The Blurry Line Between the Desire to Succeed and Greed/Envy

greed is goodSteve recently posted a quote from an article by Chris Future that struck me as callous.  Here’s the quote –

“No one is responsible for anyone other than themselves, unless they choose to take on the burden of others. No one should be forced to take on another’s burden. But we are forced to do that every day…We all make our own beds, and we all should sleep in them.”

Steve and I went back and forth a bit in the comments eventually agreeing to disagree.  Now I was basing this opinion completely on this quote and not on the article it came from, so I took Steve’s advice and read the original post and it didn’t change my opinion.  Then I saw another piece that he had written entitled DIY Moral Code and decided to give that one a go.

In the post Mr. Future discusses how most religions have what he calls a “big list of do’s and don’ts.”  To illustrate the point he included his own “rough translation of the Ten Commandments” –

1.  I’m the boss, and don’t you forget it

2.  Nobody else is the boss, just me – you are not the boss.

3.  Don’t talk about me

4.  Take at least one day off every week to rest up and tell me how wonderful I am

5.  Make sure that you are nice to your Mom & Dad. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t exist

6.  Don’t kill anybody

7.  Don’t sleep around on your significant other

8.  Don’t steal stuff

9.  Don’t lie about other people

10.  Don’t envy what other people have

He then went on to discuss his thoughts on each one –

First of all, those first 4 won’t work for me. I don’t think anyone else should be telling me what to do right? Five is OK, but only if your parents raised you to be an independent thinking person, which you probably are since you bought this book. Six also seems reasonable, I mean unless someone wants to kill you first. Seven is really a breach of contract, so also reasonable. Eight seems OK too, since like 6, I don’t want anyone killing me either. Nine is pretty good as well, since again, I’d prefer people wouldn’t lie about me. And 10 is a bit of a crock, I mean, if I didn’t envy what other people have, where’s my ambition to strive for more? Gone!

So, I’ll toss 1-4 and 10, and keep 5-9. So I follow the 5 commandments. And maybe add a few more of my own. Like “do the right thing”, “follow-up” and “finish what you start”.

I was pretty much in agreement with Mr. Future until the statement/question “if I didn’t envy what other people have, where’s my ambition to strive for more?”  So envy is a good thing Mr. Future?

The attitude reflected in both of these articles reminded me a lot of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism which believes that, among other things, “the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (or rational self-interest).”  In other words, greed is good.  But is greed good?  Is envy good?  Do these emotions lead people to making sound decisions?  Or do they lead people to making decisions that are self-centered and potentially destructive?

There are those who would argue that the Future and Rand are/were talking about the legitimate desire to better ones self or to succeed, and that very well may be the case.  I have no idea, but I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt since I can’t read their minds and all.  And maybe this is simple a point of view disagreement type of thing or an argument of semantics but to me, articles like these, especially ones that promote the idea of envy, are callous and promote self-centeredness and greed.

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5 thoughts on “The Blurry Line Between the Desire to Succeed and Greed/Envy

  1. I lean toward the opinion that he is referring to the desire to better one’s self and do what they can do improve the life of their family. I know that is what drives me to succeed financially. I want to make sure that my children are taken care of and that is what leads me in my decisions.

    I don’t have think this has anything to do with greed but it does have something to do with envy, which to me isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. I think it is good when it drives people to success.

  2. According to Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/envy) envy is defined as —
    “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.”
    and
    “1. a feeling of grudging or somewhat admiring discontent aroused by the possessions, achievements, or qualities of another
    2. the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another; covetousness”

    Again, we may be arguing semantics but I just don’t see how envy can be a good thing.

  3. Oh. I guess if you are going with the literal of definition of envy then yes, I could see how that would be bad. Perhaps the wording of his quote could have been done better. I always saw envy as wanting something for yourself that somebody else may or may not already have.

    For instance, say a friend of mine owns a real American Fender Jazz bass. I envy that bass. I envy that he owns one and I don’t. That is, I want one of those for myself and I have decided to try and save up some money so that I can obtain one of those for myself. I don’t really see that as feeling disgruntled toward my friend.

    Does that make any sense?

  4. I want to throw my hat into this conversation with the following thought. Isn’t saying that people should foster and respect others’ “desire to better one’s self and do what they can do improve the life of their family” really just saying something along the lines of: “We must make a social contract as a society to do all that we can to enable and continually support each other to become better and improve the life of others’ families?”, but without actually saying it? I think it is. I think this is just another way to say that you really believe in someone or some entity (and if it’s not government who could possibly do it?) to do something to insure that people have the right to do this. I’m not trolling when I say this. Now, aren’t social welfare programs like welfare, Obamacare, WIC, etc. a way to do this? When people are stripped of the ability to exercise their desire to better one’s self and do what they can to improve the life of their family, then shouldn’t government override whatever is impinging upon their freedom to do so and allow them that right? If so, then (like the moderate I believe I am), I don’t see how you can argue against them. The only remaining argument is the extent to which government should or can act without then itself being an infringer of someone’s rights. Hope this makes sense?

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