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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A Tale of Two Men

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It is a time of overwhelming greed.  It is a time of underwhelming altruism.  The hoards of poor and destitute and abused are still at the gates but the gates have been replaced by a wall.  The few that have managed to get over the wall or under the wall have found that their dreams of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have been replaced by barbed wire fences and security police intent on finding and locking them up in cages.  In truth, there are no streets paved with gold.  The gold has long since been stripped by billionaires and the American dream has been supplanted by a Trickle-Down theory which the billionaires are cynically prophesizing.

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Through the country stride two men.  One man driven by money laden with stocks, bonds, and coupons for a cheap cup of coffee.  The other man driven by compassion with a calendar always full of dates to help someone else out.  One man has plenty of gold, the other man has plenty of time.  No two men could be more different.  One man represents the America that was.  The other man represents the America that could be.  The two men frequently cross paths and to some extent even like each other.  There is no hatred between the two but a mutual inability to understand the other’s motives has always existed.  Each thinks that the other is of unsound mind or to put it another way is “out to lunch.”  This is their story then.  I tell it from a neutral objective.  Strangely, I like both men.

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Tom is a white middle class male in his mid-seventies.  Tom is driven by the almighty dollar.  Hardly a day goes by that Tom is not trading or looking at his stock portfolio.  Tom (everyone agrees) is “all about the money.”  Tom is a Trump supporter.  In many respects, he does not fit the typical demographic for a Trumpist.  Tom has gone to college.  He worked at a white-collar job and he has one of the largest houses in the town.  Tom always dresses well, speaks well and never utters a vernacular word.  Tom has never owned a motorcycle and I doubt he has ever shot anything in his life.  He is the epitome of decorum and propriety.  He has kept himself in good shape and looks physically fit.  Indeed, he looks several years younger than his age.  Tom is soft-spoken and is the last person you could think of who would ever get in an actual fight with anyone.  

Tom prides himself on his frugalness, some would say cheapness.  He will buy a coffee at the local coffee shop and when it is time to pay, he will search the internet with his smart phone to find a coupon that will allow him to get 50 percent or so off the cost of an already low-priced cup of coffee.  But greed cannot be measured by cheap cups of coffee.  In some respects, it is difficult to separate greed from fear.  Many a conversation with Tom, I walked away thinking that it is not so much greed that drives Tom as fear.  Fear that the immigrants might take his house away.  Fear that women will take his job.  Fear that minorities will get his share of the America pie.  Fear that LGBTQ people will gain access to his bathroom.

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If it is true that Trump supporters are driven by fear and greed, then Tom (regardless of demographics) is the quintessential Trump supporter.  Tom defies the category of “Trump Deplorable.”  You can have an intelligent and civil conversation with Tom on many a subject.  Nevertheless, he defends Trump no matter what the issue.  Trump is his God and can do no wrong.  Despite Tom’s penny pinching, he is proud enough of his Trump affiliation that he has spent the money to purchase some Trump paraphernalia.  He proudly wears both a Trump hat and a Trump t-shirt.  This always puzzles me. 

Tom has never suffered poverty.  He lives well and has a beautiful lake front home with a mortgage long paid off.  He drives a luxury car with a brand image.  I am sure that neither NAFTA nor Globalism has ever been of undue stress to his finances.   Quite to the contrary, Tom has undoubtedly benefitted from the good that has come out of these policies.  Unlike the white rural blue-collar worker who saw his job and company go overseas, Tom has prospered in the 21st Century economy. 

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Ron is also a white male in his mid-seventies.  Ron did not go to college.  Ron was a blue-collar electrician until his retirement.  Ron grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Ron rides a Harley Davidson and when he was younger went on many a deer and elk hunting trip.  He still proudly has an array of rifles that he seldom now uses.  Ron has even won some rifles and given them away.  Ron can be difficult to talk to.  He is passionate about his position and not always willing to listen to others.  You cannot always describe his discussions with others as civil and polite.  Some people would describe Ron as uncouth.  He cares little about fashion or image.  He usually looks like he needs a good haircut.  If you did not know Ron, you would have no difficulty in putting him down as a Trump supporter.  You would be dead wrong.

Ron is a generous man.  He is one of the most generous persons I know.  Ron is not rich.  He has never purchased a brand-new car and he does not live on a lake.  Ron does not have a great deal of money, but he will often pay for my coffee and the coffee of others at our table.  Ron is most generous with his time.  Never a day goes by that he is not doing a favor for someone.  His generosity extends well beyond his immediate family.  Three years ago. Ron and his wife were given an award as Volunteers of the Year.  If anyone needs something or help with anything, they will call Ron.  I do not think of myself as “ungenerous”, but I am loath to admit that I sometimes think Ron is too generous with his time. 

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Politically, I would describe Ron as an independent thinker.  Ron gets a good pension from his former IBEW union and if there is anything he is proud of and will defend to the nth degree, it is unions.  He despises Trump and the Republican politics of greed and Trickle Down.  However, he does not defend the Democratic party either.  He has said that the Democrats sold too many Americans down the drain with NAFTA and Globalism.  It would have been one thing to pursue these policies if there had been some type of life jacket or safety net for the American workers displaced but the Democrats as well as the Republicans simply ignored the side effects of these policies. 

Ron is no racist, no sexist, no hater of immigrants.  If you talk to Ron about these subjects, you will find a man that is not fearful or belligerent towards others.  Whereas Tom would lock America down, Ron would tear the walls down.  Tom will deplore violent protestors.  Ron will deplore the violence that lead to the protests in the first place.  Ron loves to travel and meet new people.  Tom spends most of his days in the same town that he has always been and traveling the same safe pathways that he has always traveled.  Ron has taken several foreign students into his home on an exchange program and is always eager to hear stories about other people and other places.  Tom has a child who is developmentally disabled that he is a loving and kind father to. 

