Tonight the Socrates Cafe discussion was on “greed.” What is greed and what can we do about it? After a reading of an online dictionary definition of greed, the conversation was launched with an acknowledgment that greed is the official policy of our capitalistic economic structure. Our former US Secretary of state Tillerson back when he was head of the Exon Corporation said, “My job is to maximize the bottom line of profits of this corporation any way I can.” That is what capitalism is all about and the formation of a corporation is to allow individual people to invest their money in hopes of making a profit at no legal risk to themselves, other than the possibility of losing their money. Supposedly all legal risks are born by the corporation itself and by the officers of the corporation. Occasionally the corporations are fined for the misdeeds of their officers, but rarely are those malfunctioning officers ever legally punished. There was an earnest complaint about the Wall Street debacle that cost many old people their savings, but none of the people responsible was ever punished, even though some of them made fortunes during the market collapse which they created.
There arose in our discussion various aspects of personal greed by ordinary people, also by postulated human beings, by chimpanzees, and by wild animals in general. A blog was quoted on wolverines-give-insight-into-the-evolution-of-greed, that I enjoyed because I was thinking about saying much the same thing. After a considerable portion of that blog was read, when my turn came, I modified my statements to a more human approach based on the recent experiments on profit and loss where it takes roughly twice as much profit to offset a measured quantity of loss.
Also, greed has a component of comparison to our companions and whether we have more of something than our companion does. It is a feature that is variable and dependent on the valued object being considered. If I have about the same amount of money, or power, or artistic accomplishment, or object of value as my companions I feel okay, but I get anxious if I have only half as much and I feel inferior, or if I have twice as much I feel superior.
However, if they are ten times better I am insignificant and out of the game. If I have ten times less of the quality being considered I will feel crummy, still human, but a very poor representative. Or, if I am ten times more possessing of the quality I will feel fantastic and probably start behaving arrogantly. When I have a thousand times more of the quality under consideration there isn’t even a game in play for me and it is like watching human-ants by the Greek gods and those creatures doing their personal things doesn’t concern me. Stoic philosophy deals with this nicely by stating up front that if you have no influence you can just ignore the whole thing and let things play out as they will. But the same can be said for having absolute influence because then it doesn’t matter either and the situation is boring.
To make my point more relevant to the group discussion of how to cope with personal greed, I said the goal is to be in a group where you have ten percent more of the quality than the average person you are trying to cope with. That is enough to have a buffer but not so much as to put you out of the ongoing human game. That brought scowls to the faces of some of the others.
The point of living is to have meaningful human interactions and that requires dealing with near equals but having something of value to offer.