As humans, we want. It’s in our nature. It could be something trivial, or it could be something vast and seemingly unachievable. For instance, I want to end the climate crisis and make sure that we stabilise the now fragile ecosystem. I don’t know if I want that because I can’t fathom a life without nature and an abundance of animal and plant life, or whether it is because, on a primal level, I fear for my own survival and that of my family.
But there is so much more than that. As someone who was raised in a working class family, I want a house. I want a roof over my head and a bed and car so that I can live my life in comfort. If I’m being honest with myself, that’s not all I want. As a working class person, I want the same kind of life that I see other people living. A wage that would not just buy me a car, but a car that is better for the environment than the grade of car that I can actually afford.
But I am being envious of those who have. Because I am someone who does not “have”. Why is expecting the same level of comfort or wanting more money to achieve fiscal security envious?
We are told that if we want to earn more, we should work harder and progress. That we should have a stronger work ethic. Maybe we should become entrepreneurs and make something new or get a skill that is in demand. This raises the question: why does the person who works all the hours under the sun just to get by earn less than someone who came up with an idea? After all, we are not all inventors. We don’t all spot some diamond in the rough that we can mine and make our riches. Many of us are just hard workers who turn up day after day to a job that we don’t care about but that brings in money to get us by. And we are told that we don’t have a good work ethic? That we lack dedication?
We are made to feel like we are not as deserving as someone who had a bright spark of an idea. What is worse is that “politics of envy” is not a term commonly used by people who have built a life for themselves from the ground up. It is used most by people who were born into wealth. People who have never known what it is to be working class and who have never had to worry about getting food on the table.
The very term “politics of envy” is in itself a clear indicator of the psychology of its users. It is to highlight a distinction between an “us” and “them.” The “us” have it, the “them” don’t. The phrase also drips with a disgusting level of contempt that the average worker. When this kind of phrase is used by someone within the upper echelons of society (someone like Jacob Rees-Mogg for instance) it has biblical and thus sinful connotations. Most disdainfully, it feels like a language of an authoritarian looking down at the lowest rungs of society.