Envy and Resentment Often Lurk Just Below the Surface

Envy is one of the most pervasive human emotions, yet it’s rare that you find someone who admits to it. But someone just did. In a WSJ article the author, Lee Siegel, compares the rise of Asian-Americans with that of Jewish-Americans. He writes,

Some of the more vehement attacks on Amy Chua’s deliberately provocative 2011 memoir of child rearing, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” were perhaps fueled by resentment of Asian-American ascendancy, especially in the context of raising “perfect” children. Confession: I was one of the book’s more vocal detractors. Was I, a Jewish-American writer, driven to pique, in part, by a member of a group that threatens Jewish-American cultural domination, just as American Jews once threatened the WASP mandarinate? Well, maybe.

Wow. Thank you Mr. Siegel for your honesty in admitting that your earlier criticism of Amy Chua’s style of child-rearing was partly fueled by a resentment (i.e. envy) of Asian-American ascendancy. (And it’s a bit ironic that this is coming from someone who’s part of a group that often itself is a target of envy and resentment.)

This is so revealing – and not just in Siegel’s case. One extrapolates that many opinions and observations that one comes across in the media and elsewhere actually derive from selfish and petty human foibles, rather than from substance. It shows that everything should be taken with a grain of salt. The next time one comes across a scathing criticism of Mitt Romney or whoever, one should ask whether the person doing the criticizing has too much envy running through his or her veins.

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On another but related subject, the article points out that Asian-Americans, to their credit, enjoy the highest incomes of any racial group in the United States. And as well they should, thanks to their admirable focus on education and hard work. (One example is that, in my local area and I’m sure elsewhere, Asian-Americans far more than Americans of other extractions send their children to academics-focused summer school. And that makes perfect  sense. Three months of summer vacation is an anachronism – based on the desire to let children work on the farms back when we primarily were an agricultural society. America never fixed that, and now it’s practically impossible because the teachers unions would be so resistant. Even though they mostly enjoy good salaries for working only nine months of the year — like Chicago where they earn $75K — were we to propose a 10 or 11 month school year, the unions would of course demand a big salary increase to compensate for it. And that would be too expensive so it’s unlikely that it ever would fly.)

The statistic in the article that Asian-Americans enjoy the highest incomes reminded me of a class-warfare-laden “infographic” about a year ago in LiveScience focusing on the top 1 percent (yes, it was class warfare in what should be a science-focused publication), which I wrote about previously. It included a bar graph of average incomes of racial groups in America: white, black, and Hispanic. It showed that whites had the highest incomes – and the tone of the graphs did not put people with high incomes in a favorable light. But it conspicuously left out average incomes of Asian-Americans.

That no doubt was because the writers and editors of the publication wanted to convey the impression that the inequality and other ills of America stem from the actions of upper-income white Americans. In the context of that infographic, it would have been very politically incorrect to show that a minority group actually has higher average incomes than those of European extraction. So they simply left out that inconvenient fact. It was one of the most blatant examples of journalist malpractice I had ever seen.