You Shall Have No Gods Before Envy
If you are a true leftist, then you shall covet. Your life is built around a chronic feeling of lack for which you imagine that others are responsible. Unlike some of the other commandments, which at least rouse the person into action -- however evil the action -- envy is entirely passive and internal, and can be done from the discomfort of your own head. While it can become active, it is generally powerless unless it embodies a pathological cultural value system or is translated into a collective political movement. Absent the collective will of envy, it can only ruin your own life.
Why is the commandment to envy so central to the nihilistic left? Lying, stealing, murdering and adultery all harm others, but envy seems only to affect oneself. True, it is absolutely corrosive to the self, but why should it be among the five horizontal commandments governing man-to-man relations?
Because envy is not just an emotion, or mental state. Rather, it is a relationship. It is a relationship with an other whom one feels possesses something lacking in oneself. It is actually first an internal object relationship, only projected outward. In other words, there is an envious mind parasite in dynamic rapport with a frustrating object it feels is "withholding" that to which it feels entitled -- ultimately it is a frustrated infant imagining a bountiful breast that is selfishly keeping its infinite supply of milk and other goodies to itself. Therefore, it will either seize the breast or attack it so that no one else can have it. At various times leftists can adopt either strategy toward the breast, which they call their "economic policy."
Now importantly, the leftist necessarily operates in an "insight free" zone, so he naturally focuses on the object of envy, and in fact, builds his entire worldview around feeling enviously entitled to the object he lacks. But a mature person realizes that the absence is within, and that it is infinite. Being that it is infinite, it cannot be filled by a finite object. Rather, ipso facto, it can only be filled by an infinite object. We call this object.... Well, let's not call it anything just yet. Let us just say that man is born with an "appetite for the infinite" which the spiritually naive man confuses with an infinite appetite.
For example, let's say I am envious of John Edwards. He is fabulously wealthy, I am not. It's not exactly fair, is it? I'm much smarter than that vacuous intellectual cipher, plus the parasite made millions by promulgating vile lies and duping juries, while I slave away here in the dark, telling the unvarnished truth and working for tips.
But in reality, I definitely have everything I need, most of what I want, and a lot more than I deserve, so his "disproportionate" wealth is of no consequence to me. Rather, it's his problem. In fact, in order for me to "want" to be him, I would first have to make myself considerably more unhappy by focusing on all the things I don't have, which would leave me little time to be happy and enjoy what I already have. And then, like Edwards, I might have to be willing to compromise and damage my eternal soul and do or say anything to obtain those things I feel I lack and deserve.
Now, don't get me wrong. As Smoov mentioned yesterday, there can be no objection whatsoever to, say, the passionate businessman who becomes wealthy by fulfilling a real need in people. But an unproductive, free-riding parasite such as Edwards operates in the dark societal interstices where envy flourishes. Were some of his lawsuits legitimate? I assume so. But he's not going to give back the millions he defrauded from insurance companies with junk science. In fact, he's not even going to apologize for hurting so many doctors, or for harming so many women and children by driving ob/gyn physicians out of North Carolina, or for making everyone's health insurance premiums just a little higher.
In any event, in order for me to live in John Edwards' "two Americas," I would first have to figure out which America I live in. It's definitely not Edwards' America, so I guess I got the short end of the stick. Damn. I guess I'm one of the cosmic losers being oppressed by his America. Now what do I do? Insist on government mandated haircare? Can I go to the emergency room with a bad haircut, and get it fixed for free? Should we all get vouchers for Rogaine? Why not? Medicare already pays for grandpa's Viagra. Yes, a portion of your tax dollars helps maintain Hugh Hefner's flagging sexual viability -- never mind what the constitution says about the separation between crotch and state.
I guess I would have to begin by identifying and nurturing this feeling of emptiness, or lack of fulfillment, followed by imagining that there is something out there that could make this painful state go away: a 30,000 square foot mansion, a $400 haircut, the presidency. But in my case, I know that these things wouldn't help, for they would just represent a bogus cure for a wound that I myself created. Or maybe it's Adam's fault. Whatever. There's nothing Democrats can do to fix it.
So, I could spend my life envying others, but it would simply ruin my own brief life, and I have more better and less bitter things to do.
