The Psychology of Resentment
Lately I've been thinking about the politics of resentment.
I was talking with a friend of mine about why people of modest means continue to shill for policies which make their lives worse. I theorize that it comes mostly from the desire to avoid a self-hating narrative.
[First in a weekly series]
The classic example is the person who hates government workers or unionized manufacturing employees for having health insurance, higher wages or longer vacations. You can see this lament on internet forums, or hear it on talk radio. Generally it goes like this "I work hard every day and I don't have it as good as those people, it's people like them that are ruining the economy, by asking for too much in these tough times." When I hear it on talk radio, the voice often sounds tight and angry, on the verge of panic.
One way of dealing without his argument is to point out the facts of how the economy actually works. However, I'm more interested in the self-narrative at work, since the self-narrative is remarkably resistant to facts.
What's at work is that the speaker doesn't believe that he* deserves to have higher wages, real health insurance benefits and paid vacation. If you talk to people like this (and I do, regularly) what you'll also notice is that they really buy into a narrative of sole self-reliance-- they see themselves as lone agents who are solely responsible for their success or failure.
People who hold this view of sole self-reliance must believe that they do not deserve better in life. If they believed that they deserved more than they have currently, it would indicate that they are a failure. Therefore, in order to preserve their belief in their own agency, they must believe that they do not deserve better.
Tune in next week, when I'll be writing about the strengths and illusions of the self-reliance narrative.
*I'm using the male pronoun here because it's mostly angry men that I hear on the radio yelling these things.