As the gap between rich and poor widens inexorably, I'm puzzled by the tolerance shown by poor humans towards the wealth possessed by the super-rich.
We need a word that means ‘rational aversion to other humans living a far more comfortable lifestyle than your own which you would like to enjoy yourself.’ Perhaps R.A.I.G. (Rational Aversion to Income Gaps). Currently our only option is the demeaning, pejorative term for a Deadly Sin, the Green-Eyed Monster, ‘Envy’.
|Adam Smith, Kirkcaldy-born Hero of Capitalist Theory|
Even social fairness advocate John Rawls thinks envy is horrid and undermines the self-respect of the poor, thus posing a threat to societal stability. But why so? It takes self-respect and a sensitivity to human dignity to recognise the absurdity of over-payment for doing nothing useful.
So I’m thrilled to discover that Aristotle is also puzzled. He notes the absence of a Greek word for people who fail to feel appropriate envy of the undeserving plutocrat. There wasn’t even a word in ancient Greek for that kind of incomprehension of economic reality.
In his ‘Golden Mean’ table in the Eudemian Ethics he lists twelve virtues. Each has two correlative vices caused by excess or deficiency. Courage in excess is recklessness, but in deficiency it is cowardice. Friendliness in excess becomes brown-nosing, but if deficient just means you're rude.
|Nemesis--Not Happy in 2016|
|Nemesis--Rational Aversion to Nasty Rich (with Good Luck)|
But there is some good news: ancient Greek does have a solution to my R.A.I.G problem. In Aristotle’s table, the rational and appropriate level of envy, a commendable sensitivity to inequality and desire to erase it, my cacophonous proposed virtue of R.A.I.G., is strong, holds a hint that the world can be changed, and rolls off the tongue: it is NEMESIS.
|Giving Eitner Lecture on February 18|