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Forum Post: Greed - A Remnant of Our Animal Past

Posted 8 years ago on March 19, 2012, 3:48 p.m. EST by infonomics (393)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Excerpt from Will Durant's Our Oriental Heritage

Greed, acquisitiveness, dishonesty, cruelty and violence were for so many generations useful to animals and men that not all our laws, our education, our morals and our religions can quite stamp them out; some of them, doubtless, have a certain survival value even today. The animal gorges himself because he does not know when he may find food again; this uncertainty is the origin of greed.

Note that Durant is asserting that greed is a remnant of our animal past.



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[-] 3 points by Puzzlin (2898) 8 years ago

Greed is a natural characteristic of being human which is deeply seated in our mind at birth. Our prime motive, at our core, is to stay alive and that means having everything we believe we need. In the deep recesses of our mind we don't differentiate between enough and everything. Basically this survival instinct over-rides our cultural desires to be respected and not seen as a swindler. The gambler runs on this greed. It's power over us can easily overcome the social norms which seek to control or limit the tendency towards greed.

Also, interestingly enough, when we satisfy this desire for greed by making large sums of money by taking foolish risks we also stimulate those same areas of the brain that are stimulated by sex, or drug use. This was verified through MRI studies involved with greed as the subject.

The scientific finding that greed in our current culture can stimulate feelings of pleasure similar to sex or drugs explains why capitalists seem so drawn to lust after profit and power. This lust leads them to seek short-term gratification even if the long-term results of their action may be disastrous.

So, with this knowledge, we have to realize that the only possible way to get greed out of politics and out of wall street is to control it. Our history is replete with these scam artists, charlatans, swindlers, and con artists since it's been recorded. It is the natural tendency of all of us when we're born. We had to be taught not to steal, share our toys, and that sharing is polite. If we were raised well, and have good discipline, we can overcome those tendencies. Our culture can help reinforce these values in us.

We can ultimately regain our control by restoring the regulations on wall street that were there just for this reason. We can stop the outsourcing mania by taking away the incentive for corporations doing it. And finally we get the rich out of the pockets of the politicians, make the rich pay their fair share in taxes, and close all those crafty greedy loopholes.

The Puzzler

[-] 2 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 8 years ago

This Forum post is only restating the very obvious, and so is Durant. Anyone who has reached the age of cognitive awareness of what the world is all about knows full well that the human animal is deeply flawed on a multitude of levels. Evolution produced a mistake. "Intelligence" capable of producing nukes wedded to the animal drive for alpha-dominance is not good.

Why do you think most of the governments of history have been authoritarian/dictatorial? Democracy is comparatively rare. The desire by the few to seek power, dominance, and control over the vast, powerless, many is an ancient drive deeply imbedded in many mammals, especially primates. Just watch any nature show to see it in action. Homo Sapiens evolved from that animalistic desire to dominate, and, at least in Western culture, has been the predominant paradigm for "civilization". This "civilization" is a very thin veneer maintained by alpha-dominance in the form of militaristic brutality. Ancient Egypt, Persian, Greek, Roman, latter-day Europen empires, and modern-day Power-Elite global dominance all support this rule of Nature.

So the curious experiment would seem to be reaching its conclusion. The curious observer watches in fascination to see if the species can use its primitive "intelligence" to rationally overcome the primitive animal impulses in sufficient quantity to prevent global multi-species extinction.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (23252) 8 years ago

Indigenous people shared everything, so what are you talking about here?

[-] 1 points by Mooks (1985) 8 years ago

I bet they didn't share anything until they knew that themselves and their immediate family had everything they needed.

Nearly all animals display what we would call greed. We spent many more years evolving as 'animals' as compared to humans capable of higher level thoughts like the ability to recognize greed. It is very deeply ingrained instinct because our greedy ancestors lived longer and reproduced more, leaving a strong genetic footprint.

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (23252) 8 years ago

You obviously never studied hunter-gatherers. I'm not going to romanticize them, but they organized themselves differently than we do. It was much more of a community effort.

