In the 1987 film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko (no relation to the Geico Gekko), portrayed by Michael Douglas, intones the following line:
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
The line has been summarized as “Greed is good” and has been used by Australian prime ministers, Italian cardinals, and characters in Fallout 2. While it meshed well with the strong economic times of the 1990s, it now represents the high price that our society has paid for the actions of a covert few over the last ten years. The irony behind it seems to strike more and more people every day, like a dead fish in the face.
In the 1990s, I made more than I was making when my job left me at the end of March. I worked with ad agencies and pharmaceutical companies that had money to burn. This was back in the days when Tyco executive Dennis Kozlowski was spending $6000 of the company’s money on a shower curtain. Everyone seemed to be flying high on the proverbial hog. And then it all fell down – literally. September 11 changed things. Our soft underbelly was exposed, our humanity, our faith, all shaken. For an all-too-brief time, we put aside our differences, our desires, our classist distinctions, and acted like a bunch of good people. People who put others before our selves and our own needs. Do you remember?
Our economy took a dive. Executives like those at Tyco and Enron were exposed for who and what they were and shamed for the damage they did. Their victims were never compensated, but at least there was national, if not worldwide shame. Then came the War on Terror – GWB always made it sound like “the War on Tara”, as if we were attacking the plantation from Gone With the Wind – and like confused children, we were hoping that things would get back to normal, that our world would make sense again. But alas, that world was also gone with the wind.
(Please note that the opinions expressed here are just that – opinions – and my own.) Instead, we’ve been sucked into eight years of bloodsucking, fiscally exhausting conflict that has apparently done nothing but fill with impunity the pockets of a few very special cronies of the past administration. We all know it. We just can’t do a damn thing about it. Those of us who aren’t in a position to benefit from someone else’s power plays are resentful. In fact, we’re sitting here watching what little savings we have left rise and fall according to the temperament of the stock market. I swear, if I didn’t need my “assets” to be liquid, I’d be invested in real estate. Maybe that’s not a bad idea. As liquid as they are now, they’re getting pissed away.
And so, the point of this post….greed. It magnificently and unjustly benefits a few. I had lunch today with a friend who is going through a divorce (join the club.) Her “wasband” is trying to take her for everything he can, because he’s angry that she wants a divorce. Her lawyer says he’s never seen anything like it. And because she made more money than he did, he’ll probably get it. Is he deserving? No. It’s nothing but greed. Greed. One of the seven deadly sins. The question is, deadly to whom? To the one whose soul is consumed by it? Who has deluded oneself into thinking that things, money, revenge will soothe any pain that exists in the depths of the heart? To the one who is now rich is assets but poor in spirit?
I have committed some of the 7 Deadlies myself. I’ve been able to rationalize my actions – to delude myself, just like people who are guided by nothing but greed, into thinking that what I was doing was okay. I’ve suffered the consequences, justifiably, and come out the other side.
I now comfort myself with the knowledge that those who are consumed by materialism, covetousness, and selfishness, deserve my pity. And I know that they’ll get their comeuppance. Greed may be the new black, but it will go out of style again. It always does. The richest people are the ones with their love of life and others intact.
He who dies with the most stuff doesn’t win – he still dies. Maybe one day, the people who live their lives driven by greed, will see that. But I’m not holding my breath. Then again, thank heavens, I don’t have to.