In recent years, biologists have become increasingly aware that religion is not a disease of the mind as some scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, have believed. Its near-universal presence across cultures and throughout the ages implies that it has an adaptive advantage. Those of our forefathers who were naturally disposed toward religion tended to be more successful and live longer.
All prevalent mental traits likely have an adaptive function that improves the odds of survival. Fear and anger are great examples. Normally you don’t think of them as helpful, but when facing threats, they are tremendously useful in triggering the so-called “fight or flight” mechanism. If you perceive a threat to be too overwhelming, you get scared and flee. If instead you see it as manageable, you get angry and fight.
Freedom is a constant struggle – because envy is a renewable resource.
Envy and Socialism
But what about envy? Surely that is a base feeling with no utility?
Its prevalence suggests otherwise. We find envy in all cultures, and it seems that no matter how wealthy and equal a society gets, there are always people who find the tiniest of trivia to envy. The fact that it refuses to go away implies that it too evolved and provides some form of survival advantage. But what?
Since envy is the fundamental drive of socialism, the left provides us with a clue of its function. One of the progressive mantras is that anyone who gains an advantage and comes into a position of power inevitably starts abusing and exploiting those at the bottom of the hierarchy. It probably echoes a phenomenon that has been a reality in all tribes throughout the ages. If this is true, envy can be thought of as a biological warning that motivates the dispossessed to pre-emptively strike against a potential future abuser and exploiter.
The bad news is that if envy is in our genes, socialism is not going to go away. Every generation faces another threat to liberty. Freedom is a constant struggle – because envy is a renewable resource. Sadly, there are no easy solutions to this problem.
There is one type of envy that is particularly dangerous: That of the almost-talented. These people tend to be of well above average intelligence. As the cognitive elite, they have better educations and positions in society that most, but they’re stuck at the very bottom of the top. Therefore, they rarely excel and are usually outdone by those even smarter and more talented than themselves.
These become postmodernist professors in universities, or midlevel HR managers in corporations like Google or Patreon – or they become politicians. They peddle in social justice, and conjuring hatred towards America and capitalism is part of their day job. Unlike most other envious people, these actually have the power to create trouble for the rest of us.
One way to reduce the problem is to talk about it to make people aware of the mechanism. Most folk recognize that envy is far from a virtuous motivation, and those who grow aware of their own unconscious feelings may take more care in acting upon them.
In an ideal world, the best way to solve the problem of envy is to create a society that allows all people to climb hierarchies and excel in their own field. That’s easier said than done, but it does suggest that reducing barriers to entry and climbing in hierarchies is the best available strategy for protecting society against the ravages of this most destructive system.