Greed is a SOCIAL issue

There was a post on a google group called Minds Eye in relation to the word GREED. The post started with the following point:

“The word “greed” is tossed out so often and it always intrigues me just what people mean by it. Just what is “greed?”  Some people (no names) toss this word off their fingertips all the time and frankly I HAVE HAD ENOUGH. Webster defines this word as… : a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.

Ok, let’s take a more careful look at that definition.  Let’s say a very rich person spends a million dollars on a painting that he just loves.  He thinks this painting is so remarkable, so beautiful, that he is willing to buy it for a million dollars so he can look at it every day in his house.   Me personally?  I would never spend a million dollars on a painting, but that is just me.  That painting, or ANY painting, is not something I am interested in buying at that price, even if I was filthy rich.  But the things that I buy would curl your hair as they might seem so “strange” to YOU, but not to me. Everybody is different, and this is a very important thing to consider.  NOBODY can judge what another person finds important, interesting, beautiful, desirable, or worthwhile…”

Here was my reply:

I think the word greed explains a lot of the tragedy that we see in society today. We could address that tragedy better if we saw the contribution that greed was making to it.

My first point is that greed has been known to be a problem for a long time. It is often listed as the second of the SEVEN DEADLY SINS. Why this is important is because I believe the Seven Deadly Sins can explain most of problems in human society due to human psychology. I spend a lot of time on this in my books if anyone wants to explore this further.

Second, I think the discussion got off on the wrong foot. We need to read Webster’s definition more carefully.  It says, “more of something than is NEEDED.” Specifically, this phrasing does not limit greed to the environment of a single person. In fact, what makes greed, and all the Seven Deadly Sins, rank so highly as human faults is their SOCIAL expression in a social context. The first example is a good example to explore this.

If a person, who lives in an expensive tenement in NYC spends a million dollars on a painting, it may not be greed. But if the same person happens to live in one of the few surviving houses in Haiti, while people are starving to death in the street outside his front door, then society would label that greed. If the same millionaire, in Haiti, stockpiled just 2 weeks worth of groceries, an amount that no one in most of the U.S. would even blink at, while everyone else was living hand to mouth, society would label that greed.

The point is, this directly contradicts the notion stated in the first post that, “NOBODY can judge what another person finds important …”  The whole concept of greed, and the other SINS, is based on its social implications.

To make the meaning of greed clear, as used in society, Webster’s definition needs a few more words: a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed IN THE OPINION OF SOCIETY. And that’s the stickler!

Look how this point comes into play in the last paragraph of the post.  It says, “if you have
REASONABLE plans for every single dollar? THAT IS NOT GREED…”  The devil is in the word “reasonable”. And what society means by reasonable is what SOCIETY accepts as reasonable.

The reason this is so important right now is how it will play out as the mortgage disaster starts to really unwind. Note well, this disaster is NOT about houses. It’s about the people thrown into the street. To date, the banks have thrown the equivalent of 6 Haiti earthquakes of U.S. adults and children into the street. They will create the equivalent of another Haiti of homeless people every 3 months in 2011! And what is it that they want?  PROFITS!: to get back to the level of bonuses they got before the crash.

For those interested, you can read more at Deadly Sins

About Nanook

I am the "REAL" Nanook. I wrote the book LIARS! It presents the philosophy behind most of the posts on this blog. Look for information about it at
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