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While arguing with my friend about the future, I bring up that the advantages to being born in the future are something I am jealous of (and depressed about). I must include the parenthetical statement because I fear my friend is attempting to make me feel better by disregarding the possibility of such a future, instead of arguing.

He says that he doesn't care to hear my ramblings, if I am simply going to complain about my limitations (in comparison to those born in the future). I state that I not complaining about my limitations, but rather that I am jealous of their superiority gained from an insignificant (or rather nonexistant) differentiator. He then says that he doesn't care that another's life will be better than his for no other reason than that it is his. He finally states that he doesn't care to hear or read any expression of some inferiority complex I am developing in reaction to some abstractual possibility.

But there are a couple of things I think are untrue or confusing in his speech. For example, in his statement of not caring about another's life, he implies that my jealousy is unreasonable. I find this untrue in that jealousy seems to be an uncontrollable response, something that seems to exist (or rather programmed into us) for a purpose that might be beneficial to its host. The second thing is his definition of my condition as a developing inferiority complex, literal definition of which is "an unrealistic feeling of general inadequacy caused by actual or supposed inferiority in one sphere, sometimes marked by aggressive behavior in compensation". Yet, the definition of envy is "a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck". These two definitions are practically the same, save for the aggressive behavior clause, something I find distasteful since complex implies abnormality.

My question is is there any justification for my jealousy, or jealousy in general? Or is jealousy really just an inferiority complex?

If there's anything wrong with my question, or if this question isn't appropriate for this site, please let me know.

closed as primarily opinion-based by iphigenie, virmaior, Keelan, Joseph Weissman Dec 31 '14 at 15:39

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a special case and psychological in nature. – iphigenie Dec 29 '14 at 10:32
  • @iphigenie Is there a recommended StackExchange I should move this to, or am I on my own here? While I won't argue about this being a special case, I thought psychoanalysis was an applied philosophy – Laplace Dec 29 '14 at 10:39
  • @iphigenie, while this question can be addresses psychologically it is also a philosophical one, in particular in the context of free will and moral - see for example, Saul Smilansky lamenting not being born in the future: link.springer.com/article/…; additionally, the question itself is superbly presented. – nir Dec 29 '14 at 12:14
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From the viewpoint of Jung, complexes are not necessarily abnormal, they are what makes for stereotyped behavior, and the vast majority of social behavior seems stereotyped, so we must all have a lot of them.

Complexes serve a purpose, in allowing you to behave without deep consideration of each individual action. They become problematic only when they do not suit your current situation, or when they are so overdeveloped that they bar deeper consideration too completely.

So if jealousy is just an inferiority complex, what are the developmental advantages of inferiority complexes? We all start as children. And they encourage one to subject oneself to other's judgement, which is a useful thing for a child to do in a complex society that takes a long time to adapt to.

So, then why do they create resentment of those who presume to be superior? Even though your parents are 'better than you' for most of your childhood, they will not always be. If this resentment were not a natural part of an inferiority complex, the new generation would never come into its own by overpowering the status quo.

So, is retaining this behavior past adolescence adaptive? It certainly creates rituals that enforce conformity when necessary. To me this seems practical. We allow people to 'parent' us in domains where we acknowledge their status. The resentment may seem more problematic, but if its purpose is to shatter the ritual when it has run its course, then it serves as a foil against, for instance, military dictatorship, or technocracy.

So, to my mind, basic jealousy is perfectly logical.

The particular jealousy of future generations is more ambiguous. Perhaps you could leverage it to encourage yourself to live longer, or to think futuristically in a way that might encourage invention or other kinds of imagination useful to the culture. So I do not see it as a totally pointless complex.

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It could be an evolutionary trait which goads individuals to be and do better. In the absence of such instincts, we become complacent and eventually atrophy. It may not be a pretty mechanism or a pleasant manifestation of competitiveness, but I would venture that all such mechanisms in nature are aimed at pushing us to a slightly more evolved level. We push ourselves at different levels-physical, intellectual, societal etc.

