the Informed

Social Dysfunction, Part III: Legalized Greed

In Part III of this series on apathy, ignorance and greed, we take a look at the most heinous of the three vices; at how the elite have created a system for themselves whereby greed has become not only an acceptable way of life, but in fact completely legalized for the rich and for the elite of this world. There are people on this desperate planet for whom the very thought of caring for our fellow human beings or sharing the wealth is repugnant, and this must change. If we are to repair the damage done and fix our broken society, we need to topple these sociopaths and strip them of their power, for theirs is a world where billions suffer for their excess. When the accumulation of wealth becomes a disease and an addiction, the power they crave is their ultimate fix.

People in the business world have little concern for the welfare of competitors, or much interest in the social feeling that we consider so essential. Some business practices and enterprises are actually based on the principle that the advantage of one employee or competitor can result only from the disadvantage of another. As a rule there is no punishment for such behavior even though there is a conscious malicious intention. Everyday business practices that express greed and lack social feeling poison society as a whole. - Alfred Adler

Greed. The word conjures images of rich, fat elitists living lives of excess and wealth, smoking five-hundred dollar cigars and drinking thirty year old scotch in the back rooms of private clubs finished with mahogany and leather. Bankers, politicians, media moguls and CEOs, wolves of Wall Street, morally bankrupt and ethically viscous. The money is a means to an end, and that end is powerBut there is more to this problem than just the desire for money and the pathological accumulation of wealth at the expense of so many. The money is a means to an end, and that end is power; this is the ultimate goal, and power, by its nature, corrupts. Of course, like all things in life, it is more complex than this, for there are ethical rich people and not all powerful people are evil. However, current research has shown that power tends to amplify pre-existing psychological traits. The real problem is that moral and ethical people also tend to not be drawn to money and power, hence our current state of discord in society and the disproportionate amount of uncaring, sociopathological elite. Look at this article on incidence of psychopathy amongst professions; CEOs are in fact 4 times more likely to demonstrate qualities of psychopathy than the average person. Scary.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. - Abraham Lincoln

The problems that a greedy elite, and a greed-driven society as a whole create are widespread and pervade every element of our society. Climate change (corporate profit trumping environmental concerns), poverty, inequality, wars for profit and financial crises are all effects of greed. But what's important to consider is the shift in values toward the acceptance and even idolization of greed and the greedy. Just look at self-made celebrities, as they act as ritualized consumers, or our lack of public shame in the profiting of Wall Street fraud. Martin Scorsese's 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street in fact glorifies this greed, despite the fall of its protagonist. This excellent article from Salon illustrates this acceptance of greed nicely.

With the market crash of 2008, greed became ever more legalized; in fact the scams and incompetence of those responsible were rewarded with lavish bonuses and a massive public bailout. The sheer size and swiftness of this bailout very much exemplified the fact that their fraud was above the law. While Iceland remains the only country to jail these bankers for their illegal and immoral actions, the rest of the world showered them in moneyJust imagine if we took as much action against the climate crisis, for example. While Iceland remains the only country to jail these bankers for their illegal and immoral actions, the rest of the world showered them in money. We now live in a world where there are two layers of justice - one for the rich and one for the rest of us.

And then there's Bono and Richard Branson, super-rich who preach of helping the poor, yet shelter their money and avoid taxes that will create the very change they speak of. Or Apple, who shelter $140 billion in offshore accounts to avoid the tax man, while they claim to be egalitarian. They are hustlers, and the people literally line up overnight to throw money at them. Their offshore money alone could end world hunger - twice. When profits are placed before human life or our planet, we have clearly taken a wrong turn somewhere collectively to allow this to happen.

Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. - P. J. O'Rourke

A research team at the University of California, Berkeley, have been studying greed for almost a decade, and have discovered some amazing things that we already knew in our hearts; they have found that the rich are more likely to cheat, lie, steal and promote unethical behaviour. One test had participants told to not touch a jar of candy designated for children, and the rich not only stole more frequently from the jar, but also stole twice as much. We already knew this, but now it's proven science.

With wealth becoming concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer, with inequality growing larger every day, we need to examine the psychology of greed and ways to inhibit it. Why does a man like Rupert Murdoch want to own all of the world's media for example, when this flies in the face of what journalism is about in the first place? Why do we encourage people, as a society, to put their own needs ahead of the needs of others? Have we not learned that happiness does not come from money, but from building community and helping others? Greed is rampant, and it is the root of so many of the social problems we now face. When money trumps humanity, something is wrong. As long as the worst of us are drawn to positions of power, the hope for lasting change is slim. When are we going to wake up?

Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequality. - Bill Gates, 2007
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