Part of the Liberty Fund network. Ivan is drawing the young and envious Nikolai further into a plot to disrupt Soviet society. He stews over the privileges and honors bestowed on others. Envy, says Schoeck, is something we all feel but hardly ever talk about. Other negative emotions are granted a degree of public respect.
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What better way to celebrate thanksgiving than to ponder envy? The envy Schoeck writes of is destructive. If I am jealous, I want to take what the other has. This desire for destruction is not bizarre if you adopt the mindset of a magic-filled and zero-sum world, apparently the norm for most of history and pre-history, and perhaps for most people in the world, still. In such a world a good harvest or successful hunt may only be obtained through black magic which ensures others will not succeed.
Apparently the evil eye and analogues intended to ward off the effects of envy are ubiquituous in pre-inudstrial human cultures, as are condemnation of envy and envy avoidance strategies. If we accept that envy is important and detrimental, what to do about it? Schoeck argues that removing the apparent causes of envy by making everyone more equal will not help.
Material factors form a socially necessary barrier against envy, protecting the person from physical attack. Some of the ways mentioned by Schoeck that societies have mitigated envy apart from condemning it include belief in fate or luck which can account for different outcomes in place of invidious magic , belief in non-envious gods, religious endorsement of individual achievement i. Regarding the last, Schoeck says a buyer will always be envied by a seller in pre-industrial society. Mass production and intermediaries perform envy arbitrage my made up term and thus remove a dangerous element hindering the division of labor.
While Schoeck surveys lots of historical, anthropological, personal, and literary anecdotes in support of his claims, it all seems rather hodge-podge. Most egregiously missing is any kind of evolutionary perspective. Animal pp. I suspect some of the anthropology Schoeck cites will have been discredited in the intervening forty years as well.
A man with property worth looting by the community could be certain of muru , even if the rea culprit was one of his most distant relatives. The same kind of thing was observable during European witch trials. If a Maori had an accident by which he was temporarily incapacitated, he suffered muru. Basically, any deviation from the daily norm, any expression of individuality, even through an accident, was sufficient occasion for the community to set upon an individual and his personal property.
The man whose wife committed adultery, the friends of a man who died, the father of a child that injured itself, the man who accidentally started a grass fire in a burial ground even though no on had been buried there for a hundred years are all examples—among innumerable others—of reasons on account of which an individual might lose his property, including his crops and his stores of food. In practice the institution of muru meant that no one could ever count on keeping any movable property, so that there could be no incentive to work for anything.
No resistance was ever offered in case of a muru attack. This would not only have involved physical injury but, even worse, would have meant exclusion from taking part in any future muru attack. So it was better to submit to robbery by the community, in the hope of participating oneself in the next attack. The final result was that most movable property—a boat, for example—would circulate from one man to the next, and ultimately become public property.
So who was stupid enough to build the boat? Schoeck cites p. A modern interpretation of muru seems to be here. A student paper on the Maori legal system largely citing this link is here , from the same Legal Systems Very Different From Ours class that produced an informative paper on the Aztec legal system I mentioned previously.
Schoeck also claims in various places e. On this topic he never moves beyond mere assertion and is not convincing. I enjoyed reading Envy , and much of the enjoyment came not directly from the subject at hand, but from seeing the world through the eyes of a slightly different time period and culture. Some items I found interesting follow.
Why bother with an income tax … presumably the state pays everyone? I know almost nothing about how communist economies actually functioned. They were dedicated to equality, but would be drawing high salaries in government.
They got over it quickly. In , when the Soviet Union had already set its course unequivocally in the direction of private property and a consumer society. Was Schoeck amazingly prescient or engaging in wishful thinking? Was this conventional wisdom among sovietologists in the early s, or would Schoeck have been considered crazy for this statement? This sounds completely normal, until you consider the location and years.
Schoeck would have been 19 in How did he escape the army? He looks able-bodied in a photograph. Someone I mentioned this to joked that perhaps Shoeck was so envied during this period for having avoided the Wehrmacht that he became obsessed with envy. What is the real story? Perhaps Bryan Caplan will write such a book. Book review: Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior by Helmut Schoeck This book makes a moderate number of interesting claims about envy and its economic effects, interspersed with some long boring sections.
The claims are mostly not backed up by strong ar…. Mail will not be published. Did Dr. Seuss write this? A bit more: In practice the institution of muru meant that no one could ever count on keeping any movable property, so that there could be no incentive to work for anything.
A biographical page included in the front of Envy contains this amazing sentence: He was a student of medicine and psychology at the University of Munich from to Bayesian Investor Blog says:. Envy… Book review: Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior by Helmut Schoeck This book makes a moderate number of interesting claims about envy and its economic effects, interspersed with some long boring sections.
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Wanting the Worst
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For fifteen years, starting in , Schoeck would work as a professor at various U. In , he taught philosophy at Fairmont State College , followed by a two-year stint at Yale. At Emory University he was awarded a full professorship in sociology. In , Schoeck returned to Germany, where he obtained a chair in sociology at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz , which he would occupy until his retirement in