And in any event, the only way to give envy some real "teeth" is by collectively joining with other envious individuals and starting a movement. Now, one thing you will immediately notice is that this cannot just be a group of the envious losers -- the perpetually bitter and dysfunctional dailykos types. For one thing, they are indeed losers, and a group of them couldn't accomplish much. Rather, they must form a coalition with the envied, which is why the Democratic party consists of an alliance between the envious and envied -- specifically, those elites who cannot tolerate the murderous "evil eye" of the envious.
This is why it is such a hoot that people still believe that Democrats are the party of "the little guy." In fact, the Democrats have far more wealthy donors than the Republican party, while the Republican party has many more donations from so-called "little guys" -- although no conservative thinks of himself as "little" except in comparison to his spiritual betters -- those with more courage, wisdom, or other virtues.
One cannot help noticing that a disproportionate number of wealthy Democrat donors are people who must unconsciously know that they have no useful talent and contribute nothing to society -- indeed, perhaps even harm society, such as many Hollywood celebrities, infrahuman musicians, and marauding trial lawyers (as a group, not individuals, many of whom are obviously decent people who perform a valuable service). But one way to manage one's own envy is to project it into others and then try to appease it.
I believe this psychic mechanism is at the heart of the dynamic between the envied and the envious left. It is actually a common narcissistic defense. You might say that the empty narcissist projects his infantile "hungry mouth" into the "little people," whom he will feed so as to avoid unconsciously feeling that they will devour him with their envy. Indeed, this is why they are so transparently hypocritical -- i.e., pledging to use no more than one square of toilet paper while flying around on a private jet. Much of their so-called "activism" is simply a symbolic defense against the uncomfortable feeling of being envied by others. It makes no sense in the real world, only in the psyche of the activist.
Likewise, how guilty must Al Gore feel for becoming wealthy by promulgating junk science while jet-setting around with the envied class? So he purchases some bogus carbon offsets to even the psychic scales. Again, it has nothing to do with external reality.
(Most of the following is review material, so paleocoons are dismissed.)
As I wrote last summer, the tenth commandment is a fitting capstone to the first nine, since the injunction against envy is really more of a reward for a life well lived than an ultimatum. For envy is the most corrosive of emotions (or perhaps more accurately, “mental states”), in that it undermines any possibility of personal happiness or spiritual fulfillment. While it often takes the form of longing for what one doesn’t have, it is usually built on an unconscious foundation of being ungrateful for what one has, or even actively devaluing what one has, so that one constantly feels deprived. Thus, envy is often the residue of the inner emptiness caused by unconscious devaluation, "spoiling," and ingratitude.
One thing I have not yet done is fully elaborate the relationships between the various commandments. For example, there is a clear parallel between the first and the last commandments, for if you really appreciate the first, you won't have a problem with the last. Conversely, if you do yield to the temptation to envy, you essentially foreclose the space where God would otherwise be -- again, you turn the cosmos upside down and try to fill an infinite space with something finite.
Ultimately envy is a self-consuming process that leaves nothing but itself standing, like Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather II or Charles Foster Kane at the end of Citizen Kane. Both endings represent envy triumphant. All that is left of Kane is a huge warehouse of meaningless objects frantically acquired during a lifetime spent trying vainly to fill a psychological and spiritual void with possessions. It is appropriate that they are consigned to the fire, as the workers absently toss one after another into the flames.
Here we discover a certain confluence between Buddhism and the Judeo-Christian tradition, for Buddha is famous for his wise crack about desire being the source of our suffering. But actually, he was trying to make a point about attachment to desire. Desires will come and go, like smoke driven by wind. It is only when we attempt to clutch to them that they become problematic.
But even then, as I pointed out in One Cosmos, I find it useful to draw a distinction between appetite, which is natural, and desire, which is often mimetic, meaning that it is not spontaneous but prompted from the outside. Many people give themselves entirely over to this process, and lead "imitation" lives consisting of wanting what others seem to want. They are pushed and pulled around by fleeting desires, impulses and passions, but when one of them is being gratified, it gives rise to a spurious sense of “freedom,” when in reality this kind of ungoverned desire is the opposite of freedom.
It is very difficult to avoid this dynamic in a consumer-driven culture such as ours. It’s the kind of cliché that Petey detests, but we are constantly bombarded with messages and images that fan the fires of envy and mimesis. Sri Aurobindo referred to this as the “vital mind,” and the fundamental problem is that it cannot really be appeased. In other words, it doesn’t shrink when we acquiesce to it. Instead, it only grows, like an addiction or compulsion.
