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    Posts: 1848
  • Darwins +858/-1

I'm not really sure I'd call the self-interested actions of posters here "greed."  Astreja taking a martial arts class doesn't seem to be the same sort of thing as a hedge fund operator pillaging people's pension funds and stashing the loot from multi-million dollar bonuses and stock options in the Caymans so they don't have to pay tax on it.  Astreja's examples mostly involve acquiring things she can use and enjoy, or things that enhance Her creative and personal potential in some way.  By their nature, those sorts of things will end up benefiting the people around Her anyway.  People who drive past Her house will see the giant dragon sculpture and receive the gift of its whimsy and beauty (Astreja: pics please? *puppy-dog eyes*).  The music classes may result in jam sessions with friends, or informal performances, or maybe even a musical career and global popularity for Her music.  Even if She only plays for Herself, She's still creating beauty.  Now consider a more extreme example than Astreja: Elon Musk.  Here's a guy with billions, who's using his money to build his own freaking space program!

I think that "greed-as-a-vice" emerges when the pursuit of "more" becomes less about self-improvement and doing cool things, and more about the competition for status and power.  The person who builds a hundred-bedroom mansion to impress the person who built a 90-bedroom mansion to impress them.  The person who wears a $2 million watch that doesn't look or tell time much better than a $200.00 Seiko, simply because it's a $2 million watch that inferior people can't afford.  The person who never gets to know their children because all their time goes into making more money, more money, more money.  The person who has millions or billions, and uses it to jigger the political process to concentrate yet more money and power into the hands of people like themselves.

Astreja's "greed" is mostly positive-sum.  My guess is that chances are pretty good that Her bottle of aged whiskey will be shared with a significant other and/or friends, simply because that's more fun than drinking alone.  Even if She does just keep it to Herself, no one else is hurt by it (I'm assuming She'll drink responsibly :) ).  Greed in pursuit of status and power on the other hand, is inherently zero-sum, or even negative-sum in the case of an Ebenezer Scrooge type whose obsession with wealth and power consumes them to the point that they'd actually be happier if they quit and joined a hippie commune.  A person can only enjoy superior status and power if other people are reduced in status and power relative to him/her.  If resources and energy are abundant, the status-competitor can only win if they can hoard enough to make them scarce for others.  If everyone can afford a solid-gold bathtub, the status-competitor doesn't win by having one.

I think greed and selfishness get a bad rap because of a scarcity mentality -- The idea that somehow there isn't enough to go around, rather than lots for everyone.  I think the universe is more than big enough for the most grandiose dreams, and that it's better to pursue those dreams than play at being altruistic and resenting every moment.

As much as I wish this was true, we don't have access to the universe.  In terms of practically-accessible resources and energy at scale, we are limited to those of one little planet.  The cheap, easily-accessible, high-EROEI[1] fossil fuels that made the lion's share of our current material abundance possible are starting to run short, along with other key resources like wild ocean fish, topsoil, and fresh water aquifers.  It's mathematically impossible to maintain permanent exponential economic growth on a finite planet.  So, I think it is for all practical intents and purposes certain that the problems of scarcity (not to mention climate change) will increase in the future.
 1. Energy Return On Energy Invested
Changed Change Reason Date
LoriPinkAngel Exactly! May 07, 2013, 05:28:49 PM
Quesi martial arts vs hedge funds May 04, 2013, 05:19:51 PM
Samothec thank you for this wisdom - I didn't know how to say it May 04, 2013, 03:21:34 PM