Reflection Society

Is it just envy?

Liked #69: Envy brain by Haley Nahman (Maybe Baby)

I could talk for hours about the godforsaken Love Island franchise and in fact consider myself its prisoner. But today I’m here only to discuss a social phenomenon I’ve observed on the show and extrapolated (naturally) into a conclusion about society writ large.

Insecurity was flooding my system, and I was so eager to stop the flow that I was desperate to discredit him.

“The response on Twitter resembled moral outrage, but what people were upset about was not that she had a party—I mean, wouldn’t you escape to a private island if you had [the money]? The problem was more that she tweeted about it, and that the tweet was [cringe]. But if having the party wasn’t wrong, then why was tweeting about it wrong? This isn’t a good look. Bad optics. Not relatable. But relatability is not a moral category. This is PR, it’s not ethics. … Isn’t the issue that when Kim tweeted this, most people were trapped in quarantine? We didn’t get to have birthday parties—some people couldn’ t even travel to visit their dying relatives. So watching Kim get to travel and celebrate her birthday like normal was…painful. ‘Pain at the good fortune of others’ is how Aristotle described envy. And I think it’s interesting that whenever social media erupts in outrage over luxury music festivals or Kim Kardashian’s birthday party or Jameela Jamil’s privileged pores, nobody ever uses the word envy. It’s like we’re averting our eyes; avoiding confrontation with this dark aspect of our own psychology.” — Natalie Wynn

The presence of envy doesn’t necessarily negate the soundness of a critique, nor should being in an enviable position make you immune to criticism—but criticism is stronger when it’s not a cover for something else. And envy, meanwhile, is a shitty moral navigator, leading us only to short-term, punitive solutions. There are so many forces conspiring to generate envy in modern society: social media, rampant income inequality, profligate consumerism which begets more consumerism. Envy, in other words, is good for business.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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