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Greed and Compassion: Our Constant Companions

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(Article changed on March 25, 2014 at 15:24)

(Article changed on March 25, 2014 at 14:59)

Greed and Compassion: Our Constant Companions

Peter J. O'Lalor, Ph.D.

17 million, very poor children, go to bed Hungry every night in the US. 

Greed ought not to outweigh compassion in an advanced society.
17 million, very poor children, go to bed Hungry every night in the US. Greed ought not to outweigh compassion in an advanced society.
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A colleague asked me to consider writing an article on greed. It has been a struggle. It has been a struggle because, greed is so central and damaging to the human condition. It's not something people are unfamiliar with, even when in their youth. Greed is central to the human condition, but compassion champions the human condition. Aristotle, so important to western civilization, believed, "All communities begin with a desire to do good." ..., and then?

Compassion, or concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others, is also central to the human condition. Compassion is not absent, even as greed is not absent, in anyone.

It is a mystery, why those who call themselves, civilized, prosper from greed, knowing beforehand it is damaging to everyone. Or perhaps it is not a mystery, when we consider, compassion struggles with greed, in everyone. Perhaps another question might be, is greed an instinct, reinforced by base emotions? Leaving compassion to stem from, and be reinforced by, the ego?

In the history of western civilization, the human condition was one where subjects or citizens were bound by certain authorities, and exchanged their obedience for protection. This is the social contract. As enlightenment was pursued, the social contract grew, into the social compact. This combined citizens into a civil body politic, and to provide for the common weal, (common good). The new world was going to be a new community, and society was evolving.

Liberty was essential to that community, but for some heralded a time of fear, anarchy and mob rule, while for others it was the fear of greed. Greed indeed, reared its ugly head, while anarchy and mob rule, was smashed with the will of an iron fist, following the inception of America's republic, in 1788. Greed, now supported a growing central authority, as its central government was swept aside, pursuing empire, dominating and expanding trade, backed by an elite military. That is one story of greed; in the big picture, which may be surprising for some. Nonetheless, greed was central to the events in the early 1790's, American political economy.

A later example, may be that of industrialized modern societies, who pride themselves on progress. Sometimes progress for the sake of progress. Other times, for that progress which is inevitable. In the movement of western civilization, ancient philosophy blushed at that which is human. Yet, it was human dignity, which made a promise to future posterity, that greed was the right of no man, no government, and no church. Greed was not something to conquer, it would however, be an inevitable struggle. Soon greed itself, somehow, became something to aspire toward.

Greed became front page news, and greed became nowhere more visible than in the United States of America, in the 1980's. From corporate greed, the student loan crisis, "(Student Loan Farming"), oil, even knowledge and information, were being hoarded.

In America, today's corporate greed was foretold, by a famous cinematic piece, "Wall Street." A quote made famous for the "ME" decade of the 1980's in America, comes from the movie "Wall Street." Michael Douglas plays a dynamic stock investor and his character Gordon Gekko states at the Teldar Paper stockholder's meeting:

"The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the un-fittest . ...,The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much."

Well, too bad it was just a movie; because more than twenty years later; well you can see what followed; the inherited and corrupt failure of legislation to do anything about it, Attorney General after Attorney General, too impotent to stand up to Corporations or the Executive, and the Executive, too pre-occupied with inherited crisis' and / or, making their own.

Greed is not just about money, corporations, or governments. It is also about individuals. It is apparent, that from a young age, in almost every culture, greed is socially unacceptable. That would mean, that greed may be something every individual struggles with. Subsequently, if greed is a natural biological basis of behavior, why in advanced societies, is greed tolerated?

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Dr. O'Lalor is the author of A The Never Realized Republic: Political Economy and Republican Virtue, and Shrouded in Mist: Physics and the Archaic Symbology of Metaphysics.

He also has interviewed on other shows, including (more...)

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