Tuesday 16 August 2016

Greed as a front for evil - The absurdity of dogmatic economic explanations for human motivation

Among radicals - both on the mainstream left and on the 'secular right' (which is actually just a branch of the secular left) - it is normal, and regarded as sophisticated, to explain everything large scale than happens in the world as a result of economic motivations.

It is surprising that the mainstream 'right' should go in for this, since it is so obviously a Marx-derived practise - but it is true.

Indeed, this delusion affects almost everyone when trying to explain something they don't like - i.e the perpetrators are accused of monetary greed: greedy bankers, developers, capitalists, trades unions, politicians, feminists, antiracists, social justice warriors... all are often accused by their enemies of lining their nests, of being covertly and primarily motivated by economic advantage.

At times this reaches the point of absurdity - Western politicians who are destroying their economies with mass unrestricted immigration are accused of seeking economic advantage. Of course, there is always an advantage for a few even in a mass collapse; what is happening is that the unit of analysis is continually being redefined and narrowed (salami sliced) until someone can be found who has an economic advantage (whether short-, medium- or long-term)... and then that is accepted as the explanations.

Indeed, most analysis does not seem happy until it has reached this point: i.e. an explanation in terms of greed for money.

But the idea that economic factors are the bottom line explanation for human behaviour is very recent, artificial, and abstract. By contrast, the idea that some people are motivated by evil is ancient, spontaneous and concrete. (Think of fairy tales and myths.)

But - since evil is defined in relation to its hostility to good (Subversion, Destruction or Inversion of Good) - then evil does require that the arguer acknowledge the reality of Good.

And this is the problem. Secular people (and indeed many religious people) have trouble believing in the reality of evil as a primary explanation in human affairs, because they have trouble believing in Good. They regard Good as merely subjective, a point of view - therefore they cannot imagine that the motivation to attack it could be a powerful factor in Life.

There are at least seven 'deadly sins' traditionally recognised, and avarice is only one of them! 

The Establishment, the global conspiracy, are indeed very rich indeed; but they are not rich because they are evil, their evil being a means to the end of wealth... The truth is most worse. The truth is that they are rich in order to do more evil: their vast wealth is a means to the end of subverting, destroying and (especially) inverting Good.

Maybe that is another factor behind the assumption of bottom-line economic motivations: the truth is so much scarier.


Albrecht said...

In his book, The Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, William Cobbett documents Henry VIII's sacking of the monasteries, the centers of Church opposition to his power grab. He then divvied up the pelf amongst the nobility to buy their support for his crimes. After the goods had been held for a time there was little chance of restoring the status quo ante. As in Henry's time, it seems our elites want money not so much for its own sake, but to buy acquiescence to evil.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

To be fair, St. Paul did say that the love of money was the root of all evil -- but I agree that it's foolish to take that too literally.

Leo said...

1 Tim 6:10 suggests an economic motivation for evil, albeit in the context of "many foolish and hateful lusts" (v. 9) and erring in the faith (v. 10), and in contrast with several presumably neglected virtues, namely righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness (v. 11). So greed is one sin among many, but it did make the infamous list for good reason.

And as Albrecht notes, greed is useful in promoting other evils. Sloth doesn't have quite that same power, as it is so demotivating.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Leo - The problem is that so many modern people don't believe the other sins really are sins or really are motivating - they focsu so much on material greed. It's a sign of our materialism.

AnteB said...

The idea of evil as a force or motivation of its own resonates with me. Many people imagine a specific sin as the worst sin and the "mother" of others, such as greed. C.S Lewis imagined pride to be this sin, if I remember correctly.

I believe malice, though perhaps not a sin in a strict meaning, is the most forceful motivator of evil behavior. Malice appears to me to be the most satanic "forces" of all things. It is both so dark and petty and rationally incomrpehensible. People go to great length to harm others in horrible ways for no real reasons and with no benefits for themselves. On the contrary, people are often ready to harm themselves just to harm others.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ante B - Well said.