Greed

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Greed

Postby Gaia Cassia Longina » Tue Jan 03, 2017 7:07 am

Salvete omnes,

This week I will be covering the topic of greed.

Greed is something all humans innately have - whether for simply living or for things such as money.

Greed often arises from early negative experiences such as parental inconsistency, neglect, or abuse. In later life, feelings of anxiety and vulnerability, often combined with low self-esteem, lead the person to fixate on a particular substitute for what she once needed but could not find. The pursuit and accumulation of the substitute not only seems to make up for her loss, but also provides comfort and reassurance, and distracts from frightening feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness. As far as she can see, life is a simple choice between greed and fear.

Greed is much more developed in human beings than in other animals, no doubt because human beings have the unique capacity to project themselves into the future, and, in particular, to the time of their death and beyond. Throughout our short life, the idea of our mortality haunts us. Not only that, but it conflicts with our strong survival instincts, giving rise to anxiety about our purpose, meaning, and value. This so-called existential anxiety, though it may be mostly subconscious, yet manifests in the form of compensatory behaviours, and, of course, greed is one such compensatory behaviour.

To help cope with our existential anxiety, we inhabit a larger culture which elaborates a narrative of human life and death, and, through that narrative, furnishes us with the purpose, meaning, and value for which we yearn. Whenever existential anxiety threatens to surface into our conscious mind, we naturally turn to our culture for comfort and consolation, and, in doing so, embrace it ever more tightly. What other choice do we have, if we are not strong or educated enough to question our culture?

Now, it so happens that our culture—or lack of it, for our culture is in a state of flux and crisis—places a high value on materialism, and, by extension, greed. Our culture’s emphasis on greed is such that people have become immune to satisfaction. Having acquired one thing, they are immediately ready to desire the next thing that might suggest itself. Today, the object of desire is no longer satisfaction, but desire itself.


Another theory of greed is that it is programmed into our genes because, in the course of evolution, it has tended to promote survival. Without greed, a person, community, or society may lack the motivation to build or achieve, move or change—and may also be rendered more vulnerable to the greed of others. This is true. We all have an inherent and innate self-interest based on evolution, which started as a way of surviving and passing on one's genes. But now, that will has transformed into a need based on things. More money, more food - more food, more likely you are to have children, for example.

While greed may be good for economies, it may not be so good for individuals. A person who is consumed by greed becomes utterly fixated on the object of his greed. Life in all its richness and complexity is reduced to little more than a quest to accumulate and hoard as much as possible of whatever it is that he craves. Even though he has met his every reasonable need and more, he is unable to adapt and reformulate his drives and desires.


But then, let us say, this vast amount of wealth this person has accumulated by greedy means, and now has a fortune, donates it to charity. Would that cancel out his greed? What if the greed is driven by an interest for others (I do not fully believe that this is the cause or excuse for any greed, personally)?

So how can we solve this issue? People will not stop being greedy - it takes true enlightenment to get past greed. Can greed be good, as in the charity example I raised?

Keep thinking!
C Cassia Longina
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Re: Greed

Postby Spurius Iuventius Catulus » Tue Jan 03, 2017 8:29 pm

Greed is, I think, a natural impulse out of balance. A good analogy would be gluttony: hunger cues are natural, and taking pleasure from one's food is one of life's basic pleasures. Gluttony is when that is pushed beyond its logical extreme into pathological behavior.

Where the boundaries where greed begin are, I think, drawn based time, place, and culture. That being said, I think there are some universals: acquisitiveness for the sake of acquisitiveness, especially coupled with stinginess, would probably be considered greedy by most.

I think the philanthropy angle is generally flawed. Were resources less concentrated in a few hands, how much of that "charity" would be needed at all? Take, for example, the state things in the United States, where many of our large, very profitable corporations pay workers well below a living wage, avoid paying much in tax, and offer few benefits. The needs of the workers have to be made up by public assistance and charity. Meanwhile, those at the top of these corporations make an astonishing amount of money.