Importantly, the vital mind does not merely consist of impulses seeking discharge. Rather, it can take over the machinery of the host, and generate its own thoughts and rationalizations. We’ve all seen this happen in ourselves. "Yoga" in its most generic sense involves a reversal of this tendency, so that we may consciously yearn for what we actually want, rather than mindlessly will what we desire. This tends to be a constant battle at the beginning. But only until the end. Once again I am reminded of St. Augustine's insight that you had better be careful what you love, because wrongly ordered love is a spiritual catstrophe.
I remember reading Peter Guralnick’s excellent biography of Elvis, which chronicled just how convoluted the vital mind can become if left unchecked. It seems that someone can become so wealthy and powerful that they lose the friction necessary to distinguish between fantasy and reality. A sort of hypnotic, dreamlike imagination takes hold, which can become quite elaborate and unnatural. I am sure this accounts for the general nuttiness that comes out of the typical left-wing hollywoodenhead. They are so far removed from what you and I know of as reality, that they are both ontologically and epistemologically (not to say spiritually) crippled.
“Job one” of the vital mind is to foster a kind of I-amnesia, so that we repeatedly fool ourselves into believing that fulfillment of the next desire will finally break the cycle and bring us real contentment, but most Coons are well familiar with that wearisome drill. For in that gap between desire and fulfillment lies the hidden key. In that gap there is both anticipation and hope. But like the referred pain of a back injury that we feel in the leg, this hope is misplaced onto a realm incapable of fulfilling it. For, as it is written on someone's bumper, "you can never get enough of what you don’t really need."
This pattern of desiring what we don’t really want or need is well beyond merely affecting our spiritual lives. Rather, it is starting to seriously compromise even our physical well-being. At some point in the last 10-15 years, affluence became a more serious threat to health than poverty. The levels of obesity, type II diabetes, and other related health problems have become epidemic. Why? Because people are able to live in the vital mind as never before. The Western world is increasingly full of “poor” people whose bodies look like the most prosperous people of the past. They are still impoverished, but it is a spiritual impoverishment that causes them to try to fill the void with food and meaningless sedentary activities, such as television and video games. In a way, they are more impoverished -- not to say pathetic and lacking in dignity -- than the poor of the past.
Natural appetites can be satisfied, but the gods of abstract metaphysical desire are omnipotent and require constant tribute. That is one of the paradoxes, for one might think that the spiritually developed person lives in an “abstract” world, while the bovine, grazing multitudes live in the concrete world, but it is quite the opposite. The spiritual person becomes very concretely aware of subtle and fleeting little concrete joys on a moment-by-moment basis, where as the vital ones are only tuned into the most gross forms of sensory overload, whether in music, entertainment, or food (and I imagine the porn industry taps into this insensate population as well).
Here again we must bear in mind the limitlessness of the human imagination. We can always imagine something better, something that we don’t have. Any clown can do that. Much more tricky is being grateful for what we do have. Thus, the cultivation of humility and gratitude actively counter the vital mind and its constitutional envy. This may initially feel as if we are being deprived of our horizontal liberty, such as it is, and this is true. However, the whole point is to replace that with a more expansive vertical freedom that is relatively unconstrained by material circumstances, excluding the most dire cases whom we are indeed obligated to help.
And, just like my absurcular book, the commandments circle back around to the beginning, back to where we started, with the holographic first commandment that contains all the others. The secular left turns the cosmos upside down and inside out. As a result, instead of being conditioned in a hierarchical manner from the top down, it is conditioned from the bottom up. This results not in true liberation, only in rebellion and pseudo-liberation, for there can be no meaningful freedom outside objective Truth. The left rejects top-town hierarchies as intrinsically repressive, but the opposite is true -- only in being conditioned by the higher can we actually elevate and liberate ourselves from contingency and relativity.
Or, as Will once put it “Like any physical attribute, if the human intellect is not yoked to and governed by the Higher Intelligence, it runs amok and eventually goes crazy. It's taken some time to get there, but currently, the spiritually bereft intellect is basically in charge of most of the world's influential institutions, which of course means the world is in deep stew. As far as definitions of the Antichrist go, I think this would do OK.”
On the spiritual level, there is simply nothing more satanic than envy. The sword of gratitude is our only defense.
This oughtta work: make it against the law for well-paid CEOs to provoke my envy!