Why do we resent success: a psychological perspective.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a book written in the 60s by a German professor*. It explain how we relate to other people's success, and I think it's very meaningful in partly explaining the tone of the discussions on these forums.


In ancient Athens, when someone became too successful or powerful, citizens, in order to appease the "envy of the Gods", voted to send the powerful figure into a ten year exile. The punishment for trying to come back before the 10 year term expired was death.


The book makes a very interesting case: since envy is no longer culturally tolerated (it's a capital sin in Christianity, while the Greeks were talking about it quite freely), it has been substituted by less direct processes, such as the antitrust laws. The book makes a convincing parallel between the Greek ostracism and the modern day antitrust laws - as a way to appease envy (the "envy of the Gods" as the Greek put it)

Microsoft, Apple: too powerful.

I've seen over the past year a sea change in the way Apple is perceived. There's a growing animosity/hatred towards anything Apple, which is not yet entrenched but is taking roots day by day. This message is very similar in tone and content to the anti-Microsoft message of the 90s. Both these two companies are exceedingly successful corporations - and both have to apparently deal with the human nature: the desire to punish hubris.

Some speculation

If Microsoft's exile has started with the antitrust decree, we're getting close to the 10 year exile - which means we should be seeing less hatred spewed towards Microsoft. Also, the trend to find faults in pretty much everything Apple does will continue. Look at how different two relatively similar (in quality) features were treated in the press: Maps and Siri.


*ENVY: A Theory of Social Behaviour, Helmut Schoeck