This is one of the interesting things about our new culture of greed – how friendly it is. It’s stated purpose is to make everyone happy. But as with any society that concentrates on making more of something, it ends up producing the opposite effect. This is very strange, and something we should be paying more attention to.
People instinctively understand that making quantity more important than quality is not the proper approach for making the good life. But they have learned to override this instinct. The manufacturing economy has turned them into consumers, where they must buy more and more.
Let us back up in time to before the Industrial Revolution. Goods and services were being provided back then, as they always had. The main product was food, which was grown on the land. And everything was based on control of the land in the feudal system. There was just enough food, on the average, to feed everyone – but not much more. Bad crops meant starvation. Transportation was poor, just enough to move food from the fields to the market.
By today’s standards this was a grim life – but as medievalists have pointed out, it was a lively society with its own values. Artisans flourished that could produce almost anything people needed - especially clothing, which was as fashionable as ever. There were plenty of festivals that everyone took place in. As in any traditional culture, people had optimized every aspect of their lives – and lived life to the full, emotionally.
Unfortunately, this life would not last. And the reason for this was simple: the manufacturing economy was more profitable than the traditional one. People were expelled from their lands, which were then used for grazing sheep to produce wool for the mills instead. People who could grow their own food before, now became penniless beggars wandering the roads, looking for work. The first stages of Capitalism were grim, resulting in a despoiled countryside and widespread poverty – but also untold wealth for a few.
The basic idea here was simple, as I will repeat again – the emphasis on quantity as contrasted to the quality produced by self-employed artisans. The overall effect was just the opposite to that intended – poverty. Something important had been overlooked – morality.
And something else: traditional cultures had been destroyed. These were not perfect, to be sure, but they were alternative ways of life – something that had always been part of human society – cultural diversity. There was now a drive towards cultural uniformity based on more of everything – more people, more things, but with an emphasis on the things.
Moral values were overlooked as other values became more important – namely, getting more of everything. Human values become less important, and were eventually forgotten.
But this posting is about Greed With a Friendly Face, what is this about? Two hundred years have elapsed since the Early Capitalism I just described, and things have changed considerably. A substantial Middle Class has arisen in America, but they are now threatened by the super-successful. These are anxious to pose as saviors of the world. And even as saviors of less successful Americans. Anyone can get rich if they just follow the rules, they say.
What are those rules? Here is where things get tricky, because no one wants to make these rules explicit. I think I know what they are, but these are only my guesses. One of these rules is social conformity – everyone must be like everyone else. And this means conformity to the uber-rule – that power is more important than anything else, and it must not be challenged. Another rule, that fits in with this, is that people are no longer important – unless they are rich and powerful.
What is the role of religion in this? Most religions stress the importance of the common people – however poorly they enforce this. And this includes, in America, Christianity – in the form of the mega-churches. What do they teach? Affluence, pure and simple. God wants everyone to be rich. Here is where their friendliness comes in. They want to help get you started up the ladder of success. Whether you will actually get to the top is another matter – but you have to try, and try hard. Above all, you must not question the way things are.
Actually, getting rich always been part of Protestantism – taking the Gospel (and affluence) to less-fortunate people. The super-rich now make this part of their life-style – spending vast sums on alleviating world poverty. How can you be more friendly that that?
But strangely enough, the results have been the inverse of those intended. I subscribe to the National Geographic, and their articles about Africa are sobering. In the November issue, for example, is Rift in Paradise, about the Rift Valley and its ecological and human disaster. It makes you wish that Africa would sink in the ocean and disappear – and take its people with it.
But let us limit our scope to America. What is Greed With a Friendly Face here? It is not about welcoming immigrants, for sure. American want to keep their wealth to themselves.
But you will find it inside the corporate life in any affluent area. A fake friendliness is alive and well. Everyone is forced to be friendly, it is part of the culture. It hides the ruthlessness also prevalent. It puts a friendly face on greed and conformity.
This posting needs to be rewritten, but these are my thoughts this morning. I hope they are useful to you.