identifying with the enemy

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat May 19 01:24:16 PDT 2001

Brad quotes from _The Theory of Moral Sentiments_ by Adam Smith:

>>>My guess: because instead of identifying with their real selves, they
>>>identify with their ideal selves, which are basically cultural constructs.
>>>In this society Bill Gates is constructed as the ideal individual who we
>>>all aspire to equal. If he deserves his fortune, so ultimately will I when
>> >I get my fortune. Ha. Ha.
>Or as some guy or other wrote two and a half centuries ago:
>"When we consider the condition of the great... it is the very state
>which, in all our waking dreams and idle reveries, we had sketched
>out to ourselves as the final object of all our desires. We feel,
>therefore, a peculiar sympathy with the satisfaction of those who
>are in it. We favour all their inclinations, and forward all their
>wishes. What pity, we think, that any thing should spoil and corrupt
>so agreeable a situation!...

So, Adam Smith argues (whether correctly or incorrectly, I don't know) that we tend to identify with an abstract idea of happiness, rather than with any particular possessor of wealth who is a vehicle of the idea. Who is against happiness? Practically no one, as expected, for envy is an unseemly feeling that shames everyone, as Smith says, so we don't want to be even suspected of being envious.

Also, it may be the case that many who toil under capitalism like the idea of amazing fortune -- in both senses of the word: good luck & great wealth -- beyond the calculous of "merit." Many admire the ease of the astonishingly rich -- especially the Old Money who have inherited their manners along with their wealth, the idea of which has been successfully sold by Ralph Lauren, etc. -- while despising the "hard work" of those who have some claim to making a better living due to their "merit" (e.g., good grades at a good school), which perhaps is the source of endless lawyer jokes. The very fact that the fabulously rich do _not_ have any remotely plausible claim to "deservingness" paradoxically inspires indulgence in the minds of many who are oppressed & depressed by the idea that we all have to work hard to "better ourselves" so we may "deserve" a job, a raise, a promotion, or a piece of public assistance. Would it not be wonderful not to have to strive to become "deserving" of anything -- or worse yet, to try & fail to do so -- any longer, just like princes & princesses who are in possession of an "easy empire over the affections of mankind" (Adam Smith)?

The ideology of capitalism inflicts a sense of shame upon poverty. Smith says:

***** A brave man is not rendered contemptible by being brought to the scaffold; he is, by being set in the pillory. His behaviour in the one situation may gain him universal esteem and admiration. No behaviour in the other can render him agreeable. The sympathy of the spectators supports him in the one case, and saves him from that shame, that consciousness that his misery is felt by himself only, which is of all sentiments the most unsupportable. There is no sympathy in the other; or, if there is any, it is not with his pain, which is a trifle, but with his consciousness of the want of sympathy with which this pain is attended. It is with his shame, not with his sorrow. Those who pity him, blush and hang down their heads for him. He droops in the same manner, and feels himself irrecoverably degraded by the punishment, though not by the crime. The man, on the contrary, who dies with resolution, as he is naturally regarded with the erect aspect of esteem and approbation, so he wears himself the same undaunted countenance; and, if the crime does not deprive him of the respect of others, the punishment never will. He has no suspicion that his situation is the object of contempt or derision to any body, and he can, with propriety, assume the air, not only of perfect serenity, but of triumph and exultation. *****

Poverty _as ideologically presented_ is the pillory that inspires shame in both the pilloried & the spectator. There is sympathy for a feisty underdog, but there is only contempt for the hangdog look, or so goes the theory of moral sentiments.


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