The Politics of Envy

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said the following concerning envy:

Hatred is active, and envy passive dislike; there is but one step from envy to hate.

A political activism based on envy is counterproductive to bring any kind of social change in one country or society.

Though I disagree with the GOP (Republican) politician Paul Ryan’s comments on many issues, I absolutely agree with this statement:

Exploiting people’s emotions of fear, envy and anxiety is not hope, it’s not change, it’s partisanship. We don’t need partisanship. We don’t need demagoguery, we need solutions.

The politics of envy has two actors: The envious and the envied. Due to its explosive nature, it creates a rift between the two groups, and it can only end up with social unrest or violence since neither side wants to compromise for a positive way out or a win-win solution. It may become impossible to reconcile when one openly or indisguise advocates the politics of envy and when its full momentum is dedicated to “get even.”

The politics of envy is all about entitlement: I am X, therefore, I deserve this or that better than Y. It is not a healthy social movement though it may spring from legitimate concerns.

The politics of envy can turn the envious into an aggressive, resentful force that can only be satisfied when it destroys or claims whatever the envied possesses: Power, wealth, status, etc. In response, the envied will do anything possible to counter the envious’s destructive agenda; thus, it becomes defensive and equally, or more, aggressive to protect its hard earned, or unfairly gained, possession.

Envy, whether felt legitimately or illegitimately, brings no postive solution. And the envious fails to secure the moral high ground because its primary motive or intention is to only score against the envied.

No doubt, envy is destructive rather than being constructive. As Oliver Stone said,

Never underestimate the power of envy to destroy.

Instead of losing one’s peace of mind because of envy or spreading the seeds of envious rethoric to intensify division and hate, why not aspire to become a bridge-builder, inspire disadvantaged people to work harder, or advocate for a change that almost no one can resist, a change that is positively different from the present and can liberate all?

Those who thrive on the politics of envy, their primary interest is not collective success, but revenge; they want to create a world where they become the new masters after they overpower their opponents. However, they fail to realize that if they achieve their goal, they too will become the new targets of envy—thus, recycling the system of unfairness that they once detested.

Envy has never been the best approach to inspire positive change. There is a feeling of inferiority or superiority complex embedded in it. That is worrisome because when one gets the opportunity to indulge in superiority or to resolve inferiority, one can do anything to compensate one’s wounded ego of the past, and so one can unleash revengeful acts against those who allegedly caused the wound.

The politics of envy cannot welcome forgiveness or justice; it can only make revenge justified or legal. Not surprisingly, it is also the chosen instrument of the political opportunist that exploits it to obtain power.

The politics of envy is often a product of economic, political or social injustice. But sometimes it has no legitimacy as this quote by Jim Rohn suggests:

The few who do are the envy of the many who only watch.

Some envy others because of lack of skill or talent to do anything productive. Or they may have talent, but they either may not see it or are just fiercely competitive, and so their mind can only rest when they reign over their rivals or imagined enemies.

Next to hate politics, the politics of envy is the worst form of expressing dissent and always has a potential to provoke violence. One can give several historical or contemporary examples of failed political movements that tried to bank on the politics of envy and “getting even” with their opponents through revenge.

The way forward is simply to quit being envious since it helps no one. Nor does it win supporters from within the envied. No one knowingly supports someone who openly or secretly plots against his or her demise. In addition, envy rarely makes one successful, but mostly bitter and vindictive.

The best approach to any struggle against unfairness is applying no politics of envy as the engine of the struggle. A struggle whose masterminds feel envious (inferior or superior to someone else) can hardly lead towards a positive transformation.

Avoiding envious or hateful rethoric will not only give one a moral boost, but it will also help one win supporters from every possible angle because a genuine demand for justice that aims to liberate both the envied and the envious can, soon or later, convince hearts. People know injustice to one is injustice to everyone. But they also know intentions matter. If one’s intentions are deceptive and disempowering, no question that they will deny their support.

Last but not least, the politics of envy, whether imagined or real, is a product of shallow mindset. This statement by Josh Billings best summarizes it:

Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope.

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