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GREED AND MAMMOTHS IN ECONOMIC HISTORY AND PRE-HISTORY

March 20, 2014

GREED AND MAMMOTHS IN ECONOMIC HISTORY AND PRE-HISTORY
All major religions condemn greed, and the Christian Bible is especially condemning of those who practice the vice, even though the vice is widely practiced today among the general populace as well as those who condemn the practice. Attainment of great wealth based on greedy conduct was especially condemned when it brought about poverty and famine among the needy and disfranchised in known history. Many moral philosophers in our day and age still complain that greed will be the underlying factor in humanity’s ultimate undoing, and they may be on to something. Greed as used in this essay is not just about money; it is also about political as well as economic power from a historical perspective. The “greed” to make political rules of economic conduct today is as important as the economic advantage which follows the exercise of such “power.” I write this essay with such understanding.
Our human society today is much greedier than the society in which our stone-age ancestors lived. With hunting and gathering a daily necessity and sharing the bounty essential to survival, such bands of pre-tribal humans had no room for greed. Sharing was necessary for the band’s survival. They necessarily practiced a form of economic democracy, and all without the fancy definitions of a John Locke or an Adam Smith. It was, to coin a phrase, “doing what comes naturally.” Greed cannot exist where there is not a surplus to be plundered. Hunters and gatherers had thin and fleeting surpluses at best, perhaps for a month or so upon bringing down a mammoth or discovery of a rich new field for foraging roots and berries; perhaps not. Their “bands” were comprised of perhaps 40 people or less: they were interrelated and knew one another intimately. Hunting, gathering and sharing were the rule – greed need not apply.
Fast forward from millions of years as a hunting-gathering society to the recent state societies of the past four or five thousand years – to today. Mammoths abound. We have enormous surpluses everywhere either being exploited or waiting for exploitation, subject only to entropy or some form of interim destruction of human civilization. We are now organized in state societies; we are far too numerous to know one another. Greed has been renamed; it is now deemed a necessary ingredient for “getting ahead.” It is not bad but on the contrary “motivating.” It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning ready to get ahead in this super competitive world. Greed, as thus described, is good.
Or is it? There are other motivations than greed available to human effort and success. Neither Jesus nor Gandhi awakened with greed in mind; they had loftier objectives than mere acquisition of assets. However, not all of us can be philosophers; someone has to fill potholes and produce widgets, but if we are to have an economy that works for all of us, then we must have some control over the greedy among us who would destroy it. We know that Wall Street banks and traders write our trade rules and, with a few exceptions, our banking laws, rules and regulations. The greedy are therefore not only pursuing their patterns of greed to make as much profit as possible for themselves; they are also buying a political process that belongs to all of us to manipulate for their own selfish designs in search of ever more profit. Their goals are not our goals; their greed is destroying our roles in our (not their) economy.
Such greed would never have been tolerated in prehistoric societies where there was scant surplus to be greedy about. We have a similarly scanty situation now with our surpluses in the coffers of the greedy and unavailable for fair distribution to us. We should respond as our ancestors would have. GERALD E

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One Comment
  1. John Dominic Crossan, at a recent seminar I attended, said the human species is on the precipice of survival. I think he is right. Religious extremism (once thought to be dead in the water after WW2) seems to be alive and well and intimately involved in world political affairs and conflicts. Note that Bush Jr. “Consulted his higher Father” for wisdom in world affairs and wars rather than consult his earthly father! One can only conclude that either the “higher Father” has it in for the human species or that Junior was a head case. I choose the latter. Nonetheless, the human race has evolved, both good and bad. We have the ability to find “cures” for many deadly diseases, create great works of art and music, yet kill more efficiently with higher tech weapons that could never have been imagined a few generations ago! Meanwhile, we are killing the planet, which, if anything in this transient life we experience, deserves some recognition and gratitude for giving and sustaining life! Where would we be without oxygen from trees? Or clean water from lakes and rivers? Just a very few of the critical apparatus that give us and sustains life, yet how do we repay the planet? Do we take it seriously? Depends on whether one gets their “information” on the subject from Fox (faux) News or some other corporate entity. Again, thanks for your voice of reason and truth. You always give me reason to smile and have hope in spite of the evidence in which we live in these dark days of global oligarchy.

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