Does Greed Motivate us?
When envy goes rogue
Everything has a price tag in America.
And nothing gets people drooling quicker than money and the prospect of profit.
As humans are socialized to compete from a young age, capitalism walks hand in hand with individualism. Instead of looking out for one another, we live in a country-sized schoolyard filled with bullies and cliques.
There is no solidarity without mutual benefit because every move is calculated and designed to reap monetary rewards.
From government to health care, education, and our digital ecosystem, this mindset is omnipresent and inescapable.
Value is always tangible and expressed in dollars, otherwise it doesn’t count.
This is why people will brag endlessly about how much they make, how much they own, how much they can afford to pay for anything.
But money has no personality; it doesn’t tell anyone who we are.
How we relate to money is where the story hides.
Or not, as American culture is one huge peacock parade with people heaping praise and plaudits on numbers rather than knowledge.
Even education is about credit lines before it is about than academic credentials; if you want an education, you must be able to afford it. And the ability to do so immediately conveys a learned and respectable aura upon your person before you’ve even opened a book.
The same goes for good health, which is a commodity in the US rather than a basic human right as it is in the rest of the Western world.
Human dignity isn’t guaranteed in America, not even when you purchase it in monthly installments through insurance.
Doing so only grants you access to care if you can afford the co-pays. When you can’t, you’re paying for something you cannot afford to use and you’re likely to remain sick, or you might even die.
And no one bats an eyelid until they’re faced with this harsh reality themselves, and then they might start asking questions. Because American exceptionalism means looking at the rest of the world with disdain instead of curiosity, we don’t know any better. Nor are we interested in finding out or learning from others.
For a country of immigrants, this intellectual, moral, and ethical isolationism is a paradox and yet it is thriving, glowing bright orange for all to see.
Leaving people behind isn’t a bug in America’s operating system, it’s a feature.
A country built on the back of slaves cannot profess to have everyone’s interests at heart with any credibility.
And yet, many have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the enduring marketing campaign known as ‘The American dream’. It posits that anyone can make it in America if they work had enough, which is why some of the poorest turn into greed’s most vocal evangelists.
While hard work is honorable and to anyone’s credit, and wanting what others have can inspire us to stretch ourselves, greed goes one step further by hungering for more than is needed and never being sated or satisfied.
Greed leads people to devise shortcuts to line their pockets and attempt to game the system through deceitful means. Be it by pushing out shoddy products through aggressive marketing or Ponzi and pyramid schemes promising vast returns, greed is never honest.
This doesn’t stop us from espousing it as a value and seeking to emulate it, letting self-interest lead the way while continuing to ignore the common good.
As a result, the focus is on quantity at the detriment of quality, and the market is awash in mediocrity pandering to the lowest common denominator. Take one look at what passes for culture and for food in America, and weep if you have a brain and taste buds in working order.
Even Americans get aggrieved at this sorry state of affairs, and some like Anthony Bourdain make a career out of curiosity and breaking down barriers between people near and far.
From entertainment so stultifying it numbs brain cells upon impact to filler copy with no message that scrapes the barrel for clicks and bucks, is this us?
Is this who we are, all greedy, chomping, voracious maws and grabby fingers wallowing in a self-made trough of unthinking tedium always looking to amass more money by any means necessary?
Is money the only value we have?
If so, the dehumanization process is complete; we did this to ourselves. Envy turned us into monsters without morals or compassion. And now we’re not just putting ourselves up for sale but other people, too.
I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.