No desire or quality is naturally evil; it’s how we use it that makes it so. Ancient Kabbalists have said: “Envy, lust, and (the pursuit of) honor bring a man out of the world,” meaning out of our world and into the spiritual world.
How so? We’ve already seen that envy leads to competitiveness, and competitiveness generates progress. But envy has far greater consequences than technological or other worldly benefits. In the “Introduction to The Book of Zohar,” Baal HaSulam writes that humans can sense others, and therefore want what others have. As a result, they are filled with envy and want everything that others have, and the more people have, the emptier they feel. In the end, they want to devour the whole world.
Eventually, envy makes us settle for nothing less than the Creator Himself. But here Nature’s humor plays a trick on us once more: The Creator is a desire to give, altruism. Although we are initially unaware of it, by wanting to be Creators, we are actually craving to become altruists. Thus, through envy—the ego’s most treacherous and harmful trait—our egoism puts itself to death, just as cancer destroys its host organism until it, too, dies along with its host body.
Kabbalists describe egoism like this: Egoism is like a man with a sword that has a drop of enchantingly luscious, but lethal potion at its tip. The man knows that the potion is a venomous poison, but he cannot help himself. He opens his mouth, brings the tip of the sword to his tongue, and swallows…
Once again we can see the importance of building the right social environment. If we are forced to be jealous, we should at least be constructively jealous (jealous of something that will bring us to correction).
A just and happy society cannot rely on monitored or “channeled” selfishness. We can try to restrain egoism through rule of law, but this will work only until circumstances toughen, as we’ve seen with Germany—a democracy until it democratically elected Adolf Hitler.
We can also try to channel egoism to benefit society, but that has already been tried with Russia’s communism, and failed miserably.
Even America, the land of freedom of opportunity and capitalism is failing to make its citizens happy. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “Annually, more than 46 million Americans, ages 15-54, suffer from depressive episodes.” And the Archives of General Psychiatry announced: “The use of potent antipsychotic drugs to treat children and adolescents… increased more than fivefold between 1993 and 2002,” as published on the June 6, 2006 edition of the New York Times.
In conclusion, as long as egoism has the upper hand, society will always be unjust and will disappoint its own members one way or another. Eventually, all egoism-based societies will exhaust themselves along with the egoism that created them. For everyone’s benefit, we just have to make it happen as quickly and as easily as possible.