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.

LiveScience Should Examine the Science of Envy, Using Itself as a Research Subject

Here’s a comment I wrote in response to a LiveScience article titled “5 Facts about the Wealthiest 1 Percent”:

“Hey LiveScience, have you ever thought about writing an article about the science of envy?

For manifestations of envy, you could point to this very article. It plays on people’s envy. It clearly implies and assumes that rich people getting richer is an inherently bad thing. But what if the rich get richer while the lower-income groups get richer as well (which by and large was happening until the Obama years)? That’s a good thing. Only the envious would think it’s a bad thing. And envy is an immature and destructive emotion; one should not base public policy on it.

And by the way, it is probably true that wealth inequality is rising. But wealth inequality is mainly a function of inequality of education. Our educational system is breaking down and our dropout rate is high, resulting in millions of uneducated, unemployable, and low-income people. And our lax immigration policies are resulting in millions upon millions of uneducated people arriving here from the third world who can’t even speak English. Do you expect them to be instantly rich or middle-class as soon as they cross the border? Of course not.

So you should have discussed the main factor that is causing rising income inequality, namely inequality of skill levels.

The ironic thing is that people on the left wail the loudest about inequality, yet it is they, through their support of near-open borders, of education-stifling teachers’ unions, and of job-destroying anti-business policies that give rise to worsening inequality in the first place.

Meantime, hey Natalie Wolchover (author of the article). I’m curious. Are you an envier? From the tone of this article, it appears so.”

And here’s a comment I posted in response to another LiveScience article titled, “Who Has the Money and Power?”

“Hey LiveScience, you should run an article on the science of envy. For manifestations thereof, you could point to your own articles such as this one, which really play on people’s sense of envy. The material here conveys the false impression that the rich are sinister and conspiring to hold the rest of us down. The graphs are really biased, too. Did you know that the top 1 percent’s income has actually substantially declined during the last few years, during the anemic economy? Nah – that wouldn’t jibe with the agenda you want to promote.

It’s also telling that in your race chart, you left out Asians, who have the highest income and net worth. I guess that would have been politically incorrect, eh? After all, you want to make it look like the evil white folks have all the money and power. Not that there’s anything wrong with Asians being the wealthiest race — they should be admired for that.”