By Molly Murfee
We devour. We devour landscapes and watersheds until they are scarred and poisoned. We devour plants and animals and ecosystems, culture and languages until they are extinct. We devour scenery and tourists and subsequent access. If something’s in our way, we push it out with force, with anger, with certainty. We move so fast with our greed we become overstuffed gluttons, food falling out of our engorged mouths, not even cognizant of what we are eating. We want money and power and recognition and status at the expense of all else.
I’ve watched greed happen, turning respectable people into ravenous creatures with gnashing teeth, fighting with all they’ve got for whatever they appear to be at stake. It speaks to the primordial nature of the ailment. It just. Takes. Over.
We fear sharing the pie makes our piece smaller. Giving someone else rights takes away from our own. Someone else surviving threatens our own. We fear our piece of the pie is too small anyway. We covet our neighbor’s thinking their piece surely looks bigger, juicier, flakier, without ever realizing – there is no proverbial pie.
Dr. Neel Burton in Psychology Today writes that greed is an “excessive desire for more than is needed or deserved.” There is no greater good, only one’s own selfish interests to the detriment of others and society at large. Our culture places a high value on materialism and by extension greed, he explains, to the point we’re immune to satisfaction. Acquiring one thing after another – desire – itself becomes the object.
One theory is that greed is programmed into our development to promote survival. David Foreman in Rewilding North America recounts a compilation of theories around human evolution. In the earliest of our human days we existed as three species – Homo sapien (that which we currently are), Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis. Early Homo sapiens won the evolutionary battle by annihilating everything in their path – including other human species - killing your own being a somewhat unique and odd trait.
Vast extinctions of plants and animals have followed in our wake since the beginning. On the one hand this information is interesting, kind of an “ah ha” moment that explains so many of our actions. On the other is pure terror. Our destructive tendencies that strive for our survival over the survival of literally anything else, is buried deep within our unavoidable DNA.
In modern day, the striving to survive that spawned greed gives us the motivation to build or achieve. Walking hand in hand with greed come deception, envy and spite, recounts Dr. Burton, stress, anxiety, exhaustion and depression. We override reason, compassion and love. Undo family and community ties, undermining the very values on which society and civilization are founded. When greed is all we see – we do harm.
Another contributor to Psychology Today, Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, cites greed as an addiction, where enough is never enough, and adds another layer – the insatiable pursuit of wealth.
“Of all the things one might be addicted to,” he writes, “nothing tops the greed-laden pursuit of wealth in its audacity, manipulativeness, gross insensitivity to the needs and feelings of others. Not to mention its extreme short-sighted irresponsible covetousness.”
Chasing financial opportunity to the detriment of virtually everything else is where the dopamine is, he explains. We become like rats, pushing the button of desire over and over, tapping into that “master molecule” of pleasure. Those involved in the practice are mercenary, exceedingly competitive and aggressive, taking ruthless advantage of every opportunity to turn a profit.
We’re killing people and the planet because of it. Allow massive corporations with seven and eight-figure salary CEO’s to have their way by backing off quintessential regulations such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act. According to the New York Times there are currently at 83 environmental rules either rolled back or in process of. Twenty-two in air pollution and emissions. Eighteen in drilling and extraction. Ten in animals. Five in toxic substances and safety. Seven in water pollution.
These rollbacks include such items as cancelling a rule that oil and gas companies must report methane emissions. Shrinking borders of our national monuments to allow for fracking. Permitting oil and gas exploration in national parks. Allowing coal companies to dump mining debris into local streams.
We must reorient our value system away from the one sole pinnacle of monetary accomplishment, and include love and respect for our fellow human beings, as well as the plants and animals with whom we share this earth. We have become the antithesis of survival, befouling the air, water and soil we depend upon, exchanging it for financial gain and convenience.
We must make sensible decisions in all we approach, that consider the repercussions across bodies greater than our own, and chose action from that more elevated and enlightened place.