The Triumph of The Most Poisonous Emotion

The Triumph of The Most Poisonous Emotion

I’ve always been struck by the power of envy. Other than anger, it is perhaps the most commanding emotion, able to instantly turn our stomachs and perceptions upside down.

Envy is the realization that someone else has something that we want. There is nothing more universal or human than this. After all, inequality has existed on multiple levels, such as the material and the genetic, in every human society that has ever existed. Even if we have the nicest house and toys in our immediate tribe, there will always be a talent or bodily advantage (such as extreme beauty) worth coveting amongst our peers. We are all born with different predispositions, and it’s just as easy to desire traits that are the birthright of others as it is to desire their creature comforts.

This is why the revolutionary spirit, and the drive towards something akin to socialism or communism, will never die out. As long as envy exists, these two world-views will survive and thrive. Great revolutionaries have realized this, and have built their propaganda campaigns around prosperous, envy-producing minorities. We saw this with the Nazis and the Jews, the Sinhalese and Tamils, and the Hutus and Tutsis.

The problem with envy is that it’s hatred’s close cousin. Thus, once someone is smoldering with jealousy, it only takes a small amount of extra fuel to create full-blown wrath. At this point, self-control and social niceties become mere afterthoughts. Envy is at least socially conscious. Anger, however, will tear down villages and families with little compunction. This is why the above-mentioned atrocities were one small hop away from jealousy.

But it seems that envy also has a positive side. After all, desire drives hard work and accomplishment, and nothing fuels this yearning more than seeing someone we know with someone that we want. It can therefore be argued that material progress is fueled by this most unstable emotion. The question becomes: How does one harness the power of envy while also protecting against its cantankerous dark side?

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have an answer to this burning question. Instead we’ve gotten quite adept at fueling this poisonous emotion by building complex social technologies that allow us to, among other things, see how much better than us our friends and mere acquaintances have it. In a few clicks you can see the amazing food, locale, or event your ex lover, or high-school rival, is currently enjoying. Nothing turns us green quite as quickly as tangible proof of our perceived inferiority, and we now have a variety of technologies that we use as digital barometers of our self worth. This is not to say that these services are not immensely useful and uplifting on occasion. However, like everything, they come with a cost. In this case the cost is envy – the one deadly sin that I would most like to expunge. Not just because it’s a good deal (wrath, its close cousin, is free), but because of the vast harm it does to our interactions with others and ourselves.  

Image: The Fox and The Grapes by François Chauveau

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.


"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.


If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."