Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Western Society: The Institutionalisation of Envy

Dressed Up And Living Like A Peacock

Sociologist Daniel Bell has drawn a picture of Western society that is so telling and true that it bears reprinting in full.  Whilst this was written in 1976, it is even more true and faithful a representation of the Western man in our day.  In other words, what Bell describes has proved so accurate that 40 years later it is even more true.

Without wanting to reduce or distort Bell's description, as you read keep in the back of your mind the current fascination with gender diversity, gender change, and the sociology of identity (as the tip of the iceberg).  Bell's commentary will thus appear profoundly prophetic.

What defines bourgeois [modern] society is not needs, but wants.  Wants are psychological, not biological, and are by their nature unlimited.  Society is seen not as a natural association of men--the polis or the family, ruled by a common purpose, but as a composite of atomistic individuals who pursue only their own gratification.  Man's psychology, as pictured by Hobbes in the first book of the Leviathan, is an appetitive drive which reverses the Platonic hierarchy of the rational spirit, but these appetites drive him ferociously to achieve his desires.

In a modern society, the engine of appetite is the increased standard of living and the diversity of products that make up so much of the splendid color of life.  But it is also, in its emphasis on display, a reckless squandering of resources.  The psychological origin of inequality . . . comes when "solitary" man begins to assemble and finds that the strongest, the handsomest, the best dancer and the best singer get an undue share of the goods.  Envy begins to show its face.  In order to be like the handsomest or the most artful, the others begin to dissemble, cosmetics are used to mask the rough and the ugly, appearances begin to count far more than reality.  If consumption represents the psychological competition for status, then one can say that bourgeois society is the institutionalization of envy.  [Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, Inc, 1976), p.22.]
When caucasian Rachel Dolezal represented herself as an ethnic African American she was being true to the outlook and values of Western secular society.  She wanted to be black; she identified with African Americans and African Americanism; she was achieving her own self-realisation.  Who could possibly object?  In her case it turned out that she had crossed a bridge too far.  But we suspect that she will turn out to be a prophetess, a cultural Joan D'Arc.  She was pursuing her dreams, her desire for gratification of self.  At that point, she was acting as a true daughter of modern secular society.  She was pursuing gratification of her wants--and who, pray tell, is anyone to gainsay or object, or resist.

What happens when such a culture, such a society as the West has become, is confronted with large numbers of migrating people whose view of society invokes a higher law and who view the self-indulgent West as morally evil?  At that point, it turns out that the West is a paper tiger.  It collapses.  And irony of ironies . . . the West will have opened wide its door to those who inevitably triumph over it.  A society which has institutionalized envy cannot stand the threat of legions which want to take it over by force and cleanse it from what it rightly sees as Western degradation and idolatry.

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