From Greed to Generosity

SYNOPSIS OF ARTICLE: What are the roots of greed? How is it that we never seem to have enough? Here I show how a deep fear of both an inner and outer scarcity drives our greed. And greed, the insatiable desire for more determines so much of modern life. So I invite you to come and explore with me this key ingredient of our lives.

From Personal Greed to Essential Generosity:
Journey through the Shadow of Inner and Outer Emptiness

By David Daniels, M.D.

Greed: The inordinate or insatiate longing especially for wealth; avaricious or covetous desire; a form of violence as it violates the boundaries and being of others, even their “primal property, their bodies

Covetous: The marked or inordinate desire for wealth or possessions especially for another’s possessions; a craving for possessions or power; greedy, grasping, avaricious
Avaricious: Having a huge appetite, ravenous, insatiable

The Interrelated Core roots of Greed

Scarcity leading to outer emptiness. Concern that there is just not enough. This ties into human and mammalian evolution. We share the three basic aversive emotions – anger, distress, and fear – experienced by all mammals thus going back 100 million years of evolution. These are painful and we don’t want to experience them. Moreover they drive us to fulfill the basic needs for worth, love, and security. In terms of evolution we only came out of Africa 50-75 thousand years ago, a drop in terms of evolutionary time. As expressed by Carl Sagan’s one-year calendar of evolution we have been on the planet for less than the last hour of the last day of the year. Our behavior is rooted in our evolution. Thus we have a fear of outer emptiness driving us to get more security, worth (getting what we want/being treated the way we feel we should), and connection/love. These basic needs are so fundamental that they unconsciously can drive us to want more.

Loss of love, of contact with our essence, and ultimately of presence and unity as expressed in inner emptiness. Bill Schafer’s work regarding infants shows that we are born in presence (the sense of worth), joy (certainty/security to explore), and shared awareness (love/connection). This original essence state goes into the background as a result of personality formation. We go away from essence; essence doesn’t go away from us. Reclaiming the higher qualities leads to essential generosity, mutual sharing and the end to greed.

Power and control as substitutes or ways of dealing with the experience and/or threat of outer and inner emptiness.

These replace the loss of connection to love and essence leading to a sense of scarcity. Wealth/power/control come to equal happiness, Greed follows the pleasure principle; its consummation feels good. The will to power equal “growth and durability” according to Nietzsche. Will to power has driven much of survival behavior. The greater will goes into the background. The will to power through violence has been “the final arbitrator” as expressed by the Durants in The Lessons of History. But in this nuclear and technological era this strategy becomes obsolete. We are “prenuclear-age man in the nuclearage.” As Jerome Frank put it…

“All primates get greedy to: (1) provide safety and security; (2) protect their young; (3) assure resources and defend territory; and (4) maintain dominance and social order. Power, dominance, and control (PDC) actually often mean getting what you want and believe you need for survival and a satisfying life. The power of will can even give us a sense of identity.”

There is a spectrum of will from the greater will with full choice to the will to power, from no will to negative will to positive will. Anger fuels will as it occurs with the subjective experience of personal violation, of not getting what we deem supports our well-being. Levels of will are associated with levels of knowing. Will can be a transformer as it involves intention, choice, and energy. Survival and higher will are now necessary for survival, a 180 degree reversal from earlier times.

Role of Death-anxiety, Denial of Death

Earnest Becker’s work on denial of death or “terror of death” states that fear of death leads to denial of death, which leads to internalized compliance to culture, what he named the “symbolic protector.” He believed that this compliance to culture leads to the belief in immortality (the ultimate rescuer) and to specialness & invincibility. In turn, these connect (1) to the belief in our own society’s immortality and hence to greed, holy wars, & genocide wherein others are children of a lesser or false “God” and (2) to the belief in specialness & invincibility and hence to destructive, violent acts wherein others are lesser beings, unimportant. Lastly all of this can result in, yes, destructive acts of heroism and to elevation of greed.

These same themes of belief in immortality & the ultimate rescuer and invincibility/specialness also are embedded in all four of the great existential issues and the parallel issues of spiritual pain that contribute to greed as these are “remedied” by the ultimate rescuer and invincibility: death anxiety vs. life (gaining security and driven by fear when not having it); isolation vs. connection (gaining love and driven by distress when not having it); groundlessness vs. grounded (gaining worth and driven by anger when not having worth); and meaningless vs. meaning (gaining meaning driven by despair when not having hope). Thus greed has powerful motivators at the root of human personality structure and adaptive strategy.

