Envy is one of the most common of the seven deadly sins, fed by journalists who love spreading gossip instead of describing the beautiful work Italians produce with passion, skill and love
by Francesco Michienzi
ACCORDING TO RESEARCH CARRIED OUT BY UNIVERSITY CARLOS III IN MADRID, 90% of the world’s population can be divided into four personality types: the optimistic, who always aim for the best result; the pessimistic, who want to minimise damage; the trusting, who seek cooperation and shy away from competition; and the envious, whose only goal is to be better than others.
In Italy, a recent report from Censis confirms that envy is on the rise. In 2000, 28% of Italians believed that their financial situation would improve, while 23% believed the overall situation would get better. In 2020, however, the percentage of people believing others will do better than them rose to 35%. Italians therefore increasingly think that other people’s lives will improve more than their own, a sentiment that ever more frequently presents itself as envy towards those with above-average spending power.
Oscar Wilde wrote that “envy is the feeling born in realising one is a failure” – the displeasure you feel when you do not have a particular item or quality, which can sometimes turn into such intense anger that you wish all sorts of harm on the person who does have said object or quality.
Social envy is the dystopian result of a world that puts appearance above everything else. It is the true cancer of modern society, because through it everything becomes distorted and twisted, with people’s internal values replaced by society’s outward appearances. In its usual form, envy refers to things, a desire for something that others have and you don’t. But social envy is a whole new phenomenon.
Envy is an (often unwitting) attempt to repress that which causes us displeasure through the destructive devaluing of the model we would like to emulate.
In a society based on images and communication, envy is instead focused on lifestyles, models of success, wealth, fame and celebrity. So what is feeding this phenomenon? Social media plays a major role, but the key ideas and opinions are predominantly created by articles in newspapers and magazines, an area where greater professional and cultural awareness of the social aspect, and especially the ethical implications, of information and communication, is now required.
With this in mind, I would like to highlight a lengthy article published in Venerdì, the weekly supplement from the newspaper La Repubblica. At first glance, it may seem positive that a popular media outlet is focusing attention on the boating industry. But on closer inspection, it is clear that the main aim of the article is to spread gossip that ridicules the superrich. If someone spends €300,000 on a handrail or €100,000 on two baths, it means that master craftsmen are creating these items with expertise, patience and a great deal of love for their work. On average, a yacht provides work for 1,000 people, which means it supports 1,000 families and approximately 4,000 people. Perhaps the journalist from this general-interest, ‘progressive’ supplement is not interested in these families’ lives. The most ridiculous thing is that the article’s author says that, despite being from Viareggio, they only discovered through their research for the piece that Viareggio, and Tuscany as a whole, are global leaders for megayacht production. This is just one example that explains why certain political forces have started a campaign to justify the introduction of a wealth tax on those with more than €5 million in assets. Politicians have these ideas, and certain newspapers set to work creating the right climate to impose them.
It seems we have gone back to the era of the posters stating Anche i ricchi piangano (‘The rich should cry too’). The Italian finance minister at the time, Vincenzo Visco, ended up calling this phrase an “example of incredible political stupidity”, since its aim, he insists, was never to “make anyone cry”, but rather to “make everyone smile”. Do you remember the ill-fated attacks on yacht ownership pursued by the newspaper Il Manifesto in those years? It is incredible that still today this thirst for revenge – albeit in words only – refuses to die, and that there are still some politicians who want to ‘make the rich cry’. All made worse by the support of various journalists who are on the lookout for gossip instead of describing the beautiful work produced by the brains, hands and hearts of thousands of Italian craftsmen, labourers, mechanics, electricians, marble workers, tanners, carpenters, goldsmiths, engravers, painters, engineers, architects and designers. Thomas Aquinas wrote that it is one thing being upset because you do not have what your neighbour does, and another thing being upset because your neighbour owns items that you do not. In the first case, your reaction will be positive, because, in pursuit of happiness, you will want to balance things out by emulating your neighbour. In the second case, an example of envy, your reaction will be destructive, because you will work to ensure your neighbour no longer has those items so their happiness disappears. It is a subtle difference, but one with a significant effect on how we live together.
(Stop the gossip – Barchemagazine.com – August 2021)