A tale of two men.  Both men married.  Both with families and children.  Neither man a criminal or drug addict or law breaker.  Both men admired by others in the community.  Both men loved by their families.  Both men with friends who speak and think well of them.  Men who are on opposite sides of any imaginable political spectrum. 

A time in America when the divisions seen to outweigh any points of commonality.  When the divisiveness and polemics drive everyone either right or left.  When disagreement is called evil and rudeness and bullying substitute for politeness and civility.  When you are my enemy if your politics disagree with mine.  When truth is now called a lie and facts are now called fake. 

old men drinking coffee

Ron and Tom still sit down mornings at the coffee shop and talk to each other.  There is often passionate disagreement.  Ron will storm and foam at the mouth.  Tom will quietly state his position and seem somewhat amused at Ron’s vehemence.  I am not sure who has the most difficulty understanding the other but watching Tom and Ron interact is something like watching a TV sitcom.  Are Tom and Ron following a script that the rest of us do not know about?  Perhaps there is a script written somewhere that we are all following.  

“Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail ­ as you surely will ­ adjust your lives, not the standards.” ― Ted Koppel

Why Vote for Biden and Harris?

Yes, I know, the Democrats will take our guns away.  They will let the starving hordes of immigrants ravage our country and steal our jobs.  The Democrats will support the killing of unborn children.  They will raise our taxes and prevent us from becoming rich like Trump.  The Democrats will allow unions to take control of our businesses and destroy free enterprise. 

Last week, my wife and I drove to Tomahawk Wisconsin to visit some friends.  We drove via Hwy 8 and returned via Hwy 64.  Just for fun, we decided to count political signs going and coming.  Going we limited our sign counts to 1 sign per home passed.  Most if not all Trump supporters have more than one sign in their yards.  Some have flags and gigantic Trump signs.  We even passed two guys on a street corner waving Trump signs.  When we arrived at Tomahawk the score was Trump signs 41 and Biden signs 21.  On the way back, we counted all signs regardless of how many were on one property.  The score was 219 Trump signs to 25 Biden signs.  Nearly a 10-1 advantage.  Clearly a lot of people in rural Wisconsin like and maybe even love Trump.  Non-Trumpers are confused, perplexed, and bewildered.  What is there to like about Trump they ponder just as many people ponder the heavens and stars?

I have always been an independent.  I vote the person, not the party.  I sometimes call the Dems, the party of Wimps and the Republicans, the party of Greed.  I think of both parties as the Democans and the Republicrats or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.  What did the Democrats do for the rural white non-college working class older voter?  Support for diversity, Gay marriage, NAFTA, Immigration, climate change and social welfare programs do not hit the mark with people in the hinterlands like Northern Wisconsin. 

So along comes a Savior riding a Mercedes golf cart, living in a Florida mansion befit for a king and supporting a trophy wife, the envy of every male or at least straight male in America.  He will bring jobs back, keep out the ravaging hordes of rapist immigrants, stick it to the Chinese, lower taxes, make everyone rich again, protect our unborn children, keep at least one gun in every house and perhaps most of all “drain the swamp.”  The swamp as we know it is full of college educated brainwashed left-wing pedophiles and socialist bureaucrats.  People who do not really work for a living but are blood suckers thriving on your tax money.  None of your friends, relatives or neighbors live in the swamp.    

So, given all the great things that Donald Trump will do, why will I vote for Biden and Harris?  Simply because character matters.  The ends can never justify the means.  I have no illusions that Biden will drain the swamp or that he does not have his warts and blemishes.  He is no hero to me, nor do I foolishly believe that he will make America great again.  The only thing that will make America great or keep America great is when 100 percent of Americans get off their butts and get involved in the political process.  In the last presidential election, only about 61 percent of Americans took the time and effort to pull themselves away from their TV screens and vote.  We need to make changes in government, but it will only happen when we take the political process out of the hands of the lobbyists and career politicians.

 So why will I vote for Biden and Harris?  Because character does matter.  Morality matters.  Compassion matters.  Concern for people more than money matters.  Appealing to my humanity and not my fears or greed matters.  I loath bureaucracies.  I too want a safe place to live.  I want to see jobs for people that want jobs and I don’t want to see freeloaders given a handout.  But I also believe that Jesus said to feed the hungry and help the poor:  “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”  1 John 3:17. I do not think this means only your neighbors or your friends or relatives.  I think it means strangers, foreigners and people who may not be the same color or religion as we are.  I do not think Jesus wanted us to discriminate between Black people, Red people, Brown people or any other people on the face of the earth. 

So why will I vote for Biden and Harris.  I think we made a big mistake four years ago.  The swamp is even bigger now than it was then.  The greed in Washington is ever worse.  The political infighting ensures that nothing gets done.  The lawyers seem to control everything, and corporations have grown richer on the backs of the working people that live in both rural and urban areas.  These fat cat corporations have no loyalty to America but are “International” in scope.  “America First” sounds great to many of us but it is a selfish policy that appeals to our sense of fear and greed.  We need a leader with a vision that embraces humanity and does not demonize people or pit one group against another no matter where they live.  We need a leader that respects all people and not just his base of supporters and the sycophants that in my day were called brownnosers for good reason. 

I have been as disappointed by the Democrats as many of you have over the years.  However, I will vote for Biden and Harris because I get a sense of character and integrity from both of these two candidates.  They are not heroes.  People get the government they deserve.  If you want heroes or heroines, watch the Avengers, or read Marvel comic books.  But character, morality, compassion, and humanity are the only things that have ever made America great.  Vote for who you believe has the right stuff but vote my friend. 

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