Of the seven deadly sins, Envy is my least favorite. It is the only one that offers no pleasure at all in having it, and which necessarily can never be fulfilled. While it is fun to sleep in, gorge yourself, get laid, get paid, and dress up, it is absolutely no fun to want what’s not yours. Even Wrath, while technically an unwanted emotion, is a guilty pleasure at times, a green, intoxicating gamma-ray cocktail of adrenaline, testosterone, and bile. But Envy? Envy is a sulking sin. It whines like a child whose sibling got the front seat. It screams like a man in love with a married woman. Envy, an unchecked desire, is the root of all pain. It is samsara.
So you might think that envy is the one vice that is truly human. But think again. Animals can possess things (food, mates, nests, territories, physical attributes), and where ever there’s possession, envy is sure to follow. It’s especially prevalent in social animals that have fluid hierarchies. Primates are well-known for jealousy: female gorillas offer non-procreative sex when they see other females mating with the silverback, just to curry favor with him, and capuchin monkeys are far less likely to cooperate with researchers when other monkeys were given better treats. Elephants show jealousy, especially sibling rivalry. And a recent study of dogs found that, in what should be no surprise to dog owners, dog become envious when other dogs receive more attention or better rewards. Birds, too, feel envy and jealousy, and not just those sociable, evil-eyed parrots. When it comes to mates, even bluebirds, those harbingers of marital bliss, are known to become abusive husbands when they suspect infidelity.
With envy so ubiquitous in the animal kingdom, but mainly only proven in domesticated lab animals, which wild animal can I pick to represent Envy? For the answer, I turn back to the King James Bible. Maybe it’s not an envious animal, but the object of envy:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour’s.