Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Plus ca change - Ouch!

From an essay by British author Angus Wilson in The Seven Deadly Sins by Angus Wilson, Edith Sitwell, Cyril Connolly, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Sykes and W.H. Auden, published by Quill from the original 1962 edition.

When you are 4% of the world's population and produce 25% of the world's wealth, there is a natural latent envy and animosity. Wilson was writing on the sin of Envy. At the end of his essay, he has this to say which, despite being nearly fifty years old, seems unpleasantly contemporary.
This can be seen in the most distressing, foolish Envy of our time - anti-Americanism in Western Europe. To me European anti-Americanism is plain silly because it is suicidal, but there are, after all, not only Communist but tolerably argued neutralist views about this, and at times American policy inclines one to sympathize with such views. There are grievances against America which deserve consideration from everyone. But anti-Americanism is quite another thing; it is an impotent Envy which does nothing but disgrace the speaker. Listen to any county Englishman or his wife who in dislike of the changed English social order seeks refuge in anti-American talk, hear the silly bray of their laugh, the frightened note that underlies their jokes about American brashness or crudity. Or, almost worse, hear a group of rich, beleaguered French or Italian or Spanish describing the necessity for a civilized Europe where American barbaraism cannot interefere. There are few more nauseating sounds in the modern world; nauseating because like all envious sounds they make one feel ashamed for the emotions that the speaker is betraying. And the same for for anti-Russianism where it is solely built on hopeless Envy.

This, of course, is why Envy is so unenviable a dominating emotion. All the seven deadly sins are self-destroying, morbid appetites, but in their early stages at least lust and gluttony, avarice and sloth know some gratification, while anger and pride have power, even though that power eventually destroys itself. Envy is impotent, numberd with fear, yet never ceasing in its appetite; and it knows no gratification save endless self-torment. It has the ugliness of a trapped rat that has gnawed its own foot in its effort to escape.

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