[-] 2 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

In the past we realized the toxicity of unrestrained greed, and in our wisdom we put a top marginal tax in place as high as 70% which restrained greed to the benefit of all. Society prospered. It was one of the things that made America great. But the hoarders have been attacking progressive taxes forever. Right now wealthy hoarders (ho's) aren't even paying what hard working Americans pay (as a percentage of income).

[-] 2 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

Some people just don't give a shit about other people. Don't try to paper it over.

[-] 2 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

I don't buy it. I don't doubt that greed is an animal tendency, but it has nothing to do with uncertainty about your next meal. Doesn't everybody recall the movie they show in biology of the monkeys or apes. With relatively few bananas, the apes were compassionate and shared, but given a truly huge supply of bananas some apes became anti-social hoarders and refused to share their stockpiles. When we see one ape share its food with another we say it is being human. So when humans hoard at the expense of others, what do we call them? Greed is not good.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 8 years ago

But in a rigorous sociological study, you would still look for underlying traits that influences this behavior. We can't just say greed is merely the result of human rules, because there must be evolutionary factors that influence our culture, political arrangement, economy, etc., and underlie creation of those rules.

We can use indigenous tribes that display egalitarian characteristics as an example, illustrating that humans are capable of this behavior, but we don't know to what extent genetic differences may influence the calculus, we don't how these same tribes would perform under different conditions, etc.

Nevertheless, I think there's better arguments in support of concepts like direct democracy (that don't require so much speculation regarding human nature). For one thing, the obvious, even if we discovered our nature was darker than previously believed, would we revert to savagery? I think most reasonable people would say no, so human nature should not be the threshold question. We also have intelligence, which enables us to override many of our animal instincts (and in many cases, people had to learn to control their instincts or animal traits as a prerequisite to becoming more enlightened). Our inner animal mostly wants to fuck and eat, and building an enlightened modern society in a sophisticated world, requires more than fucking and eating (although both are still highly recommended).

Today we live in a world where technology and science permeate through everything, and such a complex world cannot be effectively governed by a central authority, without eroding human liberty. We will have to deal with constantly emerging and exceedingly more complex scientific data and capability as time goes on. This offers us many beneficial possibilities, but we also live in a world where people commonly fall prey to group think, and allow fear to divert their attention away from what's really happening around them. We can't keep the technology genie in the bottle, and we can't police everyone unless we become much more authoritarian. So our only other choice becomes creating a world where all people are involved in managing society, where all people are well informed, well educated, where no one feels disenfranchised or left behind, and we have a system that promotes cooperation.

[-] 3 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

A civilized person can control his tendency for greed despite evolutionary influences. Indulging your greed is no better than eating gluttonously at the dinner table or raping to satisfy your sexual urge. It is decadent and hurtful behavior and there should be laws to restrain it.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 8 years ago

Exactly my point, but there's no use denying the fact that those evolutionary influences do exist. Things like our fight or flight response, a biochemical reaction to acute distress, is a phenotype, as is our pattern seeking trait (influenced by brain dopamine levels), etc. etc.

Nature also selected for cooperative or egalitarian characteristics, and our intelligence can override both our good and bad biological impulses, but it's a very complicated picture (and not completely understood at this point, although I'm hopeful that we will understand this much better in the near future).

Nevertheless, whatever we discover about our nature, to remain on I guess you could say, an enlightened trajectory, we have to have philosophical virtues (like liberty) that serve as guiding principles.

[-] 1 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

That was both concise and instructive. Thanks.

[-] 0 points by infonomics (393) 8 years ago

raping to satisfy your sexual urge

Years ago, I responded with a comment much like your comment excerpted above. I was sternly admonished that rape was a matter of control, not desire or urge. Much to my surprise at that time, control vs. urge was an ongoing, inconclusive polemic. (Really, where was I during this time?) I am yet to be fully convinced of a dichotomous argument; more likely, the rapists pursues both. If control is the sole or dominant purpose, why the seemingly extraneous intercourse? Anyway, excuse the digression, but I never miss an opportunity to conclude an argument, if possible.

[-] 1 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

You might read "Soul On Ice." I forget the authors name. He was a writer for the Black Panthers and a convicted rapist. It might give you some insight.

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR (-497) 8 years ago

Did you say "movie" or was that a "documentary? I don't recall seeing it but when it comes to "survival" instincts take over.

