The lockdown and endless nights of scrolling through the nerdy side of YouTube, I stumbled upon the German word for a highly specific emotion. This very emotion is truly the reason why capitalism works.
Trust me, when I tell you the definition, you will immediately be reminded of at least one person in your life. Our much-hyped word is Schadenfreude, which means the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another. For those of you who are disgusted by this, I am sorry to tell you that this is intrinsic human behavior and not a disease.
Adam Smith, the father of capitalism said,“…while he only intends his own gain,..he is in this, as many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which is no part of his intention” . Therefore the concept of capitalism is based on selfish pursuits. A basic analysis can convince anyone that jealousy and schadenfreude are based on such selfish attitudes.
Unknown to us, we display such emotions throughout our life.Toddlers laughing at the sight of another child falling to teenagers and young adults engrossed in the details of the dirty laundry of celebs etc.A 2009 study by Hidehiko Takahashi proved that the feeling of schadenfreude activates the ventral striatum which plays an indispensable role in reward-related behavior and decision making.This makes you feel rewarded and increases your self-esteem at the cost of other’s failure.
Coming back to my point, it is evident that capitalism thrives on such emotions and competition.It ensures that there would be winners and losers,the bottom line being that somebody would always get to thrive on schadenfreude. This makes capitalism justified and natural or us. I believe this can also explain our tendency to turn a blind eye to the evils of capitalism. Because in a shrewd and twisted way, not only do we not care about it, we gain pleasure from the fact that we are still at a better place than the victims. This is the main point of this article, further on, I will just attempt to justify my stance.
I can see you shaking your head in dismissal but you are a part of this system. Although your ego would not let you feel so. Let’s take a step back and perform a simple exercise:
Recall your dream job, goals, and aspiration for life
Now, ask yourself this question, are your dreams directly or indirectly linked to you climbing the social hierarchy. Or to put it simply, make your current situation better; be it with money, fame, or any other social capital?
I know the virtuous little innocent angels who dream of changing the world and making it a better place would disagree. For this, I will bring out the secret weapon for making you guilty for your privilege which is “The Savior Complex”.
To put it simply, it means that you have a strong urge to save people from their problems and work towards a utopian society filled with happiness. You think that by teaching underprivileged children you could end poverty.While the idea is not fundamentally problematic, I have certain reservations. An essential prerequisite to being a savior is to have people who are suffering. Hence it is mostly rooted in the self-esteem of people high up in the social hierarchy. And just a reminder in case you are oblivious: social hierarchy is the product of capitalism.Secondly, most such endeavors fail to address the actual cause and societal inequalities.
In conclusion, from Shakespeare to Parasite, Schadenfreude would be used as a compelling storytelling device. And unfortunately for us, the most impact it would have is leaving us feeling momentarily sad the next time there is a storm. Just before taking out our phones to capture thunder for the gram.