On Envy


David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

Related Post Roulette

31 Responses

  1. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    I don’t mean to be rude, but why did you title this post “On Envy”? Without that title, I’m inclined to take this as harmless reminiscence about an interesting experience in your life, but with that title, I suspect a bigger agenda. Poor people from really poor country with standard of living well below ours do not envy our rich and well-to-do, so why should the poor in America who live so much better than people like Margaret complain and envy the rich? I’m sorry if I’m falsely ascribing a motive to you, but after that discussion extolling the virtues of Megan McArdle as the expert about the behavior of “the poor” and analogizing children’s behavior with the behavior of “the poor, well, I can’t help but wonder. Is it “the poor” week at the League?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to sonmi451 says:

      David is usually more subtle with his linkages than I follow; I’ve still not really grokked what he’s doing with his “thermomixed” and boat construction posts. But I’ll say in his defense that he is a fluid author, and sometimes touches on things I am deeply interested in whether I agree with him or not. But a writer offersing his readers different sorts of challenges than they are used to is not necessarily a bad thing — and at the end of the day we’re about culture here; while policy wonkery, economics, political philosophy, and electoral politics are wrinkles of the culture that are particularly popular, they are not the whole game.

      This post in particular is deeply cultural, offering an illustration of at least one person from a culture unlike the European-American culture most of us are familiar with. David’s friend seems to lack envy about the material affluence of others. She seems typical of her culture in that regard; although we are cautioned that in her own culture she is considered affluent herself. Which is cause and which is effect is something that David leaves for you to resolve.

      There are at least two disquieting suggestions embedded in the illustrations. Perhaps what David observed in Kenya is a cutlure so individualistic its members simply disregard other people they meet — both in terms of affluence (no jealousy of rich people on Long Island) and poverty (no regard for the safety or welfare of others). Is that better or worse than our own culture? And his friend’s observation in Penn Station is poignant, especially for one such as me who sometimes fears erosion of the work ethic in America: is that work ethic driven, Veblen-like, by envy?

      In our culture, we are quick to condemn envy. But if envy is the fuel of the engine of our prosperity, and it is coincident with empathy for our fellow human beings, then perhaps envy is not the bad thing that we purport it to be.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I don’t know about Kenya, but given how many times I’ve almost been run over by cars turning right without looking as I walk through a crosswalk (I’ve actually been clipped twice, and hit once on my bike), I’m not sure the concern for the safety and welfare of others is all that different here.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Chris says:

          Right! See, people should be more envious. Then they’d be better drivers. Or something like that.Report

        • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Chris says:


          I have the same experience quite a lot.  It’s quite aggravating.Report

        • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Chris says:

          I was, for about a week, a pedestrian in rural Kenya. The level of disregard that Kenyan motorists have for pedestrians is quite unlike anything I’ve ever experience anywhere or under any circumstances in the US, or anywhere in Europe.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to David Ryan says:

            Italian drivers should win the most pedestrian unfriendly country in Europe. Tourists are advised to cross the road in large packs, it doesn’t slow down the drivers but causes them to swerve slightly more widely to avoid hitting you.

            I was with a group of touristi and had the misfortune to observe a lovely young newlywed get run over by a driver who didn’t swerve enough (was in Naples I believe). Her husband, a bodybuilder smashed the driver’s window with one hand and yanked the driver out of the car with the other. The Carbonari showed up in force and proceeded to have a billy club party on the husband. The driver was allowed to leave. The husband had to demand that they take his wife first in the ambulance, once they’d realized he was an American they were more concerned with cleaning him up than the girl. They were honeymooning in the land of his ancestors.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to wardsmith says:

              Naples, you say? Why am I not suprised to read a word of this?

              Of course, in Florence, they’d have focused their investigation on the bride’s underwear and after an entire pack of cigarettes’ worth of debate, concluded she was a slut who had it coming and referred the matter to the prosecuting attorney’s office. OTOH, the driver would by that time have made less than one city block’s worth of progress away from the scene of the collision, so he could have been readily identified.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “David is usually more subtle with his linkages than I follow; I’ve still not really grokked what he’s doing with his “thermomixed” and boat construction posts.”

        He’s a boat builder who posts about building boat? Heh. I guess you’re right, it’s not fair to immediately ascribe political motives and agenda when someone posts a cultural observation. I haven’t read enough of Mr Ryan’s posts to know whether he’s prone to making political points by disguising them as cultural and societal observation or anecdotes, so it was uncharitable of me to assume so in this case. Apologies, Mr Ryan.Report

      • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “I’ve still not really grokked what he’s doing with his “thermomixed” and boat construction posts.”