One example is the people who live through the depression. Once they got through it they became "hoarders" in the sense that it made them feel secure in knowing that should it happen again they would be "somewhat prepared".

[-] 1 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

Did they become savers or hoarders? There's a difference.

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR (-497) 8 years ago

I would say "savers" with a "tinge" of hoarding. You must realize that these people went through hell and whatever term it was they used to them it didn't matter.

And I guess that may be true of all older people when I think about it.

[-] 1 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

So, you might argue that there was no overwhelming instinct to save before the crises. In fact, American consumers tend to spend pretty readily.

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR (-497) 8 years ago

Well if we are talking about the "great depression" people did save but lost it all just as it happened in our present day situation.

It's interesting to note that todays situation is a mirror image of what happened during the great depression.

The only difference between back then and now is back then the war got our country back on track - with what's going on today - we have no "major war" to get us back on track.

As a matter of fact I am willing to lay claim that unless our government and businesses don't do anything to stop chinese imports and start encouraging companies to start manufacturing here I really am not sure if it will ever get better.

We have nothing here in this country going on to provide jobs for the millions (at least 16) of people who seek employmnet.

And that doesn't even take into consideration the people coming into the work force or the baby boomers who will be consuming less because of retirement.

[-] 1 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

We have information technology and a changing world. The arch of history is progressive. A temporary detour won't rob us of the future. Well...that's my eternal optimism anyway.

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR (-497) 8 years ago

We need more companies to stop building shops in other countries and do it in this country.

An example would be "materials used for all funded government projects have to be manufacturered here in the United States.

I remember when it was like that - not so anymore. Even the US Flags at the White House Gift Shops are made in china.

Our country is really screwed up - and it's all becaue of our government and it's our fault because we gave them too much power.

[-] 1 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

How is it our governments fault that a corporation wants to make such large profits that it moves to another country? Granted there's a collusion factor, but weakening government just makes unethical corporations stronger.

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR (-497) 8 years ago

I just posted an article about Apple keeping 67 billion in offshore accounts because they don't want to pay the high taxes on the money.

Now 67 billion would be a great investment into the economy of this country, don't you think.

The reason they aren't bringing the money to the US is because of the high tax rate.

So, that may or may not be a good reason for them doing this but it seems to me this kind of thinking leads me to believe that our government is not doing a good job of encouraging companies to do business here instead of china.

When I say less government I am not talking about a "weakening government".

We can have a "less intrusive" government into our lifes and still have a responsible government - but we need to have people in congress who are working for the people not against them.

We need to clean house to send a message and get people in there with a vision to get this country back on track.

[-] 1 points by HitGirl (2263) 8 years ago

Our government shouldn't have to grease the palms of rich fat-cats in order to keep business here. What you're really talking about is a bigger government, one that calls it traitorous to support the economy of our enemies.

[-] 2 points by FriendlyObserverB (1871) 8 years ago

Animals are not greedy. If one is starving in a pack you can be sure the entire pack is also starving. Whereas with mankind , one could be living a life of luxury while another man is living in abject poverty. It's really not about greed but an unfair distribution of wealth. It's the manmade rules we live by that cause this unfairness, and nothing to do with animals.

[-] 3 points by JPB950 (2254) 8 years ago

It varies from species to species, but in social animals anything perceived as altruism doesn't extend beyond the local family group. The size of our social groups, is beyond our ability to care deeply for each other in most cases. Those manmade rules are an attempt to keep us from doing to strangers what animals do to rival packs.

[-] 3 points by FriendlyObserverB (1871) 8 years ago

We need to improve the rules if we want equality.

I disagree on the part of not caring for what is happening on the Otherside of the Planet. Altruism is not found in all humans. But many care about the sufferings of strangers. Just look at the volunteers who help. Why do they do it.

[-] 1 points by JPB950 (2254) 8 years ago

I didn't mean it to be critical of humanity or cynical. We care on an intellectual level, not on a deeply emotional one. I would suggest that is why it's so easy for so many to turn their back on suffering. It's simply a fact no one cares as deeply for strangers as they do for family. If we did every injury or death would leave us an emotional wreck and unable to function in a world where accident and death occur every second.

