The Legitimization of Greed

 

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Let me start off with some major caveats.  First, greed has always been with us.  Second, among certain people, there has always been excessive greed.  Third, we will never eradicate greed in the human species.  Why then you may well ask, another screed against the excesses of greed? The answer is that we have entered a new era of greed.  Never before has greed been so widely accepted and so widely admired. 

Throughout history, prophets and religious leaders have warned us about the pursuit of wants that never satisfy the soul nor do anything to enrich humanity.  In the past, greed was the mindless pursuit of more.  Jesus said that “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” – 1 Timothy 6:10.  The Bible says more about the dangers of money and possessions than any other subject.

Ignatius of Loyola gave this message to his followers:

Lord, teach me to be generous;

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

To give and not to count the cost”

Gautama Buddha made the following comment concerning greed:

“Inflamed by greed, incensed by hate, confused by delusion, overcome by them, obsessed by mind, a man chooses for his own affliction, for others’ affliction, for the affliction of both and experiences pain and grief.”

Islam has many comments about the evil of greed and the pursuit of more and more:

“Three Habits Destroy

a Man Or Woman:

Greed, Envy

and Pride.”  ― Hamid al Ghazali

“Greed is permanent slavery.”  — Ali ibn Abi Talib

If greed has always been with us, then what is different today?  The difference is that in the past, greed was recognized as evil and as an element that would distort human nature.  Today greed has become legitimate.   

The definition of legitimate is: 

To give legal force or status to; make lawful.

To sanction formally or officially; authorize.

To demonstrate or declare to be justified.

5451174-1020-PXWe shop till we drop.  We invoke our privilege to use our money as we want to.  We make holidays out of holy days where we spend our time hunting for bargains and sales.  Greed has now become a sacrament.  Greed is no longer evil.  Greed is holy.  Greed is the American Way of Life.  Millions of Americans adore the wealthy.  The story of Lazarus holds no credibility – Luke 16:19-21.  Nor does the story of the Rich Fool – Luke 12:13-21.  Money is sacred and those who have more are worshipped by Americans and exalted as better people and better leaders.  We elect millionaires and billionaires to Congress and even the Presidency on the sole basis of their acumen at having stored up wealth.

Wealth Trumps compassion.  Money Trumps kindness.  Possessions Trump love.  No one would argue today that leaders should have compassion, kindness, and love for others.  These are sentiments that hold no currency.  The values that Americans believe in today are bitcoins, stocks, bonds, gold, and credit ratings.  Wise people are not listened to.  Instead, rich people are sought out and worshipped because they are smart enough to game the system and attain more than the rest of us.  A 3,400-foot home with four bathrooms for people with no children is a sign of success and not wretched excess.  A Porsche, BMW or Mercedes is proof that you are an important person.  Living in a neighborhood with walls and private security guards helps you to feel safe because wealth is envied by those who do not have it and they might take it away from you. 

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Living the good life today means having more than your neighbors, friends, or relatives.  According to Merriam-Webster, success is “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”  Success is not measured in America by kindness, compassion, or love for others.  Millions of people watch reality shows where fame equals success.  A new breed of celebrities exists solely on the basis of being famous and not for any achievements. 

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Movie stars are the aristocracy of America and are adored because of the illusions that they present and not because of reality.  John Wayne is the Icon of American Manhood.  He was a man that personified heroism and masculinity.  In reality, he was a racist who denigrated Black people, Gay people, and Native Americans.  He received a 3-A (family deferment) after Pearl Harbor and never had to fight except in his many heroic movie roles where he extolled American militarism.  Movie stars are idolized because they are rich and famous and have more of these attributes than the general population. 

So where do we go from here?  There are many good people in America.  There are many generous people who give freely and share their wealth with others.  Attributes such as generosity and empathy for the needy still exist in America.  However, what I have called the “legitimization” of greed has infected too many of our people.  It has become acceptable.  Americans have failed to grasp the insidious nature of greed.  It is not something that takes over your life suddenly.   Greed creeps up slowly and silently until one day, you are consumed by it.  Our nation has made greed an attribute to be admired.  No school in American dares to mention the perils of greediness. 

Can we reverse the trend that has led us down this path to self-centeredness and narcissism?  What can be done to turn the trend back towards valuing compassion and kindness?  Not just compassion and kindness for those who look like us but compassion and kindness for all people.

I will try to answer these questions in my next blog.  We will need a change of mindset that will lead to a new Zeitgeist.  The present paradigm we are living in is destroying humanity.  Trump and his supporters are not an aberration but a reflection of how far we have gone down the wrong road.   If we keep going down this road, we will have a world where there is no humanity left in people.  We will continue to destroy our environment as greed dictates taking all that we can get and not leaving anything for others.     

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