The change has been gradual but it has come. The days when I was in Sunday School were filled with missives about doing unto others as you would have done unto you, about turning the other cheek and of sharing love, belongings and shelter to those in need. We prayed and we celebrated the birth of our new king. His parents (on earth) were homeless, destitute and searching but they were taken in, given shelter from the weather, fed etc. (most of you know the rest, those from other religions know the theme even if many of the details were different). We were taught the dangers of being too prideful, of being too materialistic, the dangers of greed. I remember the stories of the money lenders, the camel and the eye of the needle. All religions and nonreligious philosophies seem to have had similar beliefs on the topic. It was something that most of us could agree on until we couldn’t.
I can’t be sure if it was changed slowly, one degree or fraction of a degree at a time, or if many of us were just blind to it. Perhaps it seemed too far-fetched to us, something too bizarre to ever take root but take root it has.
I remember growing up in the 1980’s, you know, the decade that was full of people talking about needing “me time,” “it really needs to be about me now” and related self-centered things. We had movies about Wall Street and proclamations about how “greed is good” and “I don’t think it’s possible to be too greedy.” Many, if not most seemed to publicly disagree with that statement, some of which did so as they headed to the mall to buy the latest and greatest as defined by those with an overabundance of cash.
TV ministers spoke less and less about forgiveness and acceptance and some folks such as myself started turning them off by the time that they made statements such as God telling them that they needed to raise X amount of millions or God would take them home. I remember thinking that this should be a reason not to give, as joining God, especially on God’s terms, was something we were told to strive for, yet the millions poured in and they asked for more and more. The humble servant of God (on TV and radio, many never did change) was transformed into a mega church running, high flying, limousine riding, mega mansion collecting, private jet owning, golden tongued preacher. They needed a bigger private jet to do God’s work. Sex and other scandals be damned, they were doing what was right.
Kids on the playground in many areas suddenly cared about name brands. Stores that once were the hallmark of shopping were suddenly things to tease about “what, did your mommy buy that for you at Kmart (or Sears).” Said in the most mocking of tones. Cliques increased and in time folks spoke of their recent purchases by the store and the price they paid, the more they spent the better. Being poor was something not to be concerned about but instead to be scorned, mocked and ridiculed.
There were still many, many, many people that acted far differently of course. Many still do not care about brands, paycheck sizes or titles, but they seem to be headed more to the margins and not the mainstream. If you are not one of them, you are to be despised.
In time the many components of greed manifested into its own psychopathology for those so afflicted. This psychopathology matriculated into a school of hate, anger, intolerance, fear and malice towards anything perceived to interfere with the quest for riches. Alliances were formed with former rivals if it could benefit financially and long term allies were abandoned if they no longer were profitable.
Signs of the Psychopathology of greed:
- Apathy towards anything that will not affect you personally.
- Compassion drain- you lack energy to show or feel compassion for folks different that you.
- Abandoning long term belief systems- you abandon beliefs that conflict with your desire to gain more wealth or possessions.
- You value material objects more than real human interactions (though you may attend more social engagements if they will lead to more fame, contacts or add to the illusion that you are important).
- Unwillingness to bend or compromise- possessions are key, riches are key. If you need to “club a baby seal” to get what you want, you can do so even if you were once an animal lover.
- Increased denial of facts that may contradict your lifestyle choices.
- Introduction of “alt facts” and “alternative truths” and working towards making these lies viewed as the “real deal.”
- Systematic damning of other types of thoughts, beliefs and nationality except when it may benefit you personally.
- Devaluation of the earth: Air, water, environment, people, animals and life in general have no real value unless they can be sold.
Of course, all is not lost. Though this psychopathology is currently seeing its moment in the mainstream and the possibility of worldwide negative impact for generations exists, there are many signs that this wave will not sustain itself. Across the world you can see greed winning but you can also see many cases of it losing. Those without greed or with much less greed and thus not fully afflicted are taking stands, they are defending the attacked and condemning actions contrary to harmony. Calls for inclusion, simplification of lifestyle, calls in support of the environment, the inclusion of the excluded and in the use of long term planning are being heard and progress is being made. Helping to define the difference between being concerned about being able to provide for yourself and the rampant disregard of others due to abject greed is very important as well. Just as the airline staff reminding you to place the mask on your own face before placing ones on others, there is nothing wrong with making sure you have “3 hots and a cot” before helping others. The cot however needs not be solid gold with diamonds.
One of the best ways to help with the treatment of the psychopathology of greed is not to condemn those afflicted but to encourage them to increase empathic living. It’s also not to condemn all things material. Truth be told I love my two Mercedes’ (1999 E320 and 2003 C320) and find the all-wheel drive (4matic in Mercedes speak) to be one of the best things I’ve purchased and to think of a New England winter without leather heated seats would be unpleasant to say the least. Instead, it is to help encourage a balance, a way to increase wealth but to do so without causing harm. A way to redefine wealth to include the nonspreadsheet items such as ability to give, to share, to bring joy and to help those that are in need.
Stand up, speak out, be heard but be civil.
The treatment is simple though it can be daunting. The time for treatment of all levels in now.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
"Doc Warren" Corson III is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.docwarren.org).