“There is a family that live adjacent to the property. When my nephew planted the vegetables and were almost a foot tall, these people had their little children (ages 8-12) went over the fence and trampled on all the growing vegetables. When my nephew went there to see his plants, almost all were damaged from being trampled. This is the kind of mentality I find it hard to understand.” – Dora The Mouse
It is true. I have experienced this when I was a young pupil in Bulan South Central School. We used to have our gardening class under the late Mr. Gillego who was a strict teacher though, I think, was a very kind and considerate person. It just happened that one day we found our rows of vegetable plots all ravaged, pechay (chinese white cabbage) twisted. So it was already common at that time to take revenge, express resentment or envy indirectly by destruction of plants. I have known this behavior but have forgotten it with the passage of time. Dora’s report made me sit down and write my thoughts about it.
Well, what a way to show crab mentality. For parents to tolerate such an anti-social and anti-nature destructive behavior is “jenseits von Gut und Böse” (Nietzsche) – beyond good and evil.
In the face of poverty, this attack is also directed against the culprits themselves without them maybe realising this. But there is more to this phenomenon if we try to examine it closer.
Let’s go back to the roots- not the twisted roots of our pechay- but to the motivating forces behind such a behavior.
Envy. It is a very strong human emotion and it is activated only within inter-personal relations; defined as an “emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it” or “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.”
Therefore, it has something to do with one’s perception of him/herself in relation to the other. Usually it leads to valuation of oneself in relation to the other, hence, self-esteem is very much connected to the emotion of envy. In general terms, people with low or negative self-esteem tend to be more envious of others. But low self-esteem is a human character trait, hence, not a poor-specific negative trait but is to be found even among the super rich and highly-intelligent individuals.
Philosophers and psychologists have studied this human emotion at great length. For instance, Aristotle defined it as “the pain caused by the good fortune of others”, and Immanel Kant as “a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another’s”. Now, Bertrand Russel goes a step farther when he says that envy not only renders the envious person unhappy but also wishes to “inflict misfortune on others.”
To inflict misfortune on others.With these Bertrand’s words, the social component of envy now enters the scene and this is the point where this emotion becomes not only a purely personal affair but it becomes the cause of much of human social-interaction problems. As a rule, one intense negative emotion triggers another one such as anger which then translates itself into overt, aggressive action as trampling the garden vegetables or other things belonging to the other, directly or indirectly hurting the other or in extreme cases to a much more heavier crimes like burning the other’s house, poisoning or murder. Between families or clans this has led to vendettas or tribal hostilities, and among nations this has led to great wars- inflicting misfortunes on others.
Instinct of Competition. There is much more hidden in the seemingly normal and harmless emotion of envy. Beneath it is the mother of all survival instinct- that of competition. Biological creatures compete for natural resources as food, water, light, niche and mates and the denser the population in a given area, the more intense is the competition among men, among animals and among plants,- the “fittest” survive, following the law of natural selection.
Mankind has been competing for more other things than the plants and animals but as of now not for air to breath, which may become a reality in the future when air pollution has advanced to a deadly degree, not in all areas of the earth maybe, but which in turn would trigger spill-over problems to the neighboring countries and finally to competition for land and other resources due to the exodus of population in search of air to breathe. A horror scenario which I hope only remains in my theoretical consideration.
In my own observation, envy in Bulan greatly mixes with another human emotion- that of pride. That people just trample the garden products instead of stealing and eating them is a sign of envy-motivated aggression and pride. It is just aimed to create damage to the neighbor, the object of envy.
Constructive and Destructive. Competition is the driving force behind social change, market economies and human interaction. It improves race, culture, products, learning and knowledge. Some sociobiologists say that competition can be classified as constructive and destructive competition, whereby the former promotes mutual survival among competing groups whereas the latter seeks only the destruction and elimination of the competing groups. This is true in extreme cases and in lower forms of organisms (which strictly speaking may also be constructive in so far as it serves in the end the survival or self- propagation of the specific organism). But I think that these two classifications overlap in practice and among civilized humans it is a matter of degree and conscious choice. For even two warring groups of human being, for instance, it is in each group’s interest to avoid deadly clashes as much as possible. This behavior already implies an unconscious need for mutual survival. In this case, to compete is more closer in meaning to the original latin word “competere”, which means “to seek together” or “to strive together”.
This problem in Bulan regarding trampling and destruction of garden vegetables may be classified not only as a destructive form of competition and- in my view- a fruitless (unproductive one) for the motive is just to destroy and not to gain commercial advantage over the victim. A purely emotional affair that doesn’t benefit anybody in Bulan.
Does election benefit anybody in Bulan? When Bulaneños compete for an elected position, we hope that they don’t trample one another or twist each other’s neck but rather that it be more constructive in nature where each party thinks not only of winning but strive together to solve the problems of Bulan community- even after the election. Transcending envy, pride and resentment may not be easy but I guess there is the key for Bulan’s improvement. In a town where green-eyed monsters and hatred rules, there will be no progress. But perhaps progress only for one’s own family or clan.
