In the last few weeks, we learned what the No. 1 problem in Charleston really is, but first let’s talk about what it’s not. It isn’t the lack of affordable housing or the glut of bars on King Street or even our aging infrastructure collapsing around us. No, the main threat to the ongoing prosperity of the Charleston Brand™, the thing that will halt the city’s transformation into a burgeoning paradise of tourists and tech companies, is the homeless. Specifically, it seems, the homeless who spend their days panhandling at busy intersections.

This threat to the city’s existence is so very real and so very urgent, in fact, that it has spawned numerous news stories, opinion pieces, and enough comment-thread traffic to sustain a small media empire. It seems that everyone, or almost everyone, feels that these people are a menace that must be contained. Some people have even taken their intense fear so seriously, they’ve stood on the street and protested the panhandlers. For me, this has been a difficult thing to understand since protests are usually something that are undertaken by powerless individuals fighting against those in power. Now, one could interpret these panhandling protests as an irrational lashing out against the perceived ills of society by a group of people who can’t figure out who their real enemy is, but I think I have a much clearer explanation for what is going on. It’s envy. Pure and simple.

Following my tirades about how the ills of American society are driven by a system of class warfare, I have been told more times than I can count that I was simply envious of what other people have. I’ve been told that my own inability to be successful or rich is what drives my dislike of the One Percent, instead of, oh say, an actual altruistic belief that the world should be ordered around social and economic egalitarianism.

Part of the reason people feel OK with the envy argument is that it’s such an easy one to make. If you can’t actually refute a point someone is making, you go for an easy hit. What never occurs to these people is that envy, in and of itself, is intrinsically tied to America’s form of late capitalism — and has been for decades. We’ve spent decades keeping up with the Joneses, endlessly finding ways of increasing our income, stretching out our debts, and living beyond our means in some vainglorious pursuit of a better life. Well, I can only imagine that those poor souls so wound up about panhandlers are somehow deeply envious of the homeless.

After all, the homeless and the panhandlers of the world seem to be living out a perfect version of the Objectivist notion of “going Galt.” They’ve withdrawn from the world and removed themselves from the petty concerns of work and commerce. They aren’t tied to homes they can’t afford, they don’t need cars, and they are pretty much free to come and go as they like. In short, they’re living the Libertarian Dream. And that really bothers the people who thought that hard work and sweat would allow them to one day withdraw from society and live on a man-made floating island somewhere off the coast of Florida.

Meanwhile, these anti-panhandlers are taking their angst against panhandlers to new heights every week. Not content with their efforts to ferret out the tent cities hiding in the area’s woods, they have launched their very own online crowd-funding campaign to hire a helicopter to search for tent cities from the air. Apparently, they fail to see the irony that crowd-sourcing money is the same thing as panhandling on the internet.

How quickly we all become that which we despise in the world.

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