"I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself," said Ivan Boesky in his 1985 commencement speech at the University of California. He was sick, wrong and evil. Greed is our common enemy.
Governments have utterly failed to create and enforce laws that would prevent the disastrous impacts of unconstrained greed, whether it is in the financial world or anywhere else or among government workers that find ways to steal obscene amounts of money. Nor have religions controlled greed.
Is something missing in modern times? Yes. Strong feelings of guilt, before people commit their terrible deeds, before awful people are identified and found legally guilty. Emotional guilt must act as a deterrent to legal guilt. Guiltless greed has supplanted innocence among so many people that it rips the social fabric and brings down whole economies. Greed drives economic inequality. It pushes the middle class down into the lower class.
Once upon a time human beings were personally constrained because of strong feelings of guilt. Guilt served as the internal controlling mechanism for bad behavior or, better yet, just thoughts of behaving badly. In other words, guilt had preventive power. In better times guilt was a powerful force of negative feedback in peoples' lives. When guilty feelings go, so do shame and responsibility.
Something has clearly gone wrong in family, cultural, religious, business and education systems. In Greed We Trust has become an evil addiction guiding the lives of far too many people. They are not satisfied with a big piece of the pie. They want everything. When possessed by greed, no possessions are enough.
Seeking success within moral and legal boundaries has succumbed to unlimited self-centered selfishness. It is not enough for people to fulfill all their everyday needs and then some. They are compelled to become millionaires. Millionaires are self-propelled to become billionaires. Billionaires are self-driven to become bigger, higher ranked billionaires. Celebrities want to be even richer and more famous. Politicians want even more power and the considerable wealth that those outside government have. Corporate CEOs thirst for ever more money no matter how many perks and dollars they already receive. They want still more mansions and bigger yachts.
Modern greed has no limits. Culturally, greed is like a cosmic black hole that sucks in whatever it can conceive of. It has nothing to do with legitimate needs. It produces no remorse. It cares not about the pain it causes other people or about society. Greed is stronger than any drug addiction, any religion or moral value. Personally, greed is an emotional cancer. Among these sick people, it displaces any effective feelings of guilt. Guilt has no payoff as long as greed is repeatedly successful in delivering excessive wealth. Successful greed is so visible and in many quarters idolized that it keeps attracting more believers. Putting relatively few of these greed devils in prison does not seem to curb this trend.
"Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction," said Erich Fromm. This is what we must teach children. There is never enough for the greedy. When satisfaction is impossible, happiness is illusory.
It comes down to this: Either society through parents, teachers and religious leaders once again instills strong feelings of guilt for thoughts of greed, starting with children, or humankind continues sinking into oblivion. Self-imposed feelings of guilt must be seen as a virtue. Evil greed is an epidemic far more deadly than the flu. Generosity must replace greed; it is free of guilt.
Here's a great bumper sticker: Guilt Prevents Greed.