No Priest Or Rabbi Ever Told Me Envy Was Good

Two ways of looking at your world. Great Depression humorist Will Rogers liked to say, “Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else!” Behavioral psychologist Sarah Hill of Texas Christian University reports to the New York Times: “Envy of others heightens our power of observation and memory. Sucj single-minded focus can help us learn how to imitate — or sabotage — the people we envy.” So what’s this telling us — life’s funny, but gets better with envy?

I don’t think so. But what I do think is the current worldwide wave of street protests has a lot to do with envy and resentment of the 1%. Forget party politics, this has more to do with people politics. Lets call it Trickle-Down-Resentment. The 99% out there may come from very different strains of their society — kids, seniors, ethnics, crazies — but all connected in a common sense of disenfranchisement. Everyone out there feels as if someone else is running their lives.

That feeling was hardly new to the crowds in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; they’ve known it all their lives. But here in the United States it’s very new feeling.And we don’t much like it. Here we’ve always been led — by leaders and literature — to believe in the American Dream and American Exceptionalism. I mean, anyone here could always go out and become a free-floating Tom Sawyer or free-riding Calamity Jane, because here: if you can dream it you can do it. Right…? Wrong!

Not when the 1% control over 70% of the nation’s wealth. Not when the 10 largest banks hold 54% of corporate financial assets. Not when the income gap between rich and poor is the widest and deepest in the entire industrialized world. And so it’s no surprise that a majority of Americans say they have a positive view of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

A century ago Russian literary guru Leo Tolstoy said it well: “There are no conditions of life in which a person cannot get accustomed, so long as they see them accepted by everyone around them.” But now people are seeing the other 99% around them no longer quite so willing to accept the traditional standard by which the 1% expects to — and somehow becomes entitled to — control the lives of the rest.

This 99:1 resentment is nothing new in the story of our species. But in America it is more historically new and more camera visible than ever before. Think of it this way. In the casino of life the players pretty much understand the house never loses. However, once the players stop getting at least some occasional jackpots…

…well, take a look out there. The casino isn’t going to go bust, but perhaps the owners will have to re-think the odds they’re giving us.

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