The obvious checks on greed are social culture and legal regulation. Social culture determines how we think about acquisition and material things, legal regulation (e.g. minimum wage, taxes, etc.) imposes checks and mandates a degree of redistribution/sharing.

Charity will always have a place, I think. Religious rules about sharing wealth, secular efforts to aid those who have been struck by disaster and need, etc. are a part of the human experience. But remember: studies have shown that people with less in the way of means give more proportionally than those who are wealthy.
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Re: Greed

Postby Numerius Antonius Paullus » Wed Jan 04, 2017 8:34 am

A thought that I had on greed today after reading the opening post was that greed, no matter where you look, is universal.

That is not to say that everyone is greedy, but it does not say that everyone is immune. I firmly believe that greed, much like many of the other 'seven deadly sins' as they are called are ingrained in us all. It only takes a combination of several factors to make these certain factors come to light in ourselves. It can be environment, it can be stress, etc. The main point I am trying to make is that in ourselves we hold the capacity to act on these 'sins', in this particular instance, greed. We are all guilty of greed from time to time. It is human nature but it is how far we fall down that rabbit hole and how strongly we let it take us that makes the difference between really wanting to work hard to have more money and using whatever means necessary, be it legal or not, to accrue your desired prize. It is a biological survival instinct that is ingrained in our construction.

That being said. We all have the capacity to deny ourselves these actions as well. To control our urges and moderate them. Greed in itself being something that is something that one sees throughout the animal kingdom and is present in a situation that has a lack of altruism. Altruism being the unnatural need to provide and is present in social cultures/enviroments. Altruisim begins to make sense in these situations where there is a social need to help others for the good of the whole, not just yourself or your family but without it, greed is a root nature that is hardcoded for the survival of the individual.
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Re: Greed

Postby Gaius Florius Lupus » Wed Jan 04, 2017 12:03 pm

Salvete philosophi,

Greed is the irrational desire for wealth or goods, which are not necessary to achieve one's goal.
It is pretty obvious, which natural drive greed originates from. To achieve one's goals it is helpful to have money and posessions. Wealth also ensures that the basic needs (food, shelter) will always be satisfied. A natural drive to acquire wealth is therefore understandable.

It becomes irrational, when more wealth is aquired than can ever be used. And it is this point, where we as rational beings should start to use reason (living according our human nature, as the Stoics would say).
We may need a car for transportation, but any car will do. A luxury SUV is an indicator of greed.
We need a house for shelter, but any decent apartment is sufficient for our needs. A house with more rooms than persons living there is also a sign of greed.
We need money to pay for our needs, but not more than we will ever be able to spend usefully. A wealth of more than 1 million US$ is clearly a sign of greed.

Greed is one of the character traits that I believe I was really able to overcome.
I immediately retired, when I had enough money for my remaining expected lifetime.
My only furniture are 4 plastic chairs, 2 plastic tables, a desk, a bed and recently a sofa.
I have neither a TV nor music equipment. A laptop with earphones does the sam job.
I threw all my books away and only keep electronic copies in my e-reader.
Instead of a car I use public transportation or taxis.
This may appear like asceticism, but it is the Stoic way. I do not deny myself anything, I only eliminated the things from my life that I noticed I never use. I do not hesitate to spend a few thousand dollars for a journey, if I think it is necessary, but I would not even spend 30 cent for a bus ride, which is over a walking distance.
Reason must always be in control of our spendings and desires. If it is not, it becomes greed.

Acquiring wealth for charity is nonsense. The true reason is that this kind of giving away money only serves PR reasons. Wealthy people are generous, because it improves their social reputation. It is therefore a selfish act. It is not our responsibility to distribute money to others, we should not have taken it away from others to accumulate it in our pockets to begin with.
The accummulation of wealth beyond our personal needs only makes sense, if it is for a political purpose. It is justified to accumulate wealth and power in order to achieve a certain change in society. Then it serves a goal and is reasonable. It is greed, if our desire for power only serves our personal vanity.
The existence of a reasonable purpose is what distinguishes greed from necessity.

Valete!
C. Florius Lupus
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