I agree too many of us have allowed ourselves to carry that emotional isolation too far, but unfortunately that is our natural tendency and it's a necessity for survival in a crowded sometimes violent world. Those that work with people or volunteer over a long period of time can suffer from an emotional burn out as the number of people they achieve empathy with grows too large.

[-] 1 points by Puzzlin (2898) 8 years ago

Don't agree. The weak runts of the litter don't eat and starve to death while the strong ones eat just fine. Weak animals also get left behind so the others can survive.

This is called famously, "survival of the fittest". Are you not familiar with evolution and how it works? Clearly the strong do survive and the weak die quickly.

[-] 1 points by FriendlyObserverB (1871) 8 years ago

That has nothing to do with greed.

[-] 2 points by Puzzlin (2898) 8 years ago

Why would it mean anything for you, you just said:

"Animals are not greedy."

I totally disagree, and since it's so fundamental to what we really are, I really don't think we have much to discuss.

You somehow believe animals are amicable when they rip the guts out of another animal for their survival. And, go back and look at your post, you actually believe humans are worse than the lower animals and may be we should act more like them. As if wild animals have real compassion, WOW. This is delusional. No rational basis to continue any discussion along this line with you. None.

[-] 1 points by FriendlyObserverB (1871) 8 years ago

When an animal " rips the guts out of another animal" there is no pain.

[-] 1 points by FriendlyObserverB (1871) 8 years ago

Greed is an addiction. When the stock market jumps, investors feel a " high " it's a very addictive high. Those on Forbes 500 can tell you all about their addiction.

When an animal has enough he takes no more. Humans keep taking.

[-] 1 points by Puzzlin (2898) 8 years ago

Until we fall asleep or stop eating. What are we taking when we're asleep.

Hmmm...You just can't let this one go. I think you've only convinced yourself as you built trenches around this wild animal is more tame than humans ranting rave.. Is ALL, just you, and no one else believes it. Maybe you could write a white paper on this one Mr. Expert.

[-] 1 points by FriendlyObserverB (1871) 8 years ago

Humans have no sense of " enough , that's why we need profit caps, and speed limits/greed limits.


[-] 1 points by Julian (57) from St Lucia, QLD 8 years ago

Everyone has an animal brain in them, it's confirmed by Science. This is the part of the brain that's responsible for the problems in our society.



[-] 1 points by shoozTroll (17632) 8 years ago

Gotta wonder why there's 2 threads on greed, but I'll copy over my comment from the other one.

The underlying cause, is the failure to diagnose a disease known as pleonexia.

There are 10s of thousand of sufferers employed by WallStreet and some corporations, just because they exhibit the symptoms.

Many are employed by the very pharmaceutical corporations that could be providing a cure. Instead, they pay them to make up diseases for some of the compounds that failed to be useful.

Psychopaths and sociopaths do those kinds of things without feelings.

They would crash the economy of the whole World if they could profit from it.

Ooops they already did.

Care to help wipe out pleonexia?


[-] 1 points by Puzzlin (2898) 8 years ago

Greed is all about wanting everything we can get our hands on just like those animals until we've had our fill. Yes, when they get their bullies full they back off and relax. A strong animal usually gets anything it wants if it can think of it.

As the human animal, we have many many things not just food or sex we're interested in. It's almost endless what we can attain with enough money. And, looking at most rich people they seem spend according to whatever is available to them. Many millionaires go broke for this reason. Good topic. It explains allot about how we arrived into this predicament.

[-] 1 points by struggleforfreedom80 (6584) 8 years ago

This is BS. And you can easily find that out if you look at human evolution and nature.


But also, like FriendlyObserver said: it's about an unjust system more than anything else.

[-] 0 points by jewieboy (1) 8 years ago

Man is nothing but an animal animals fight for territory so does man animals fight for food so does man animals kill each other for survival so does man animals hunt so does man animals breed and then kill their off spring so does man animals are instinctive so are Men animals are smarter then Man Man is stupid dumb morose and ingnorant God should have given power of speech and reasoning to animals instead

[-] -1 points by Dell (-168) 8 years ago

Loserville - no other way to describe OWS