Saturday, May 17, 2014

Envy, a most powerful political weapon...

One day, a couple of years ago, I found myself in the unenviable position of waiting to see if I would have to spend an undetermined number of days sitting, shoulder to shoulder, with eleven of my peers. Our charge would be to determine the fate of a gentleman who'd been accused of breaking into another's home and stealing its contents. At the end of the day I was told to return bright and early the next morning, I had made it to the final round.

I left the courthouse feeling quite good about my prospects, my prospects for being dismissed---bright and early---by the public defender that is. I just knew that there was no way---after my responses to several pointed questions from the accused's counsel---that I would be allowed to move even a single chair closer to the jury box.

And, sure enough, I was dismissed that morning---but not first thing. Yes, the defense attorney went first, and, as is the custom, he dismissed a number of potential jurors who he felt could only hurt his client's case. Not only was I not his very first rejectee, he---to my astonishment, and dismay---never called me out. He just grinned at me every time our eyes would meet. I was utterly panic stricken!

A short time later as I, dazed and confusedly, entered the elevator to the exit floor of the courthouse, a fellow fallen comrade says to me (as I recall) "I knew you were going to get dismissed this morning". I said, "yeah, me too, but by the defense attorney, not the prosecutor". "Nope" he said "the public defender loved you. He totally wanted you in the jury box. The prosecutor, on the other hand, had to get rid of you." "Say what?" I replied. He explained "My Dad's a retired judge and I know the game. You see, you asked too many good questions." "Yeah, but what about when he asked me who I'd instinctively side with, and I said 'the cop'?" "That's exactly what he wanted you to say. He was trying to draw off the prosecutor, in hopes that he'd pick you for the jury." "You've totally lost me" I exclaimed. He chuckled and said "in the eyes of the public defender you were probably his client's greatest hope. You'd be the instigator, you'd be the one who'd push the hardest, the one most likely to discover reasonable doubt and influence the jury."

While the logic fascinated me, in reality I'm pretty sure the public defender, the prosecutor and my elevator mate had it all wrong. I knew that crook was guilty from the moment I laid eyes on him, and there was nothing that was going to change my mind! Haha, just kidding....

So what's my point? It's that the two sides in my court experience had their own objectives and they would exploit every opportunity, honest or otherwise, to gain what they were after. And that instigators---disturbers---often get their way. The public defender was angling for the opportunity to harness a disturber to victory.

Now, think in terms of the politician, his henchmen, and his apologists. They're all after the same thing---his/their success. Today's hot topic, inequality, presents them with a huge opportunity. They understand that those who wish to level life's outcomes---well, actually, and frankly, it's more about those who would take from the wealthy for the sake of the taking alone (I mean, truly, they have to know that taking capital from its deployers and transferring it through the government's filter will in no conceivable way result in greater wealth for anyone)---are the screamers, the instigators, the influencers, and, all too often, the doctorers of data. They don't necessarily covet what the wealthy possess, they simply, and passionately, want the wealthy to possess less, even if it ultimately means less for them---which it virtually has to.

They are the enviers the late Helmut Schoeck referred to in his book Envy, A Theory of Social Behaviour (and they can win you an election):
No system of ethics, no religion, no popular wisdom recorded in proverbs, no moral fables and no rules of behaviour among primitive peoples have ever made a virtue of envy. Quite the opposite, in fact; by means of the most diverse arguments, human societies---or the men who have to live in a society---have persistently sought as far as possible to suppress envy. Why? Because in any group the envious man is inevitably a disturber of the peace, a potential saboteur, an instigator of mutiny and, fundamentally, he cannot be placated by others. Since there can be no absolutely egalitarian society, since people cannot be made truly equal if a community is to be at all viable, the envious man is, by definition, the negation of the basis of any society. Incurably envious people may, for a certain time, inspire and lead chiliastic, revolutionary movements, but they can never establish a stable society except by compromising their 'ideals' of equality.

While, as Shoeck suggested, with its passionate, instigating, disturbing and implacable proponents, the flawed inequality narrative may indeed be a political winner (today's candidate is counting on it), it is, without question, and "by definition, the negation of the basis of any society"...


  1. […] Marty Mazorra (with help from Helmut Schoeck) warns against envy. […]

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