But here is an interesting point about the theory of evolution and politics: If the strongest and most superior in all aspects and he who has the most of the materials and money to buy votes dominate and win each election, is he to be considered the fittest, hence, morally superior being also? And does it improve the moral superiority of his offsprings? Or has the darwinian theory evolution (whose goal is the improvement of the species through natural selection) nothing to do with the genealogy of morals, which means that the most morally base candidates are the “fittest” in the Philippine elections?
The Religious Bulan. Every Sunday, the Bulan Parish Church is filled with more or less the same people occupying more or less the same seats. Hence, it is normal to expect that people should be familiar with the catholic teaching that envy is considered as one of the seven deadly sins, together with pride, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust and wrath. The corresponding biblical passage is found in The Book of Exodus (20:17) which states:
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”
To covet is one of the synonyms for envy. That we should not covet “anything that belongs to your neighbor” – including the neighbor’s garden with its fruits and vegetables- is a clear instruction for the christian community. Every Sunday the parish church of Bulan is preaching on this moral value and it is for each individual- from an elementary pupil to a politician- to implement this into action in his daily life. Small thing that makes a difference.
By the way, looking at this list of seven deadly sins I am inclined to sum it all up in one word- which is corruption.
Schadenfreude or delighting in others’ misfortune. Closely correlated with envy is Schadenfreude, a German word which is used as a loanword in English to denote the pleasure derive from the misfortune of others, a definition that brings us closer to the psychology of sadistic behavior. If according to Aristotle, envy is the pain caused by the good fortune of others, then Schadenfreude is the defense mechanism that reverses it. From pain to pleasure principle. For it is not enough that the envy person suffers. He must do something against it. Pechay or tomatoes trampled and destroyed or if a misfortune occurred to the envied person and thinking “buti nga sa’ yo” (it serves you right) or giggles within is a typical Schadenfreude manifestation.
Is it right to delight in other’s misfortune? Common sense tells us that it is not right; and parents also do not teach their children to do it among themselves or to delight in their parent’s misfortune like grave sickness, accident, or death. Immanuel Kant would negate it for in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics he proposes that you should “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law ” – his known concept of Categorical Imperative. Thus, strictly speaking, Schadenfreude is a clear example of something that we cannot will to become a universal law.
Or if you prefer a Biblical passage to justify it, here it is: “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.” (Proverbs 24:17-18 )
Perhaps Schadenfreude, sadistic thinking- or as the medieval church called it morose delectation- is as old as mankind, prohibited by the medieval church, considered morally base by some ethicists, yet exists today and accompanies our daily social life. This cannot be annihilated, yet tempered by training and deep reflection. Cogito, ergo sum– I think, therefore I am- a mental formula handed over to us by Descartes.
If you think the catholic people do not practice what they learn every Sunday, then visit a Buddhist friend or a Buddhist monk to give you some explanations. For unlike most other people from other churches or religions, Buddhist people practice what they preach or the instruction they receive. They don’t kill because they’ve been instructed so. In history, we learn that christians have enjoyed butchering one another. They even took joy conquering and colonizing other people, plundering and abusing them for centuries- all in the name of Christianity.
Wisdom and compassion to all characterize Buddhistic philosophy. It is not heaven that will make you happy, but it is in being happy now that will bring you to heaven, a buddhist acquaintance once told me. No wonder why Buddhism possesses also a counter formula to our primitive Schadenfreude or envy- and this is called mudita or happiness in another’s good fortune. Happiness and not pain, herein lies the difference, herein lies the key to understanding what that buddhist friend told me. The Buddhistic logic tells us then that compassion means unhappiness at another’s misfortune, not “buti nga sa ‘yo” or to celebrate it, dance around and even thank God for it.
Reality Check. Where else but in a brain research laboratory can we verify the truth in Proverbs 24: 17-18 or the Buddhist compassion. With today’s super computers and medical equipments such as CT (Computer Tomography), MRI (Magnet Resonance Imaging), PET (Positron-Emission Tomography), etc., there is almost no more place to hide your emotions- and soon perhaps your thoughts. These equipments will scan every millimeter- and maybe soon every nanometer (a billionth of a meter!) of your brain, transforming its electrical activities to colorful images.
Indeed, some studies conducted to measure envy, Schadenfreude and compassion have shown that Proverbs 24: 17-18 was right in its admonishment to “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth”. For namely, the brain reward or joy centers of subjects in these studies were stimulated or activated when they heard that people whom they envied had met with a misfortune and the like- our famous Schadenfreude at work!- or their brain empathy centers lit up when people in the experiment whom they perceived as good (or not as subject of their envy) received electric shock which caused them pains or unjustified suffering.
Well, will the truth really set us free? The coming 2010 election is the best opportunity in Bulan to observe Envy, Schadenfreude and perhaps also Compassion.
Till the next cup of coffee..