I heartily agree with both Larry and Jeff. Class warfare has been conducted against the poor for longer than I can remember. Or does it escape being class warfare as long as people don’t start organizing against it and protesting it?

  6. Terrance H. says:


    As much as I like you, I can’t say I like this post. I don’t think I should envy the super-rich anymore than I should want to become something I despise. You talk about gauging the good some of the super-rich have done, but you say nothing about gauging the bad. You don’t even seem to consider that perhaps most people’s attitude is derived not from envy, but disgust.

    • Terrance H. says:

      And my clicking the “Like” button was just to reassure you that I like you, not the post. Meh!

    • Terrance my friend — it’s precisely because there’s so much “disgust” that I wish to suggest looking at the good. Good god we have disgust aplenty. Where’s the balance? Have the rich done no good in your view? I’ll give you this — you’re equal-opportunity in your disgust. You can’t stand the rich people contributing to Democrats and Republicans, and in fact contributing more to Obama. Kudos. Or you did have a post about that — now I can’t find it. Did you reconsider? In fact, corporations have given to Republicans and Democrats in roughly equal measure, while labor unions have given to Democrats at about 90%+. But that’s money in politics. I didn’t post about money in politics. I posted about how class warfare rhetoric can be incendiary and destructive when it is predicated on envy and “disgust” at the rich. So you sort of make my point. You’re “disgusted.” Really? You think “disgust” resolves the matter? You think the “bad” things rich people have done (a) make rich people categorically “disgusting”; (b) render irrelevant the many good things rich people have done; (c) make any categorical judgment about rich people even remotely relevant in civil dialogue (any more than categorical judgments about poor people would be appropriate); (d) warrant class warfare rhetoric; and (e) denies the existence of envy as one (and only one) corrosive cultural influence on our current debate?

      You’re entitled to your disgust, and you’re entitled to say it has nothing to do with envy — but you can’t exempt yourself from class warfare rhetoric, which is, I believe, a net negative for our country.

      And thanks for the Like pal.

      • Terrance H. says:

        You can’t stand the rich people contributing to Democrats and Republicans, and in fact contributing more to Obama. Kudos. Or you did have a post about that — now I can’t find it. Did you reconsider?

        Democrats Are No Better…

        I don’t hate rich people generally. I’d sorta like to be among them one day. But I tend to find myself applauding Larry’s post above. He said:

        It is another attempt to categorize the OWS movement as an anti-rich movement when the reality is that it simply is bringing to light the fact that there are those within the 1%, unlike the Buffets and Gates, who stack the deck against the rest of the players through their vast empires that effect the social message around the globe with their ownership of most media outlets and most politicians who are supposed to represent all of us reasonably equally.

        He also said:

        Wealthy interests, through their puppets in government, prop up some of the most despotic regimes in the world so they can access that countries natural resources. Please tell me I don’t need to google information for you to support this contention.

        I don’t for a second believe things would be as bad as they are, requiring such laudable philanthropy, if it wasn’t for the super rich to begin with. That’s my point. If I set fire to an animal shelter and then put the fire out, are you going to praise me for my love and kindess toward animals? No!

  7. I always enjoy reading your posts!
    I haven’t read the comments yet, but will go back and read them in a moment . . .
    My thoughts as I read:
    1. Don’t you think as a whole our country has far too much hubris to ever experience envy?
    2. I’m just starting up on my third (and youngest) child’s college tuition (we saved all of our lives to put our kids through school without borrowing money). The three of them will need loans for graduate school. I don’t think school loans should be forgiven, but it would be nice if there were reasonable rates for students like there was when I was in college (even though interest rates for all other types of loans were sky high in the Eighties) My kids would almost be better off putting their grad school tuition on a credit card.
    3. I confess I have felt Schadenfreude while watching the Republican debates. Sorry, I know it doesn’t help our country to feel that way.
    4. I agree with you on the 1% – my only issue is I don’t think the 1% should control what happens to the 99%.
    5. Go Niners! 🙂

    • Well, I just read all of the comments. I guess I should not have been so light hearted in my response. Maybe you could just delete the exclamation point in my first sentence, and get rid of the smiley face.

      Note: I’m still being light hearted, but I do appreciate the seriousness of the discussion.

      • Snoring Dog Studio says:

        Don’t ever apologize for your lightness of heart, worrywart. The world needs more people like you in it. Please don’t change!

      • I can’t think of any occasion where an exclamation point and a smiley face wouldn’t be welcome here. Our earnestness needs the leavening of levity.

        No, I don’t believe we have too much hubris to experience envy. Not even sure we have “too much” hubris, but if we do, it has no relation to envy. Envy happens because people make a choice to focus negatively on someone else. And that can happen in any cultural setting. And it can be encouraged, or not, in any cultural setting.

        Okay, you felt Schadenfreude while watching the Republican debates. At least you’re on a 12-step program and feel threshold sorrow. I think the next step is to reach out and apologize to the Republican candidates.

        How do the 1% control what happens to the 99%?? Do the 99% — i.e., virtually all of us — have no accountability for what happens to us? Really?

        Really sorry about your Niners. But I did predict a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl. Only my brother knows this. Most of my talents are hidden.

        • Unfortunately, some of ‘all of us’ are easily manipulated.

          My interest in football is limited – I mostly watch because I know that many of the players have worked hard to overcome difficult lives and are the few who make it big. Most of my working life has been devoted to helping 11 – 14 year olds (mostly boys) living in poverty, typically with at least one parent in jail, learn to read and write and ultimately get a college education (I have a 93% success rate). I’m taking a year off because it is emotionally and physically draining, hence, my newfound love of blogs and blogging.

          My daughter was in her university band, so I started going to the games she played at. I learned a lot about the players and their lives during her four years of college. They remind me of my former students. So for me it really doesn’t matter who wins the game – they have all beat the odds.

          • Terrance H. says:

            I’d really like to be pleasant and friendly in all aspects of our conversation, WorryWarts. I truly, honestly would…

            But I CANNOT STAND the 49ers…I am elated they lost. If I were in your presence right now, I would give you the classic neener, neener while jumping up and down.

            Nobody’s perfect.

          • Terrance H. says:

            Your work is to be respected, however. Very cool.

  8. Thanks Terrance for your second comment. I hope you realize that football is meaningless to me so “neener neener” and your Schadenfreude are wasted on me. I cannot imagine why anyone would hate a football team unless you had some horrible experience with someone on the team or, perhaps, a coach? 🙂

    • Terrance H. says:

      You’d have to have more than a mild interest in football to understand. There is no precise explanation. I just don’t like them. I’m glad they lost. And I don’t like Jim Harbum either.

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