The Culture of Resentment: Building Hell in Heaven’s Despite

In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, there is a scene where Dagny Taggart, the story’s heroine, is attempting to learn what happened to the Twentieth Century Motor Company, whose long-abandoned factory contains a secret with the potential to revolutionize the world’s economy.  Once the leading automobile manufacturer in all of America, the Twentieth Century Motor Company went down in flames when the children of Jed Starnes who built the company up, took it over.  After several false restarts, the Twentieth Century Motor Company was finally shuttered for good while the Starnes heirs hid out and wasted their lives away in drunken dissipation in a small town out in the middle of nowhere.  Eric Starnes, the youngest of the Starnes heirs, had committed suicide four years earlier.  He had started running after a young woman who wanted nothing to do with him, and when she married the man she was engaged to, he broke into their house on their wedding day and killed himself in their bedroom.  The town’s police chief, in explaining this to Dagny, said:

Now I say there might be forgiveness for a man who kills himself quietly.  Who can pass judgment on another man’s suffering and on the limit of what he can bear?  But the man who kills himself, making a show of his death in order to hurt somebody, the man who gives his life for malice–there’s no forgiveness for him, no excuse, he’s rotten clear through, and what he deserves is that people spit at his memory, instead of feeling sorry for him and hurt, as he wanted them to be….

And that is where we are today.  Fox News and talk radio have made a living out of perpetuating a culture of resentment directed against an ever-widening circle of welfare queens, illegal aliens, and other such undesirables.  In the eyes of those who are steeped in this culture of resentment, any benefit directed toward the undesirables comes at their expense.  It is easy to imagine that like Eric Starnes, they would give their lives for malice to ensure that the undesirables have no joy or good in life.

This post from Slacktivist looks at the culture of resentment as a reaction to a heartwarming story about poor children in a community receiving needed school supplies.  Most people would respond properly to this bit of good news, but there are more than a few who would see it as cause for resentment (i. e. their hard-earned tax dollars are being taken from them and given to entitled poor people).

This angry resentment is periodically a major force in American politics. It is a destructive force — destructive of self and destructive of the whole (self-destructive people always have bad aim). The Resenters rejoice when others mourn and mourn when others rejoice, and their politics of resentment has the crabs-in-a-bucket effect of making things worse for everyone, themselves included — making sure that nothing ever improves, that no problem is ever solved. The politics of resentment can never be for anything. That which benefits others will provoke resentment, even if it benefits all, including the Resenters themselves. They will still manage to resent the benefit to others — mourning at their rejoicing — convincing themselves that they might have benefited more if those others hadn’t also been unjustly included in the common good.

…The Resenters have learned to be unhappy. They have been taught to respond unhappily to happiness, taught by a steady toxic diet of Fox News and resentment radio and the demagogues of the politics of resentment. Part of our job, then, must be to help them learn again how to be capable of happiness. We must teach them, remind them, show them how to again look at a smiling child with a new backpack and to take delight instead of taking offense.

Read:  The Resenters: Building Hell in Heaven’s despite by Slacktivist

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