Envy and all that negative stuff

Are those out of power post-election envious of those now in power? Nigel Warburton in the June edition of Prospect thinks they are.

He refers to Bertrand Russell’s argument that envy is the driving force of democracy. ‘That’s not fair’ are among our earliest words, and we envy what others have right through to adulthood.

But envy and all the negative emotions that go with it are only half the story.

If we reject compassion as a feeble Christian virtue as Nietzsche did then envy does indeed have the field to itself. But if we allow compassion a central role in our lives then it’s a different story.

Our daily lives and our political lives are entirely different if we see our natural condition as co-operation rather than struggle.

Envy is of course always with us, but there’s envy that we shrug at and accept and envy that is visceral and turns into hatred. Warburton chooses (maybe just to make a clever point) to make no mention of compassion and accepts envy as a blanket term, with no gradations. He allows in his short piece no other human condition.

Envy maybe has a restraining role to play. But in a working democracy basic human feelings such as compassion, caring and a sense of justice can and should transform the exercise of power.

So post-election, let’s forget the belly-aching. Put envy behind us, not indulge it. Think positive. Quite apart from anything else, it’s easier that way.

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