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Greed, I decree! More than you need!

Why we do it, its many forms, and effects.

Greed, not usually a topic of discussion that readily comes to mind for the masses, but as the cost of living, inflation and wealth inequality separation becomes increasingly more evident, it is a topic that is becoming unavoidable.

Money is typically the first thing people associate with greed, but greed does come in many forms across political, economic and social factors. Greed, the intense and selfish desire for something – especially wealth, power or food – creates a conflict between personal and social goals. The material gain and increased social value obtained from greediness has been considered undesirable throughout history, and yet in still happens with people attempting such behaviour regularly…why? Is the temptation too strong to resist? Is the behaviour too easy to justify?

Could it be that greed stems from a lack of empathy and personal responsibility? Do the greedy view the world as a zero-sum game in that if someone else benefits then they lose? Could it be a pathological defence of self-preservation? We’ve encouraged people to be never satisfied, to strive for better, but you know who else is never satisfied? Greedy people. Greed is one of the fundamental characteristics of Plato’s “tyrannical man”, along with fear, amongst others. Misguided fear teamed with narcissism does not make for a good recipe. At what point does striving and aspiration become greed? How much resources get squandered away by wastage and inefficiency? Shouldn’t we be rewarded for our skill and effort, or is this something we say to rationalise our avarice?

“Greed over natural resources – food, water, energy – is surely the most sinister of all greeds.”

Looking over a number of my more recent articles, I’ve inadvertently discussed around the subject of greed and its problems. The meritocracy hypocrisy, when personal gain, agendas and nepotism get in the way of true merit. Creators of our own demise, ethical sponsorship in sport and being King for a day…I’ve been a gluttony for…well, gluttony.

“Greed is 4th circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno, just after Gluttony, and one of the seven deadly sins. Dante described greed as, ‘A divine love for items in a world created by God, perverted into an obsession with material goods’.”

Personally, I’m rather sick of dystopias and utopias. This eternal appeal to the likes of 1984, Brave New World and Libertalia. The themes of world domination, societal control, endless pleasure seeking, treasures of immense value, self-sustaining and free outside of law and order all really fail to grasp the full complexity of our current situation, but nonetheless provide much temptation and false respite to the overwhelming nature of existence. The modern person has learned to become entitled rather than grateful. For why show gratitude for something that you believe is inherently and rightfully yours in the first place? It’s a completely different mindset – a paradigmatic shift in our thinking. The constant comparison of the “have-nots” leads to insatiability and is a thief of joy.

“I believe most people don't really know what they want and thus fall prey to opportunists – In an Orwellian sense, if you don't think for yourself someone else will do it for you.”

It’s not like we haven’t been flushed with examples of greed going wrong in our extensive catalogue of literature, tv and film. Growing up I had Captain Planet and the Planeteers with characters such as Hoggish Greedly and Looten Plunder (literally it’s in their names!), Scar from the Lion King (brilliant character depiction) and later I’d come to realise Agent Smith from the Matrix series, Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment. Even a character like the witch in Hansel & Gretel is the “devouring mother” archetype, the one who loves selfishly and not selflessly.

So, how do we overcome the desire for greed or is it simply a matter of…

We’ve seen examples in history of forceful redistribution through revolution, anarchy, government intervention or something similar, and generally this has either not worked or was not sustainable. In western democracy, a more preferable method has been socially reinforced philanthropy, however, this can turn into a bit of a self-congratulatory circle-jerking festivity. Big Business-Government collusion is becoming an ever-increasing problem and the idea of corporate greed-led inflation has divided the experts.

You’ll never be able to eradicate greed from the human psyche, and that’s where it originates, not because of a particular political or economic system, that is where it merely shows itself. I only plead that you become aware of it in yourself before it has the ability to do damage. Be aware of the greed in others too, however, be careful not to mistake your own jealously and envy for such greed in other people. Make sure you have enough to look after yourself and your loved ones, but if you have the capacity for more please consider sending the elevator back down. Thinking more politically and socially, it’s also good to contemplate if my opposition had the same power and control, would it be such a good idea? i.e. is it good universally or is it just good for me test.

“The appropriate distributions of resources and rewards are a constant uphill battle played in an inherently unfair environment with shifting circumstances along with people seeking to jig the system for their own excessively selfish interests.”
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