        That makes two of us.

        “Fluid author” is a nice compliment. Gave me a lift when I read it down at the boat-shop today. Thanks! 🙂Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to sonmi451 says:

      “why did [David] title this post “On Envy”? ”

      Because it’s yet another restatement of “OWS has iPhones”.

      Which, y’know, I don’t disagree with, but it’s not going to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree.Report

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    FYI, I don’t think Kenya has been one of the 10 poorest countries in Africa in my lifetime. That’s not to say that it’s a wealthy country. It’s in the bottom quartile of GDP per capita in the world, I believe, but in Africa, being one of the 10 poorest countries is a difficult standard to meet. You’ve got to mention Ethiopia, Congo, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Niger, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Comoros, Burundi, Mozambique, and probably half a dozen more countries before Kenya would enter into the conversation. And that’s just Africa. There are islands in the Pacific and parts of Asia that would probably still beat out Kenya by a fairly wide margin. And now there’s post-earthquake Haiti, which is poorer than pre-earthquake Haiti, which was probably much poorer than 2003 Kenya.Report

    • Avatar J. Otto Pohl in reply to Chris says:

      The list I just got off the internet for ten poorest countries in the world does not include Kenya. Although all those listed are African.  I think Kenya is fairly prosperous by continental standards, although not nearly as well to do as Ghana, Nigeria, or South Africa. I know there are a number of Kenyans working here at the University of Ghana.

      1. Zimbabwe

      2. Congo

      3. Burundi

      4. Liberia

      5. Guinea-Bissau

      6. Somalia

      7. Central African Republic

      8. Eritrea

      9. Niger

      10. Sierra LeonReport

  3. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    In times like this, I wish Freddie de Boer would spend more of his time trashing people making specious arguments about “the poor” right here in his former home, rather than wasting his energy going after Matt Yglesias. Freddie, if you’re reading this, focus, this is the type of thing you should be arguing against!Report

    • Avatar North in reply to sonmi451 says:

      The problem generally is that Freddie doesn’t argue here; he pronounces. I love his writing but he has an utterly horrific habit of flying in, depositing a condemnation and then flying off again into the ether never to be heard from again on the subject.

      Also I think Freddie prefers to save his powder for higher profile objections than the posts here at our humble little League (and that’s a perfectly sensible choice).Report

  4. You several times say things like “I don’t know if this is still so, or was ever so, but this is what I remember being told.” Why don’t you find out?Report

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Steven BREWER says:

      I thought it would have been clear that by repeating “I don’t know if this is so” twice and in succession, it would have been clear that it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s so.

      Also, I’ve never seen “several” used to mean twice. Non-native speaker I’m guessing?Report

  5. I admit I’m having a somewhat difficult time figuring out exactly what you’re getting at here.  Perhaps you’re not entirely sure either, and even if you are find value in others to figure it out for themselves.  Regardless, I think I like the confusion, which poses an interesting challenge.  Interestingly, I think it can also be read to support just about any position on inequality if one chooses to read it as such.

    At core though, I have a hard time getting away from the notion that these facts suggest the importance of cultural context above all else particularly if we wish to view inequality as a question of envy or as a problem in and of itself.  How exactly they suggest it, however, is difficult for me to express in a manner I find satisfactory.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      I admit I’m having a somewhat difficult time figuring out exactly what you’re getting at here.  Perhaps you’re not entirely sure either, and even if you are find value in others to figure it out for themselves.

      I find that I have many little things happen to me at various points during my day that strike me as fairly significant and something that could help me understand the universe… if only I were canny enough to put the pieces together.

      When I tell these stories, sometimes people automatically assume that my point *MUST* be on the list of the following things! And aren’t I lucky that they’ve been saving up a rant for someone who thinks something on the list of the following things! AND HERE IT IS!!! AND DON’T YOU KNOW THAT THE PLURAL OF ANECDOTE IS NOT DATA!!!!!!!

      This is frustrating for me when, for example, all I’m doing is telling a story about something that, seriously, strikes me as something important but, god help me, I have no idea why.

      Anyway, I love posts like this one.Report

  6. Avatar Ellinoz says:

    If you want to cross a road in Italy attach yourself to a Nonna. Mine would walk straight out into the mayhem of downtown Catania and raise her hand to cars to stop and let her pass and they did. My four foot five Zia Anna had the same powers…Report