Most of us are unaware that this greed, envy, apathy, and underlying selfishness have actually been intentionally cultivated in the wider society. How do we address selfishness, greed, and apathy? What are the guiding principles for my life?
“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” – Gus Speth, American environmental lawyer and advocate former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.
Most of us are unaware that this greed, envy, apathy, and underlying selfishness have actually been intentionally cultivated in the wider society.
In the early 1920’s a quiet revolution was started to bring about a drastic social change. Banker Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers famously wrote: “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
A new kind of advertising was key to make this possible, and the pioneer in this field was Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who showed corporations how to make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass-produced goods to unconscious desires.
But by the 1970s the adverse effects were obvious. British Economist E.F. Schumacher wrote: “Economic progress, [the economist] Keynes counseled, is obtainable only if we employ those powerful human drives of selfishness, which religion and traditional wisdom universally call upon us to resist. The modem economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”
This shift in consciousness towards consumerism required a convergence of 1) the messaging that consumption is all-desirable and the new “God”, and 2) the gradual abandonment of traditional values and morality through the undermining of the value of religion.
So the big question is – what will replace traditional ethics and morality as the compass for our journey of life? How do we address selfishness, greed, and apathy? What are the guiding principles for my life?
The ending kirtan is sung to the Kodaline cover “All I Want”