The Tool of Conceit
To say that conceit is man’s greatest folly would only be partially correct. The expression only paints half the picture, in that, conceit is proper and just if the individual merits it, yet clearly not all do. If conceit is only a mental or philosophical construction, then how can we say that it is abundantly prevalent in reality (or the physical world)? What is the driving force or application that allows the mental conceptualization of ‘conceit’ to become manifested in physical reality? Slavoj Žižek discusses that violence, or the fundamental act of violation, is partially the result of ‘envy’. The author discusses the concepts of ‘envy’ based on amour-de-soi and amour-propre, or in layman’s terms, “that love of self which is natural” and the “perverted preferring of oneself to others in which a person focuses not on achieving a goal, but on destroying the obstacle to it.” Therefore it is ‘envy’ that is the actual tool in which human conceit is allowed to make its grand and at times destructive appearance to all cultures, nations, and people of the Earth.
However if ‘envy’ is the tool of human conceit, then how is it that there is great disparity between the phenomenal consequences of envious individuals? In his book, Slavoj claims the fundamental reason there is ‘envy’ is derived from the St. Augustinian example of one brother being quite jealous of the other who is suckling his mother’s breast, he furthers the explanation, saying;
“Let’s return to the Augustinian scene of a sibling envying his brother who is suckling at the mother’s breast. The subject does not envy the Other’s possession of the prized object as such, but rather the way the Other is able to enjoy this object, which is why it is not enough for him simply to steal and thus gain possession of the object. His true aim is to destroy the Other’s ability/capacity to enjoy the object.”
Here comes to light some fundamental echoes of Hobbesian philosophy: the ultimate desire of every human is to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain. The fact that “the Other is able to enjoy the object” has created a view in the first brother’s mind that his pleasure is being negated by his brother’s action, therefore he must rid of his brother to gain access to his coveted desire. This is assuming that the coveted desire of the brother is obtainable in the first place. If the envious brother is conscious of ‘envy’ and aware of his “negated pleasure” and decides to act on it from his own free will, then most likely or not he has passed the very stage of needing to “suckle the mother’s breast”. Away from this example and to put it bluntly, is the coveted desire only that or is it actually obtainable for the individual based upon their ability to acquire various “things”?
Why Pity is a Difficult Emotion
Here in lies a potential dilemma, and the reason as to why two types of envious individuals could exist. Slavoj, on page 76 of the book, offers what “Nietzsche and Freud share is the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy” –
“on the envy of the Other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is thus ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the Other should be curtailed so that everyone’s access to jouissance is equal.”
Here we have a disturbing philosophy of the envious who seek to rid of an obstacle, to gain “access” to a coveted desire that states, “since it is not possible to impose equal jouissance, what is imposed instead, to be equally shared, is prohibition.” Therefore let us attempt to define a relevant quality of envious individuals who attempt to remove obstacles instead of acquire pleasures: talent. By definition, talent means both, “general intelligence or mental power; ability,” and, most strikingly, “the natural endowments of a person.” If one person has talent, as previously defined; then a person might feel the natural inclinations of ‘envy’ respective to more “successful” others, but ultimately will acquire that which is to their profit or pleasure. Here is the root cause that creates the distinction between malicious envy (amour-propre) and benign envy (amour-de-soi).
An individual who constantly is seeking to rid the Other of their enjoyment is suffering from their vivid vision of coveted desires, and thus construct mental justifications to remove those who enjoy acquired pleasures. This is done, in order to create a malicious and false sense of equality to their own talentless efforts to acquire pleasure on their own merits. A person, who has benign envy, can look at another successful person and be jealous, but then seek through their own talent and ability to acquire the same success as the Other. It is the person that is endlessly suffering from malicious envy that finds no other reasonable course of action than to destroy and take away the other’s acquired talents because the envious person never had the means to do the same themselves. It is from the brother’s consciousness that he is not “capable and well endowed” to commit to and enjoy the suckling of the mother’s breast, which forces him to rid of the brother rather than to become capable of the acquiring the pleasure. Amour-propre or malicious envy, stems from a philosophy not only of hatred for the Other and their talents, but also the hatred of their talentless self.
Altruism, but more distinctly, altruism based on selfless devotion and compassion to others is the camouflage of this malicious envy and all the destruction, stagnation and evil suffering it piles upon the human race. Having compassion for the talentless gives the means of malicious envy an almost free reign upon the talents of man and all the achievements that it sets out to create for the betterment of the species. Pity would almost be acceptable to give to the talentless man, yet upon looking at the current state of affairs of Earth, how can you pity those who are the root cause of so much destruction and violence against innocent people? We are not a people of deserving cases and should not be treated as such; yet the collective compassion of man unknowingly justifies and rewards the philosophy of those who have chained Prometheus to the mountains, forever tortured for giving fire to man.