Societal Themes/Issues: Dangers of Greed

“Greed is first among the seven deadlies. Greed turns love into lust, leisure into sloth, hunger into gluttony, honor into pride, righteous indignation into anger, and admiration into envy. If it weren’t for greed, we’d suffer fewer of the other vices” as expressed in the book, Wicked Pleasures. Here is what I call the greed sequence: need ® desire ® intense desire ® greed. Greed results in “consumptivity”, there is never enough: “I shop therefore I am.”

Greed as the core of culture collapse. Jared Diamond in his book Collapse proposes a five factor model: (1) exploitation and depletion of the environment (e.g., deforestation, soil depletion, depletion of wild species and energy resources, water contamination and general environmental pollution, population increase and their environmental impact); (2) climate change (e.g., drought, now global warming); (3) warring neighbors (e.g., scarcity of resources, depletion of dominant group); (4) decreased support of friendly neighbors (e.g., scarcity of neighbors resources, weakening of trade partners); and (5) society’s response to ecological problems (e.g. continued exploitation of resources, warfare). Increasing polarity of wealth and poverty result from greed paradoxically destroying economic well-being.

Some current forms of greed: (1) cheep credit characterized by low interest rates leading to excessive spending; (2) leveraging money at 30:1 as in the derivatives market that allows for even less reserves than those required of the gambling industry; (3) home purchase with no capital and low initial interest loans; (4) no adherence to “short term pain for long term gain”; (5) lack of economic oversight, the “watchdog to lapdog” mentality, (6) excesses of wall street manifested in huge multimillion dollar bonuses/salaries, e.g., Richard Fuld, Jr. of Lehman Brothers who received hundreds of millions of dollars in pay while the company was collapsing, and (7) the myriad of exploitations of third world countries in terms of cheap labor, and poor working conditions.

Positive Values of Greed and Avarice: The Case for Greed

Greater economics and growth lead to greater prosperity. Free trade and greed led to lifting over 400 million out of poverty in the last 25 years worldwide.

Greed is good as in the portrayal of Gordon Gekko by Michael Douglas in the movie, Wall Street. Everything good has been created by individual enterprise [see u-tube video clip].

Philosophy of objectivism of individual rights, free enterprise, property rights, pursuing one’s own happiness all support the positive notion of greed. Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness; that individual persons are in contact with this reality through sensory perception; that human beings can gain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic; that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest; that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism.

Relationship to Levels of Development

Levels of development can be simplified into four, basic levels:

  • ego centric/selfish (pre-conventional)
  • ethnocentric/care (conventional)
  • world centric/universal care (post-conventional)
  • universe centric/integrated masculine and feminine (integral).

At the lower levels, there is little concern for and inclusion of others’ well-being. Each stage involves higher levels of care and compassion.

Gender Effects

Males manifest a theme of autonomy, rights, justice and females a theme of care, responsibility, and relationship. Men lean toward agency and rules and women toward communion and connection. Of course, this can result in stereotyping. Yet this inclines men toward greater greed.

Hormones affect greed. Women produce much more estrogen as well as more oxytocin and dopamine all of which lead to more experienced pleasure, social bonding, drive for intimacy, and stress reduction. Men produce much more testosterone (women do have ample testosterone) leading to more aggressive tendencies. Also men are more left brain dominant resulting in more positive emotion and linear thinking. Women are more right brain dominant, resulting in more emotional sensitivity and processing of conflict. These differences also incline men to more greed.

Process for Healing

We all have a natural split away for essence as manifested in the infant’s presence, shared awareness, and joy. We feel a “loss” although it simply goes into the background.

The process of reclaiming the higher qualities of essence is embedded in the Universal Growth Process (UGP) of the 5As of Awareness, Acceptance, Appreciation, Action, and Adherence (see my paper on the UGP [click goes here]).

The goal is integration, the linkage of differentiated parts, so that personality and the higher qualities along with grounded presence and openheartedness are all current and integrated.

The result of practice, of mindfulness and development is FACES:

  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability
  • Coherence
  • Freed-up Energy
  • Stability

In this way we become our own best friend, open to living love each day from grounded presence & acceptance.
In the nuclear & technological age generosity rather than greed is necessary for survival — a higher will than power & control combined with love leads to the life fully lived.

In the nuclear and technological age, generosity rather than greed is necessary for survival — a higher will than power and control.

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