Posted by: Rocky | February 1, 2010

Greed is Good?

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that 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.  And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

-Gordon Gecko, “Wall Street”

Criticizing a sick culture, even if the criticism accomplished nothing has always felt like useful work.  But if the supposed sickness wasn’t a sickness at all-if the great Materialistic Order of technology and consumer appetite and medical science really was improving the lives of the formerly oppressed; if it was only straight white males like Chip who had a problem with this order-then there was no longer even the most abstract utility to his criticism.  It was all, in Melissa’s word, bullshit.

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

These two quotes adequately represent one side of the debate hypothetically raging in my head.  As someone about to enter the “real world” for the first time, I am faced with the conflict of “selling out” to the corporate world, or pursuing a life of intellectual enrichment, filled with a hatred of consumerism and greedy human behavior.  Obviously there is some middle ground here, but I often find myself completely convinced of one side of the argument only to have my own perceived understanding turned on its head (much like Chip in The Corrections).  It is really a question of what one values in life.  Many of your essential values can be pursued through material pursuits, others cannot be.  Interesting fact that could be made up because I got it off the internet:  

“In 1966, when college freshmen were surveyed about what they were going to do with their lives, 44 percent said it was important or essential to become well off financially, but by 1996 that had risen to 73 percent. Conversely, back in 1966 a full 83 percent said it was important to develop a philosophy of life, but by 1996 that had dropped to 42 percent .”  

I don’t doubt that some people are completely happy and self-aware while working at a what I perceive as “meaningless” labor (not intellectually productive/does not do any type of what I perceive as good).  The aforementioned passage from The Corrections also reminded me a lot of the popular blog and book Stuff White People Like.  This blog criticizes the self-indulgent contradictions inherent in many upper class, educated whites.  The following is an example:

#82 Hating Corporations: “One of the more popular white person activities of the past fifteen years is attempting to educate others on the evils of multi-national corporations. White people love nothing more than explaining to you how Wal*Mart, McDonalds, Microsoft, Halliburton are destroying the Earth’s culture and resources.

While the growth of multi-national corporations can be attributed to a number of complex social, economic and political factors, many white people prefer to take the word of two trusted sources: No Logo and AdBusters.

Published in 2000, No Logo has been responsible for more white person “enlightenment” than any book since the burning of the library at Alexandria. By reading this one magic book, white people are able to get a full grasp on the evils of multi-national corporations and then regurgitate it to friends and family…When engaging in a conversation about corporate evils it is important to NEVER, EVER mention Apple Computers, Target or Ikea in the same breath as the companies mentioned earlier. White people prefer to hate corporations that don’t make stuff that they like.”

Stuffwhitepeoplelike often gets to the heart of the issue I am talking about.  Other relevant posts include #62 Knowing what’s best for poor people as well as #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture.  These posts really show the gray area between acting in a sincere, selfless way and acting completely self-indulgently. 

So to what end have I arrived?  Final conclusion?  None whatsoever, the debate rages on.  I just think there are a lot of interesting things going on here with class, education and human behavior.


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