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Greed is good and other subversive memes of wealth

Posted Jul 22 2008 8:23pm

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

Examples of memes include “learned thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods. Memes propagate themselves and can move through a culture like a virus.” [Wikipedia]

Wall Street posterIn Wall Street (1987), stockbroker Gordon Gekko (played so masterfully by Michael Douglas) declares: “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.”

One of the problems with that ideology is that greed also energized his morally questionable corporate takeovers. And greed has fueled the real life actions of many people including Enron executives. But it is complex. A passion to cure cancer may be a kind of greed.

My experience first seeing the movie included excitement and even envy of a character like Gekko who was so intelligent and driven - but also dismay at another example of the rich as morally corrupt, which was a meme or belief supported, mostly unconsciously, by my parents.

What sort of impact does this kind of belief have on self concept and striving for achievement?

Randy Gage, a multilevel marketing guru, success coach, motivational speaker, and author of the bookWhy You’re Dumb, Sick, and Broke… And How to Get Smart, Well, and Rich, talks about another movie, Titanic: “It panders to the fear-based, lack-centered, and limiting beliefs that most people have about money and success. Titanic programs you on many different levels that it is noble to be poor, rich people are immoral, and money is evil. And the more you liked that movie—the more subconscious lack programming you have. I think it’s the most evil movie ever made.”

You can hear Gage in a Shrink Rap Radio Podcast interview:Get Smart, Healthy, and Rich.

The articleWhy Does Wealth Lie in the Hands of a Few?, by The Science of Getting Rich Program, says, “Wealthy people know that it requires wealth to do great things. They know that the good you can do without money is confined to your own physical presence in a given place. To extend beyond your physical presence requires money.

“At some point in their lives, they made the decision to extend beyond their physical boundaries – to increase their service to a larger audience in need of their product or service. And, in so doing, riches invariably came their way.”

Jack Canfield (author ofThe Success Principles) adds, “What we have to get straight in our heads is that owning the money doesn’t mean ANYTHING. It’s the DOING with money that develops us - it’s not in the having. And when you have more, you’re enabled to DO more.”

Jessie O’Neill, M.A. was born into wealth as the granddaughter of Charles Erwin Wilson, past president of General Motors, who made the famous comment: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country, and vice versa.” Today, Jessie O’Neill is founder and director of The Affluenza Project, president of The Affluenza Healing and Education Foundation, and a licensed therapist.

She is author of the bookThe Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence.

In her Shrink Rap RadioPodcast interview, she talks about the psychological and spiritual impacts of affluence. This is from the interview transcript:

Dr. Dave [host David Van Nuys, PhD]: “I wonder if by any chance you were able to see the HBO film“Born Rich”? It was made by the heir of the Johnson and Johnson family fortune, and on the cusp of his 21st birthday he went out and interviewed his very wealthy friends.  And you really see this isolated world you’ve been describing, and also the existential issues that these young people struggle with as a result.”

O’Neill:  “Well again, it’s a double-edged sword because it does afford you the luxury to struggle with those existential issues.  You don’t have to worry about a roof over your head, you don’t have to worry about food on the table and clothes on your back, so you are thrust into another arena of living.”

Dr. Dave:  “And having to figure out what’s the meaning of life.”

O’Neill: “What’s the meaning of life; and many people who do have to work don’t have that time really, so much.  So it is a different world, but I think the main reason that I wrote the book is because it’s a world that is so misunderstood, and so glorified, and so held up as the ideal place to want to be or get to; and that’s so unfortunate because it’s such an empty world, unless the money of course is used for the good of mankind.

“But the way that it’s held up as the carrot in our culture, the carrot is all the things that you can get with that money; and so really it does both the have’s and the have-not’s a disservice, because it sets everybody up for disappointment. It’s a lie, it’s what I call the myth of the American Dream; it’s a lie.”

But Jim Rohn declares that wealth is intimately connected with personal growth. In his articleThe Great Challenge of Life, he writes, “You can have more than you’ve got because you can become more than you are. I have found that income seldom will exceed your own personal development.”

Are all rich people contemptible moral anarchists? Of course not, and wealth is not inherently corrupting. Maybe it would be helpful to really look at deep beliefs we have, and that get circulated in the culture, about being wealthy and successful - whatever that may mean to us.

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