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.
Michael Douglas won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the reviled Mr. Gekko, and while I won’t spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it (and if you haven’t, I do suggest you make an effort to do so) it is safe to say that by the end of the movie the philosophy that he espoused came back to bite him in the ass.
This little speech has been going through my mind a lot recently. Has been for the last few months, really. During the audition process for Dead Man’s Cell Phone, the director told one of the actors auditioning for the role of Gordon in the show to think about the “Greed is Good” speech while reading a monologue. (It only occurs to me now, in writing this, that both characters have the same first name. I wonder if Sarah Ruhl had Gordon Gekko in mind when she created Gordon Gottlieb?) This was only enhanced by the fact that I have recently seen the trailer for Wall Street : Money Never Sleeps.
I suppose Wall Street shenanigans are active in our collective subconscious as a society right now. Not really much of a surprise when you consider the recent recession. We foolishly thought that the age of Gordon Gekko had passed, but it turns out that people like him were not only still around but that they had created complicated financial monstrosities that he had never dreamed of. The whole housing market fiasco makes Gordon Gekko look like a bit of a piker. I mean, Gekko actually broke the law to get rich. The recent crisis was brought on by activities that were, for the most part, completely legal.
The question I’ve been asking myself recently, though, is whether or not Gekko was right.
Is greed, for lack of a better word, good? Does it work?
That depends on whether or not you agree that there is not a better word. I do not. I think there is a better word to describe the motivation to achieve more.
Hunger is, without question, one of the most powerful sensations in the human experience. Hunger inspired primitive men to fashion weapons and risk their lives hunting dangerous animals. Hunger is what drove mankind to develop agriculture, a step that moved us from a nomadic culture to one that was centered around communities and led to the development of society as we know it today. Hunger has been the root cause behind countless crimes. Those of us who have felt true hunger often consider giving a few dollars to the people we see on the side of the road with the cardboard signs, even though we know intellectually that the odds are that person isn’t going to spend the money on food. Hunger is primal. We cannot control it. We cannot ignore it. When we are truly hungry it literally begins eating away at our bodies from the inside. Hunger is a warning. Hunger is the means your body uses to remind you that without food you will eventually die.
But there is more to Hunger than just the need to eat. You can be Hungry for other things. Power. Fame. Wealth. Love. Happiness. Precious Moments statues. If there is something that you feel you need in order to survive and you do not have it you will Hunger for it.
Greed is just a manifestation of Hunger. Greed is what happens when you are so Hungry that you will consume more than you could possibly need in order to make sure you will never be Hungry again. In that sense, Greed is somewhat understandable. Greed is fear of Hunger.
I feel Hunger every day. Not the Hunger of needing food, though. That does occasionally happen, but it is not the result of there being a lack of food in my life. It is simply because I am between meals and my body has consumed all of the food I have eaten previously. I know where my next meal is coming from, and I have not felt true Hunger of the physical sort in many years. No, the Hunger I am talking about is different. I’m not even sure I can name what exactly it is that I am Hungry for.
Not in one word, anyway.
There is a need, deep in my gut, to create. To laugh. To love. To express myself. To reach out to others and have real communication. To share the experience of living with my fellow humans. To expand my mind. To act. To tackle complex programming problems. To sing. To dance. To smile.
These are not just things that I like to do. These are things that I need to do. If a day goes by when I do not do these things I feel it, and it as real as the gnawing pain in your gut that happens when you miss a meal.
If I do not do these things I feel like I will die, and doing them every day reminds me that I am still alive. The times in my life that have been the most miserable have been the times that I was suffering from an acute lack of one or more of these things.
I was miserable because I had gone so long without assuaging my Hunger that I was Starving. To compensate, I attempted to assuage it by actually eating. That didn’t work out so well for me.
My Hunger is always there, but at this point in my life I can say that on the whole I am fed every day, and that my meals are plentiful. My Hunger is satiated, and I am a happy man.
So…What are you Hungry for?