I agree with the idea of a strong sympathy towards grief or sorrow is prevalent in the human emotions. Although, I disagree with Adam Smith’s assessment of sympathy in The Theory of Moral Sentiments felt towards happiness or exaltation. I agree with Adam Smith in his characterization of class distinction as an inherent flaw in the human condition whereby we bias our thoughts, actions, desires and needs to create a separated and distinct entity. As people, we tend to value individuality or uniqueness, which identifies us specifically or closely in a group. This uniqueness affords us not only material benefits but most importantly admiration and attention of fellows.
This attention is sought by everyone as we try replicating our emotions in others and as Adams put it “vanity is always founded upon the belief of our being the object of attention and approbation” (Smith 51). However, this distinction becomes less apparent as the group size rises. For example, the class distinctions in the earliest ages of human society e.g. Egypt or Samaria were based on pureness of blood, knowledge or to a minor degree, wealth.
The importance of wealth and power began to envelope the other two as reason established that with wealth comes the ability to control the fortunes and misfortunes of others, none as clearly seen by the pre-French Revolutionary Era. The class distinction emerges in a new form which is observed as levels of happiness. Class distinctions created because of the actions of levels of society and each contributed their share equally. The safeguarding of such distinctions by all members either by becoming active or passive supporters of the status quo leads us to compromise our sentiments and morals.
The levels of happiness are made contingent upon the amount of wealth or attention inspired. Along with wealth, comes the appearance of intelligence, industry, beauty or appealing characteristics. As for the poor, their conditions afford them with the needs and humblest want and inspire sorrow in their observers. Sympathy for sorrow is quite strong as to bring us to feel grief for their condition at their level.
We avoid their presence or become indifferent to their reality by calculated reason to protect ourselves from the grief brought on by sympathy. Their mere presence becomes unavoidable as they are readily observable with their distinct appearance and effluent or middle-class separation is in parts motivated by the hope to limit the grief associated with their relative concerned with the similar class concerns. The formation of intellectual societies, executive clubs and effluent country and golf clubs are the very symbols of the separation between the various levels of socio-economic status of human society.
The separation has become widespread as the distinction is also based on desires, similar physical, psychological or spiritual characteristics, which not only bind specific groups but vehemently restrict others in order to maintain homogeneousness. The motivation for such homogeneousness is the idea that similar characteristics within a specific group would establish compassion and sympathy among the individuals and would not create grief since all members are relatively equal in all concerned attributes.
The lack of distinction would prevent not only acknowledging the grief experienced by other since it would be a universal grief, but shield them from the judgment or bereavement from others. This uniformity achieved by the formation of such groups begins the transformation to an unequal society. Each group regards the other as a threat to their happiness because of potential disturbing influence of the unity. They battle each other on numerous terms e.g. accumulation of wealth, political power, familiarity or physical strength to prevent the deterioration of their happiness. This is obviously the motivation of members in the groups to expect the highest happiness possibly for the group for it trickles down to all members.
The interplay resulting between the groups is seen as the clash of ideologies whether such interplay happens on any level in any number of forms e.g. Earth First vs. Lumber industry. Most people are moderates or bystanders who do not take a significantly active role for any side of any group, so they choose to side with the option which provides them the most happiness and reduces grief. The very idea behind this is historically proven as every mode of election is not based on the moral and social integrity of political candidates, but the ability or conviction of the candidates to perform the desired actions of the general population.
The class struggle is crucial to understanding the dilemma of the socio-economic inequality and the resulting moral complications. The class struggle is in fact motivated by maximizing utility (happiness) for the individual and the group. The affiliation with rich is preferred because it provides more and better opportunities for increasing wealth, popularity and status. This is primary motivation for the admiration of the rich rather than sympathy towards happiness. Adams, himself acknowledges the weakness of the sympathy directed towards the happiness of others, although; he is correct that the motivation for being rich is in fact that it affords convenience, but above all else approval and acknowledgement of the fellow.
The class struggle further exacerbates the disparity between the rich and the poor by condemning the poor as outcasts or inferiors and idealizing the rich. The intergenerational effect embeds this concept thoroughly for future generations with ever more harshness and the resulting society is divided socially, culturally, politically and economically e.g. the Caste System of India. The disparity and denouncement leads to envy, hatred and above all else ambition. All three lead the poor not only despise the rich, but to justify their service to the rich in order to remove the barriers of class and prosperity by being in their presence. The rich, on the other hand, see their happiness reeling with the presence of the poor at any level of contact. They see fit to denigrate and reduce the poor to sub-human as to prevent them being seen as even human e.g. the Landed Estates of France (1760-89). The counterstroke is the rebellion and uprising of the poor against the rich e.g. French Revolution.
In essence, the disparity between poor and rich generated by the idea of sympathy towards happiness and denouncement of grief leads to ever more polarized society whether it is socially, politically or economically. The resulting disparity over time expands as the opportunities are more readily accessible by the rich because of their perception as a successful and superior human being. The idealization and the denigration of the poor exacerbate the problem leading to the development of all destroying vices of envy, hatred and ambition into the mindsets of the population.
The presence of such characteristics affirms that without regulation, immorality would be abound and reckless. The social and moral fabric would be torn if the three vices become prevalent in the minds of the population as did in many revolutions. So, it all starts with an innocent attempt for protecting individual happiness and promoting its state while eventually leading to a stage where no such happiness will exist. At that point, the only happiness will be derived when blood will be drawn.
Thus, it is quite clear that desires must be controlled by understanding that the difference between the happiness of the rich and the poor is not significantly high as to justify one’s superiority. The equal assessment of both groups might help bring them into balance. Instead of referring to the success of human being by the amount of wealth, we must judge him only as a man and we may create a solution where our moral sentiments are not besmirched.