The Outstater

April 16, 2022

The ‘Envy Thesis’

“Proverbs in many languages agree that the greatest damage done by the envious man is to himself.” — Helmut Schoeck, “Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior”

A NOTED LAW PROFESSOR  said something outrageous last week, outrageous even in this age of daily outrages. She said that the politics of American blacks was motivated by unbridled envy.

Amy Wax, 69, of the University of Pennsylvania, says blacks harbor “resentment” over Western achievements, that is, those of whites. “I think there is just a tremendous amount of resentment and shame of non-Western peoples against Western peoples for Western peoples’ outsized achievements and contributions,” she said.

She described it as an “unholy brew” of envy.

Surely, the exposition of Dr. Wax, a woman of exceptional achievement from a family of immigrants, was necessarily compressed by the interview format. But her comments, as they stood, were an example of the all too common painting of groups with a single brush, and can be condemned for that reason. It is even more troublesome when someone presumes to know the motives of a single individual let alone an entire community.

And finally, it assumes that any of us is free of envy, the important question being whether we allow it to overrun our lives and poison our relationship with others.

In sum, Dr. Wax’s comments were based on an observation leading to a premise, one with which almost everyone I know would quarrel but one that can be tested and if found faulty dismissed.

Of course it would not only be black politicians who insist on policies that hurt their constituencies. But the redistributionism disaster that is the Great Society is well documented. And then there are the demeaning and futile affirmative-action formulas kept in place for five decades now by the Democratic Party, for which blacks vote in near unanimity.

But where the puzzle falls off the table is at the local urban level. It is there that blacks have gained political representation or at least leverage and are most in charge of their own fate. As Thomas Sowell has said, racism isn’t dead but it is on life support, “Kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as ‘racists.'”

Jackson, Mississippi, which is 82 percent black and is represented by black elected officials from bottom to top, has a crime rate higher than most undeveloped countries. Check out Baltimore or Philadelphia. There are parts of Hoosier Indianapolis with a higher murder rate than Capone’s Chicago.

How, then, do we explain black politicians who insist that crime control be “equitable” in that the absolute number of arrests be comparable in all sectors of a city? Where crime is rampant, this makes public safety and what Americans consider normal life impossible.

Instead, we now have begun a string of Potemkin-like projects in our southeast quarter. These are feel-good projects (housing and retail) that resemble those in other quarters but have no market underpinning. Their business plans depend on continual shoring from quasi-official sources and a forever need to refinance.

That is so even though the city only a few years ago had to bulldoze a failed shopping center on the south side built in 1969 with subsidies to mirror the one on the north side. It was testimony — or should have been — to the folly of such economic-development schemes.

For those who own private businesses, black or white, are not stupid, and such faux development only squanders community hope and trust. Present or future, what start-up black businesses need — inordinately — is relief from taxes and regulation, even if it means allowing white businesses similar relief.

Both white and black families need to feel safe in their homes, to be able walk or drive to a nearby grocery store — to even have a nearby grocery store. But black political leaders steadfastly oppose the policies that would make any of that possible.

Again, what is the explanation?

Try as I might, I cannot dismiss Amy Wax’s contention entirely. Someone smarter will have to take that on. He or she, though, will have to grant that the policies pushed by today’s black political class seem designed to institutionalize envy, to first of all blame, shame or punish the white population, preferably by means of direct reparation.

In the few places where it is challenged at all, the debate is over whether this anti-white stance is justified by past injustice and slavery. Amy Wax is asking whether it is self-defeating as well. There should be answers to both questions. — tcl


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