Do you agree that envy causes competition which leads to violence and war?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rather than envy, which is resentment or discontent at seeing another's advantages or success, the desire for superiority seems to be the greatest motivator for competition. Competition is a natural phenonmenon, for without competition a species weakens.  Darwin's observations of "survival of the fittest" prove this to be true with animals. Likewise, unless one is competitive, one will not push to reach one's potential and will be less that he/she could be. 

However,if one goes beyond reasonable competitiveness, he/she then oversteps Nature in his/her desire for power.  This excess, not healthy competition, is what leads to the negatives of life such as violence and war (Friar Laurence's warning in "Romeo and Juliet" that virtue to excess becomes vice). Thus, Kurt Vonnegut's story is a telling indictment of twenty-first century people who complacently accept mediocrity and are, therefore, weakened and ignorant.  Harrison Bergeron's error is not that he rebels against mediocrity--he should do this--but that he wishes to usurp power.  But, accepting mediocrity, not competing in life, is not the solution to peace in the world, for there will always be those who seek corruptive power.

Wholesome competition is good for people; it is what drives them to achieve and better themselves. Forced equality does not satisfy people: Communism has not been successful, "Brave New World" has its flaws. The English poet Lord Byron wrote, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp/Else what's a heaven for?"  Great accomplishments come from the competitive spirit.

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Do you agree that envy causes competition which leads to violence and war?

A quiestion related to "Harrison Bergeron" (film)

I guess John Knowles thought so in A Separate Peace. Gene's envy of Finny led directly to his act of violence against his friend. Gene's envy, as Knowles developed it, was rooted in his fear of being inferior and unable to meet the challenges of life. After a while, this turned into self-hatred for Gene.

I think there's a distinction between competition in general and personal competition with another human being. It is this second kind that can become dangerous if it is rooted in the wrong kind of emotions, like Gene's emotions of fear and insecurity. The term "healthy competition" is no accidental use of language; it acknowledges that there are two kinds. I think the healthiest kind of competition is internal, the desire to accomplish that which we have never done before. To excel. To create. To achieve. To push knowledge past the boundaries of the known. Progress. When "good enough" becomes the standard, we're in trouble.

As for war? I don't think war results from personal or national envy so much as from the inherent need for power, control, and safety. Throw in some greed, hatred, and ignorance, and armies start marching.




hilahmarca eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Envy surely can cause competition, but it doesn't need to be present and in true competition isn't present.  Competition can be internal.  Someone can want to be better not because of some outside stimulation, but because there is a part of him that says, "I can be better."  Certainly, when one sees another person having more success at the same venture, it triggers a nerve.  It this feeling called envy?  I don't think it necessarily is.  Competition can simply be a reminder that you can be better; you can work harder; you can do more.  Without competition, there wouldn't be any war, because you have to compete against someone to be in a war, but there would be such a high degree of apathy that contrasting feelings such as love could also not be present.  Peace is not just the absence of war; it's a community in harmony.  Without competition a true community couldn't exist.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Envy clearly causes competition; however, it's a stretch to say the next escalation is to violence and war.  While that can happen, it is not a necessary result of competition.  Think of the hundreds of thousands of athletic events--where competition is the goal--which do not end in violence.  Some do, it's true, but most do not.  Some people do carry things to the extreme, but most of life is lived in the middle, it seems.  Harrison does not barge into the television station because of envy or competition; he is, however, killed because of them.  That makes it a fifty/fifty proposition in this story.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, the society in "Harrison Bergeron" seems to be rather extreme in what it has done to combat envy. Envy, if you think about it is rather a mixed emotion. I envy lots of my friends because they do things that I am unable to, but that can actually inspire me to work harder to be better than them. Likewise it also causes me to be grateful for my friendship with them. Envy doesn't necessarily result in acts of violence in the way that this short story suggests.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree that envy does not necessarily cause competition, but that it may spark a desire to be on top at all costs.  Envy often produces a blinding perspective, and the one who is envious cannot see a path of varying perspectives to reach his/her goal.  Rather, an envious person sees one path to his/her goal, and this is one often riddled with violence of some degree.

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Harrison Bergeron

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