  • Any sources to go along? This is hardly an answer, it's just a vague evolutionary explanation with no references. – iphigenie Dec 29 '14 at 19:16
  • Your own quote "sometimes marked by aggressive behavior in compensation". If one thinks aggression is an evolved trait that makes individuals survive better, he is just repeating your definition back to you. – jobermark Dec 30 '14 at 15:56
  • @jobermark Wrong comment placement? – moonstar Dec 30 '14 at 16:15
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    @iphigenie I think moonstar2001 answered the question, although the answer could definitely use some rewording, more content and references. From an Evolutionary Psychology perspective, one could state that jealousy aided competition, which in turn aids mating, either directly, or by survival which means more mating opportunities. Here's a link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jealousy#In_psychology – R. Barzell Dec 31 '14 at 14:48
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For you to be jealous, you must believe that their "lot in life" is better than yours. In making such a statement, you define a way to compare lives: "Life X" is better than "Life Y." You create a what mathematicians call a poset of lives: a set of lives with comparison operations like < and => between them.

From your original question, you measure "life in the future" as better than "life in the present."

As for justification, consider that mappings such as this are inherently without meaning. With no extra effort on your own, you can define a mapping where "Life in the present" is better than "life in the future." Defining them is easy.

What seems to be important is that you find this particular mapping of yours acts on you. You see the world differently because of it. You act differently because of it.

Dispose of the question of whether your mapping is "right" or "wrong." Such wordings are so difficult to work with that religions have literally fought wars over disagreements and failed to come to an accord. Instead, you may be able to justify your stance by looking at your actions.

Most philosophers will generally agree that "doing good things" is morally good. There will be hundreds of squabbles over whether it is perfectly true, but in this case I think a minimal agreement that those word are generally "right" is all that is needed.

Look at how you are, and how you act. Now picture how you would be and how you would act if you did not hold this jealousy. If you find this jealousy is a positive force in your life then you may be able to "justify" it. If your jealousy drives you to learn more and meet more people and generally be a "good" person, then it will be hard to argue against it (not impossible... there are arguments, but that's okay for now... you're looking for a justification, not a proof of righteousness).

On the other hand, if you find your jealousy is a negative force in your life, then you will have trouble "justifying" it. If you find your jealousy is driving your friends away, making you depressed, or making you into a "bad" person, then justification will be hard to come by because the evidence stands against it.

From your wording, you are seeing those negatives, and you are worried about them. This is good: it means you are being self-aware and not taking yourself for granted. I am not in a position to judge whether the positives outweigh the negatives. You must do so yourself. Remember that there are likely positives to your jealousy. Few hard-to-kick behaviors don't have some positives; they just have more negatives. Its your job to figure out whether the positive outweigh the negative or vice versa.

I will note that most religions have found jealousy to be a trait where the negatives outweigh the positives. I do not argue the truthfulness of their statement, merely point out that there is a strong statistical precedent for you to consider. (And an amusing consequence of your stance: you should appreciate the wisdom brought to you previous generations. You live in their future, and get to take advantage of their hard work in the past ;) )


One thing which I do believe would be good for you is to try to understand your friend's position. You don't have to agree, but just understand. His stance is along the lines of a very classic one: he has found that there are no mappings life "life X is better than life Y" which benefit him besides "I want my life more than I want anyone else's life." He rejects those other mappings and simply acts without them.

The reason I recommend understanding your friend's position is because it has been found to be a very useful position through history. Forces like jealousy drive you forward because they all drive together into a powerful force: "I want something." If you want something, you can aspire towards it. "Want" is powerful, with immense positives and negatives. It drives much of society. You will craft your "wants" throughout your life.

Your friend's position is one of "no want." He isn't looking to change, he isn't aspiring to something (at least his words say so... leave it to him to decide if he is actually aspiring or not). "No want" is also powerful, with immense positives and negatives.

If you understand both of them, you can use both at your leisure. While your jealousy does you good, you keep it. When it stops working for you (and many religious philosophers would say it surly will), you can discard it because you understand the other side of the coin. When "no want" fails you (and much of Western society would say it surly will), you can pick up wants, because you are now aware of both options.


Taking both of these positions together, you have a third option: balance. I would dare to speak for others and say that a small amount of jealousy is not unreasonable. A small amount of jealousy for the future, rather than a crippling jealousy for the future might actually provide the most positive outcome. With so many vices and complexes, the "benefits" appear in small doses, but the negatives pile on as the vice or complex grows.

A little of what you like does you such a lot of good.

  • I will add as a comment: there are undeniable advantages to being in the present. For an extreme example, consider that your actions can stop someone in the future from being born, from ever existing, but their actions cannot do the same to you (unless you add timetravel to the philosophical argument). They don't even have a say in what you do, but you can vote in the laws that they will be subject to when they are born. The present has its advantages too! – Cort Ammon Dec 30 '14 at 21:58

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