12 Nov Could Envy Be The longing Cause Of Social Inequality (Which Age More Than 1000 Years Old)?
What has been happening to inequality over the past few years? Well, they have been exposed, called out, criticized, and rejected, among many other things which involves ‘positive transformation’ as a direction. Among the many inequalities we can find in human life, there is one kind with the title of social inequality, acts where people are treated unjustly in social circumstances. Despite the rising efforts to fight against social inequality, it still happens everywhere even at this day and age. What if one of the significant causes of social inequality is an emotion, deeply rooted in human nature, an emotion called envy?
Even though social inequality is a specified kind of inequality directed to social situations, it grows branches to other sides of human life where many other life aspects are affected, creating other kinds of inequalities along the way. Ashley Crossman wrote in ThoughtCo that “It (social inequality) can manifest in a variety of ways, like income and wealth inequality, unequal access to education and cultural resources, and differential treatment by the police and judicial system, among others.” Treating people unfairly can cause many disadvantages, to both the victim’s life and the suspect’s life actually.
When someone with a high position in a work environment chose to pay their co-workers who are on lesser positions unfairly, using hate against a specific social group as the motivation of the unjust act, surely it’s not fair for the co-workers who are treated unfairly by their ‘superior’ or ‘superiors’. Little do the superiors know that the effect of their unjust act could blow back, potentially causing disadvantage to their own credit and their company.
If (Or when, eventually) the public find out about this unfair habit, the people who sided with anti-inequality communities will definitely speak against this company, from social media protesting to influencing people so they stop using that company’s products or services.
Inequality works both ways like that, just like a lot of parts of human nature works both ways, including the infamous envy. Let’s simulate in a simple scenario. In a school, certain kids (I would say students, but that’s more of their occupation and not their honest identity) could be envious against other kids, but deep inside, the envied kids are also feeling envious towards those kids who envied them.
There are many motives strong enough to push us to walk the path of envy. We could be envious of other people’s possessions or wealth, lifestyle, position, role, importance in a community, and many others. This brings us to a hypothesis which asks ‘what if people who commits social inequality does it because they’re envious of what their victims have?’
In 2014, the United States faced rising inequalities of both wealth and income. One of the significant factor tangling around this situation was inheritances. Some people have it easy on them, they earned their wealth through inheritance, while some people got none.
Friedrich von Hayek has a comment on inheritance once about this situation, saying that “greater injustice involved in some people being born to wealthy parents than there is in others being born to kind or intelligent parents. The fact is that it is no less of an advantage to the community if at least some children can start with the advantages which at any given time only wealthy homes can offer than if some children inherit great intelligence or are taught better morals at home”.
So, different backgrounds does affect how people perceive and treat each other, that marks the possible connection that envy has with social inequality. Social inequality has been around for a long time, just like how Hayek described its effects to our lives even after ages and generations, and that might breed envy when newer generations deem their surroundings’ as ‘luckier’ or ‘having better inheritances’ than the thinkers’ own selves. But it might be more complicated than that.
Aaron Ben-Zeév Ph.D. wrote a piece on Psychology Today, explaining that reducing inequalities may (actually) increase the level of envy between humans. He included a quote by Francis Baron which he used as one of the baseline of his analysis.
With that baseline and Ben-Zeév’s explanation, the point that we got is when inequality is still around, it usually stays because of various things connected to certain labels like ‘position’ or ‘fame’ or ‘wealth’ where certain groups of people have certain labels that deems them ‘higher’ than other social groups. When those labels are considered as some twisted ‘guides’ to see social situations, including how we see ourselves compared to others, then we tend to commit social inequalities based on our worldview which are highly affected and guided by those labels.
But, if social inequality perish someday, then those social labels stamped on people would also perish. The labels could potentially stay, but if they stay, then they won’t have any more role or at least nothing big because inequality has vanished. In Ben-Zeév ‘s analysis, he stated that when those labels are gone, the level of envy humans have with each other would probably increase. How? Because there are no more barriers like ‘people’s positions’ or ‘fame’ to push us into the rational way of handling envious emotions. When we have labels, we could use people’s labels to not become envious of them and stay in our own lane just like how we prefer it.
Francis Baron also added “….and therefore kings are not envied but by kings.” The citizens wouldn’t envy a king, only another king would envy the king.
Just like in nowadays’ social situations, if we’re not a celebrity, we wouldn’t envy a super famous celebrity, or at least not that much because we could use their stamp as ‘celebrities’ to think that fame is a part of their whole ‘lane’ and we are not celebrities, so it would be deemed irrational to envy a celebrity for their fame or something that we simply never desire or work on. But if those ‘social labels’ aren’t considered as checklists in our viewpoints anymore, then humans could be envious towards any other humans around them, with specific and believable reasons or without any reason at all.
Ben-Zeév actually wrote a whole journal under the title ‘Envy and Inequality‘. One of the expansion of his envy-inequality relationship analysis is how envy actually includes ‘the desire to eliminate inequality; the subject’s unequal (namely, inferior) position compared to the object’s position.’ So it’s not just inequality that breeds forms of envy, envy can also breeds the desire, that could undergo evolution into drive to eliminate inequality.
It’s like if I feel envious towards my friend whose public persona is better and more well-received by the public, then I can have the desire to stop thinking that my friend has a better public persona than me, either by trying to break the ‘label’ so people )including me) can start thinking universally without deeming anyone’s public persona ‘better than the other one over there’ or by working hard to improve my public persona so it could be as well-received by public as it is well-received for my friend’s.
Social inequality and envy have this mutual relationship where they keep growing and affecting each other like a circle which grows together. Let’s also not forget how envy is a part of human nature, it’s inside us, not just in terms of social inequality. The same with social inequality itself, it doesn’t always feeds off envy or defeated by envy, but it surely has a strong, interesting relationship with the infamous envy.