The lesson of “Richard Cory”

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

─ Edwin Arlington Robinson, “Richard Cory”

People do not always admit to comparison with friends, family, and colleagues, but we all do it. To be sure, people differ in their proclivity, but comparison is pervasive. People compare to evaluate themselves, to improve their standing, and to enhance their self-esteem (e.g., Taylor amp; Lobel, 1989; Wood, 1989).

If comparison contaminates, envy and scorn are worse, but for better reasons. Comparison at least can be adaptive, providing information and motivation, but the feelings that follow can be poisonous. Envy says, “I wish I had what you have,” but it implies “And I wish you did not have it.”

Comparison emotions can corrupt the comparer. Envy humiliates and angers people (see Smith, 2008, for recently collected research). Feeling below someone makes people feel ashamed at their own inadequacy. If a peer can succeed, then people feel inadequate for not doing equally well. Envy also makes people angry at the injustice of their low-status positions. Those who succeeded must have had unfair advantages. Envy correlates with depression, unhappiness, and low self-esteem.

─ Susan T. Fiske, excerpt from “Envy up, scorn down: How comparison divides us.”
(American Psychologist, Vol 65(8), Nov 2010, 698-706)
(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3825032/)

“Santayana wants me, Lord, I can’t go back there!”

“PHILOSOPHICAL” DIALOGUES BETWEEN SOCRATES (S) AND AN IMAGINARY INTERLOCUTOR (ii):

 

S: Wittgenstein at a restaurant or we can dine at home.

ii: Bertrand, can you Russell up some dinner for me?

S: Francis, Bacon sure smells great when it’s cooking doesn’t it?

ii: That hits Lamarck.

S: I Goethe go.

ii: Rousseau long!

 

S: Let’s play Heidegger seek!

ii: I Kant find you!

 

S: Hegel, what’s going on?

ii: We were supposed to go Schopenhauers ago!

S: Don’t put Descartes before the horse! We’ve Spinoza this many times before.

ii: John, Locke the front door and we’ll get going.

 

S: Foucault? I didn’t hear the phone ring.

ii: Hume are you referring to?

S: Camus come over to visit today?

ii: I’m Newton town so I’m not sure where to go.

S: I’ll Nietzsche in front of my house. Drive Pascal and then take the next left. Husserl can you get here?

ii: Is your house Nietzsche and clean?

S: Rousseau it is. I really Fichte this place up. It looks great. Kierkegaard-en I told you about with lots of flowers.

ii: If that’s Sartre than i’m a Hottentot.

 

S: Santayana wants me, Lord, I can’t go back there!

ii: Don’t Thoreau your life away!

“What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman…”

“…will we walk all night through solitary streets?
The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?…”

“A Supermarket in California” (excerpt), Allen Ginsberg