The Decalogue (Ten Commandments to you, tootsie) carved in stone by the hand of God and given to the Hebrews by Moses is arguably the most concise guide to virtue and road map to a peaceful society that ever appeared in the course of human events. Note that the first three commandments* govern the relationship between man and God while the remaining seven govern our relations with our neighbors. The simplicity is sheer perfection: honor mom and dad; don’t commit murder; don’t commit adultery; don’t steal, don’t lie; don’t covet.
Ah, that last one…covet. What does it mean to covet something or someone? Simply stated, you are said to covet when you inordinately desire that which belongs to another or others. In and of itself, covetousness is bad enough. But if it is alloyed with envy, the result can be lethal – especially if it gains traction in the political process.
And what is envy?
Envy (also called invidiousness) is best defined as a resentful emotion that “occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.”
Envy can also derive from a sense of low self-esteem that results from an upward social comparison threatening a person’s self image: another person has something that the envier considers to be important to have. If the other person is perceived to be similar to the envier, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envier that it just as well could have been he or she who had the desired object.
Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. It is a universal aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured to achieve a more just social system. However, psychologists have recently suggested that there may be two types of envy: malicious envy and benign envy – benign envy being proposed as a type of positive motivational force.
These days, the operative phrase appears to be “malicious envy,” best showcased in the class warfare mentality that now consumes the Left – especially in the legions of useful idiots who support Barack Obama and the Democrat Party.
On August 7 I posted an article that will become especially relevant in the months ahead, therefore making the message well worth repeating:
If Pride is the mother of all sins, then is not Envy the most evil of her daughters? It consumes both he who envies and he who is envied – at least, if the former acquires any position of power over the latter. The estimable Dr. Victor Davis Hanson examines what he calls the “peasant mentality” in a masterful analysis of the war on wealth and free enterprise currently being waged by the Obama administration in its ongoing effort to fundamentally transform our American republic into the fiefdom of New Zimbabwe.
Thus Dr. Hanson’s learned discourse:
Traditional peasant societies believe in only a limited amount of good. The more your neighbor earns, the less someone else gets. Profits are seen as a sort of theft; they must be either hidden or redistributed. Envy, rather than admiration of success, reigns.
Even after the failure of statism at the end of the Cold War, the disasters of socialism in Venezuela and Cuba, and the recent financial meltdowns in the European Union, America is returning to a peasant mentality of a limited good that redistributes wealth rather than creates it. Candidate Obama’s “spread the wealth” slip to Joe the Plumber simply was upgraded to President Obama’s “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”
The public is seldom told that 1 percent of taxpayers already pay 40 percent of the income taxes collected, while 40 percent of income earners are exempt from federal income tax — or that present entitlements like Medicare and Social Security are financially unsustainable. Instead, they hear more often that those who manage to make above $250,000 per year have obligations to the rest of us to give back about 60 percent of what they earn in higher health-care and income taxes — together with payroll and rising state income taxes, and along with increased capital-gains and inheritance taxes.
What optimistic Americans used to call a rising tide that lifts all boats is now once again derided as trickle-down economics. In other words, a newly peasant-minded America is willing to become collectively poorer so that some will not become wealthier.
I’m reminded of a proverb the late Father Basil Kraynyak – a Russian Byzantine Catholic priest and dear friend – shared with me almost two decades ago:
Back in the Czarist days of Russia, when serfs tended their poor, miserable potato crops, there were two farmers – Boris and Ivan – who were neighbors. Both lived in abject poverty, dwelling with their families in squalid shanties.
One day while he was in the field, Ivan discovered a magic lamp and, after rubbing it, was greeted by a genie who offered him one wish for anything his heart desired. Ivan was a simple but good man and asked for a goat so that he could have milk for his family. His wish was granted: a beautiful nanny goat suddenly appeared, her belly full of milk.
Ivan joyfully brought the goat home and celebrated the gift with his family. Boris spotted the goat and Ivan’s happy family and his heart was consumed with bitter envy over his neighbor’s good fortune. To his surprise, Ivan visited him the next day and gave him the lamp as a gift.
After Ivan departed, Boris took the lamp inside his hovel and rubbed it carefully. The genie appeared and offered him a single wish for his heart’s desire.
“Anything you want,” said the genie, “be it gold, jewels or an entire herd of goats – I will give it to you at once.”
Boris didn’t even pause to think. He narrowed his eyes at the genie and responded, “I want that Ivan’s goat should die.”
Welcome to the world of Hope and Change.
Religious groups use one of three historical divisions of Exodus 20:1–17 into ten parts tabulated below:
- The Philonic division is the oldest, from the writings of Philo and Josephus (first century), which labels verse 3 as number 1, verses 4–6 as number 2, and so on. Groups that generally follow this scheme include Hellenistic Jews, Greek Orthodox and Protestants except Lutherans. Most representations of the commandments include the prologue of verse 2 as either part of the first commandment or as a preface.
- The Talmudic division, from the third-century Jewish Talmud, makes verses 1–2 as the first “saying” or “declaration” (rather than “commandment”), and combines verses 3–6 as number 2.
- The Augustinian division (fifth century) starts with number 2 of the Talmudic division, and makes an extra commandment by dividing the prohibition on coveting into two. Both Roman Catholics and Martin Luther adopted the Augustinian method. Roman Catholics use Deuteronomy by default when quoting the Ten Commandments whereas Luther used the Exodus version.