Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Greed is bad

Once, in a momentarily Randian mindset, I quipped that selfishness was the core of morality. This synthesis came from considering The Golden Rule and The Prisoner's Dilemma. While the golden rule appeals to an ethical imperative (e.g. Hammurabi's Code or the Sermon on the Mount), the prisoner's dilemma is more of a logical allegory (i.e. game theory/math). The result of each person turning on the other is net-negative; everyone loses in sum. Only if each bears some personal price is mutual benefit (net-gain) possible.

What does this have to do with Gordon Gekko? Simply, that he was wrong. Michael Douglas's character in the 1987 film Wall Street employed viciously small-minded mathematics in asserting the virtue of greed. It is not ethically viable for people to act according to the mantra of unconditional selfishness, nor is it socially pragmatic to isolate the interest of the individual from the interests of others. The following are a few user-generated web comments that address this issue:
A widely accepted convention of psychology is that the sociopath is one who is unable to integrate emotionally with others. Humans seem to need ethics to be sane. Ethics not only tells us when it's safe to cross the street, but when others' priorities overrule our own immediate needs and even direct our own emotions toward others' needs. What [better] example is there than empathy? We can feel with all things, from birds to foreigners. Indeed, Hammurabi parlayed respect for others into a codified system which encouraged commerce and vastly increased not only wealth, but the spread of good ideas. Concepts like Justice, Liberty and Rights, intangible though they appear, are more effective in securing our prosperity and viability as social groups than any amount of enforced order.

So, yes, Ayn Rand, we are free to act individually to maximize our individual happiness and prosperity, but our basic nature requires that we take all other aspects of our surroundings into account if we are to preserve sanity. The neocons' paradigm of "creating our own reality" is illustrative of the fallacy inherent to wishful thinking. And on any given day, more than ninety-nine percent of seven billion human beings lives and works side-by-side with others in peace because if for no other reason, it's more efficient. Neither can children be raised nor crops be grown amid conflict. ~ Martin W.

[Part of a response to a philosophy post on the New York Times website.]

The illness that the western world faces isn't liberalism, or capitalism for that matter; it's the distortion of these 'isms' based on the delusional hubris that man has in regard to himself. When people value themselves over their community, society begins to deteriorate. ~ Cliff E.

[From a discussion of individualism on a friend's blog.]

A Republican [sic] is, at root, a person who has concluded that economic selfishness is the heart of morality, ensuring that the worthy get their reward and the unworthy their punishment. If you'd like to advance from political arithmetic to political algebra, substitute "powerful" for "worthy" to derive this: "A Republican is, at root, a person who has concluded that government works best when it serves the economically powerful, even at the expense of the economically disadvantaged they grow wealthy by exploiting."

This health care issue is not ethical rocket science, folks, it's pure power politics. Executives with top-notch insurance policies, insurance companies, overpaid hospital executives and physicians who as specialists often earn in excess of $500,000 per year for 20 hours of work per week don't want national health care. It simply has nothing to offer them that appeals to their powerfully developed sense of selfishness and entitlement. ~ Douglas B.

[Response to an old Washington Post article about health care. This comment is overtly partisan, but I feel it effectively exposes a core ideology of what the first commentator briefly referred to as neoconservatism (if not "Republican" - I take issue with obsessing over the two-party system; corruption is corruption, it abounds everywhere). A planet scorched by global implementation of an ideology that consecrates unregulated rapacity is not a place where I want to live. It might suit Newt Gingrich and his million-dollar Tiffany's expense account, but it ain't for me.]

When we betray each other we betray ourselves. Rational self-interest is good. Greed is bad.

I shall close by invoking the Code of Costanza: WE'RE LIVING IN A SOCIETY HERE, PEOPLE!

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