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Going for the Gold - Or How Much Is Enough?

May 19, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 163

One of the traits that Mother Nature has handed down to us through the process of evolution is a strong will to survive. The impulse is so powerful that when an opportunity to serve this interest presents itself, it often pushes moral or legal issues into the background. Occasionally, even the most honest among us is liable to succumb to this impulse and engage in criminal activity.

Amassing wealth is, of course, one of our aims because we are taught early in life that money (whatever the coin of the realm happens to be) enhances our ability to survive. Wealthy people live longer and better lives than their counterparts in the lower income classes.

Take as an example the fictional character Jean Valjean of Les Miserables who risked prison for a loaf of bread, simply because he was starving. The will in him to survive was stronger than the negative prospect of becoming a galley slave. The impulse to feather one's nest (hoard for the future) is quite difficult to suppress. In Jean Valjean's case, when a priest gave him refuge, he strangely rewarded that kindness by stealing the man's silver candelabras. He couldn't pass up the opportunity to provide for an uncertain future, even at the expense of biting the hand that fed him.

The infamous Willie Sutton, bank robber extraordinaire, reportedly robbed over 100 banks and spent 40 years of his life in prison. Why 100 banks? Wouldn't a couple have been enough? In fact, once committed to a life of crime, he couldn't stop himself. Another problem is that we have also been endowed with the innate principle of conservation of energy. We instinctively take the shorter path when presented with a choice. Stealing is much less work than, well... working.

Sutton later admitted that the euphoria he felt while training his gun on the people in the bank, having them under his control, gave him a high that he just couldn't resist. And, no sooner had he left one bank than he was planning the next.

Many modern day captains of industry aren't much different than Willie Sutton. Oh, they don't use guns to rob banks (corporate treasuries), but instead they simply use a pencil (bookkeeping tricks). By appointing a compliant board of trustees who rubberstamp their salaries and bonuses, independent of whether their companies makes money or increases shareholder value, is much easier and if done carefully doesn't come with criminal consequences. Willie Sutton would have been proud of this new class of robber barons.

A puzzling aspect of this chicanery is that Mother Nature gave us the greed imperative without a mechanism for turning it off. How much is enough wasn't part of the original equation, even after the amassing of more than enough to live comfortably for several lifetimes. The point seems to be that our instincts, which are initially impelled by need, are quickly overcome by incessant greed. A position is quickly reached where thieves and robbers just can't help themselves because they get a thrill out of stealing and getting away with it. The act becomes an end rather than the means.

To dignify and enable their crimes, these selfsame white-collar criminals continually lecture the lower classes that capitalism is good and anyone can become rich. There's no need to apologize for being wealthy--it's an integral part of the American dream. It is yet another mechanism the greedy use to selfishly guard their positions.

And the irony is that a majority of citizens accept this as gospel, no matter how inimical to their personal interests it becomes. They are actually induced to worship these barons as examples of their aspirations. The desire for survival through acts of self-interest is effectively subjugated by the promise of future wealth, contrary to the evolutionary imperative.

Mother Nature would not be proud of this development.

Raff is an author who took early retirement from a career in the computer industry to pursue a writing career. He has two non-fiction books in print. Information about him and his work may be found at

Source: EzineArticles
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