“What a mockery is made of the brief battle for possessions, that makes so short a life.” — Virgil
Gordon Gekko was not correct. Greed is not good. There is a reason it is one of the seven deadly sins. Virgil was much closer to the truth. Much like lust and gluttony, it is a sin of excess for the few and, more often than not, a dearth of the essentials for the masses. Greed has crept into our society in the masks of status and power, not just material wealth. Greed, by definition, is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to material wealth. By course of action, it is what breaks down society into the haves and have-nots and may very well be our eventual undoing.
How does it serve us as a community when the minority possess the majority of wealth and the majority are struggling to feed their children, keep a roof over their head, to just stay alive. Yes, yes, I know there are those who are lazy, addicted, irresponsible and may very well deserve their lot in life. But really, the larger percentage of those in need work their asses off for a pittance. Many are in the positions they are BECAUSE of the wealthy minority greedhounds (Enron, GE, Ford, etc.). How do the uberwealthy justify their existence when children are living homeless in the streets, left to make choices between being hungry or selling their bodies so they have money to eat. How is that ok? It’s not, it’s a repulsive side effect of greed, of excess.
This has been a topic of ongoing conversation of late. I recently saw I Am, which if you have not yet seen, you need to for Tom Shadyac is a pioneer leading the way in the right direction. While I agree whole-heartedly about the content, the direction, the need — a question has nagged at me about HOW to push the requisite masses in that direction, to unclench their fists from the money, the power, the delusions of success wrapped in a noose of excess.
One of the early guideposts for me in this quest was a post by Jonathan Fields about Karma Capitalism. As I was reading his blog a few days ago, it occurred to me that while the post is ostensibly about business and branding, by the end I saw a parallel to what needs to change in the world. The core of the problem is that greed has been branded as good. It comes with a slick marketing machine that is self-fulfilling, an engorging media-fest.
The alternative does not come in packaging that is nearly as sexy.
Therein lies the crux of how to affect the masses, to possibly harness the majority who are secretly hoping for something better/different, who “get” that they are living a lie but who have not yet figured out how to get out of it. Rethinking, reengineering needs to be branded in a way that shows the sexy benefits (brotherhood, community, sustainability, living without the strain of the joneses mentality, etc.) so that it can compete with greed.
It is time to change the game, reverse the process. Much like civil rights movements in the past, it is a game of the haves vs. the have-nots. There might as well be segregated and clearly marked bathrooms and water fountains, the divide is so ubiquitous and so obviously enforced. How to change it, I am not sure of just yet. I suspect it will be slow-moving. The pennies in a can theory. I Am and things like it are good to start/encourage the thought process, but it will take more to have any kind of larger/faster effect. We need to believe that we can dismantle the cultural barriers that forestall reform such as apathy and denial.
So, Jonathan’s words at the end of his blog that nailed it for me were:
Uncertainty, properly harnessed, is manna for innovation.
Lean into it. Dance with it.
The challenge is to focus not on how to be incrementally better, but how to change the game.
It ain’t easy, but if you can pull it off, it’s worth it.
Just something to think about. And isn’t it about time we started to think differently?