It appears from the protests going on all over the world that Americans are growing more intolerant of greed. The angry marches and closing of bank accounts seem to be saying:
I’M MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!! Howard Beale, Movie Network (1976) by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer
Many of the talk and news shows, newspaper articles and blogger posts want us to think that we are not going to take capitalism anymore, seeing business as the evil in the world today.
The real topic on hand is GREED! Beneath almost every concept or issue is people who are driving its meaning and expression. Capitalism as an issue alone without people driving its meaning is simply a neutral economic concept. Now put it into the hands of extremely greedy people, and yes, capitalism may seem evil, to some. The greedy actions of people like Bernie Madoff and the executives of Enron, Bank of America, and the like are the problem.
What is greed? It is an extreme desire to possess for oneself wealth, goods, or abstract things of value. Greedy persons excessively pursue wealth, status, and power. I really like Webster’s take on greed: “Greed is a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.”
For more of something than is needed is the stimulus for my psychological musing today. What are the psychological underpinnings of greed? What is wanting more than what is needed all about, psychologically?
Greed is a problem of nurture rather than nature. It is born in childhood development. Underlying the problem of greed is a fear of lack, personal insecurity, a particular way of protecting oneself, defensively, and what, the well known existentialist, Alfred Adler called a problem of a superiority complex that involves a tendency to make it by pushing others down. Together, these factors can lead to wrong beliefs about the nature of who you are, your connection to others and the world, and what life is all about. And, of course, add enough narcissism to this mix, and a greedy nature is born.
But, no two children from the same family are alike. There’s a saying in psychology that no two siblings had the same parents. Birth order and condition of family lifestyle, parents’ mental and physical health and care giving capabilities at the time of birth give rise to individual desires, defenses, and ways of construing beliefs about self, other people and the world.
If you were a first born, for example, and born in harsher lifestyle conditions than your siblings, you may have a greater sense of deprivation as an adult than your siblings who may have been born into better conditions. Let us add inexperienced care givers to the mix. Parents generally do get better at care giving as they mature and learn more about raising children. They learn how to handle their stress better too. So, if you are a first-born child, the parenting that you experienced may have been more inadequate than that experienced by your siblings. Let’s add another feature of your background. You have a depressed parent who was unable to adequately give love and attend to your needs. As an adult, you now have a deep sense of deprivation and personal insecurity that arises from this upbringing. Here, the probability of having a greedy nature gets more likely.
You may think I’m saying that first-born children have a greater tendency to become more greedy than those born later in the birth order. I would have to see the research on this. I’m really saying that all of the above-mentioned factors can give one a sense of deprivation, and that feeling deprived can lead to many personality configurations, one of which is greed.
What compels some people to such extreme acts of greed that leads them to act unethically and illegally? Is it about amassing large amounts of money? Greedy persons who get caught doing something illegal for self-benefit often say; “It was never about the money; it was about the game. I think they are right. But, I’m unsure that they really appreciate the true meaning of the game of which they are speaking.
Greedy people are trying to assuage a deep sense of lacking, to defend or protect themselves against personal loss. Underneath what they often call the “game” is a deep insecurity, a deep sense of deprivation. The defensive style that such people develop is so Teflon-proof that they no longer consciously feel weak or deprived. This is where Adler’s superiority complex comes into play, and why greed resulting from deprivation can make monsters out of men.
The superiority complex arises from a deeply-rooted psychological protest against deep feelings of inferiority that were formed early on in life.
I am suggesting here that the greater the sense of deprivation, the deeper the feelings of weakness, and the greater the potential for one to develop a superiority complex. Now, instead of feelings of inferiority, such people believe that they are better than others, are entitled to have what they want at the expense of people’s welfare, and, if you put a little antisocial leanings into the personality mix, laws do not apply to them. Doing whatever it takes to maintain their wealth, power and status is to reaffirm their false sense of superiority. This is the game. They have defended against their sense of weakness so well that, like the Greek mythical figure Icarus they believe they have wings made of steel rather than wax.
Today, I hope I’ve shed some light on the problem of greed. It is certainly a challenging time in the world. We see protests of all kinds against what is often called a response to capitalism. If we had less greedy people running our businesses today, perhaps they’d make decisions that benefit the welfare of all people. Perhaps, we’d then have different associations to the word capitalism.
Thank you for letting me share my take on this difficult topic. I welcome your thoughts and comments, as always. If you like my post today, please say so by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. Stay well, friends. Deborah