Saturday, October 27, 2007

Our society’s greatest problem – greed and selfishness

Dear Abby’s column today asked its readers if there is one greatest problem facing society today. My wife and I discussed this over breakfast and decided that we think the basic problem, from which almost all other problems of which we are aware stem, is that there is too much greed and selfishness.

The main political problem that we face, that our elected officials are serving powerful interests groups and money rather than the majority of the public, is an outgrowth of this. Too many of our politicians are serving the interests of those who can give large campaign contributions and offer well-paying jobs after the politician leaves office instead of doing the greatest good for the greatest number, or even reflecting the majority will.

Our main economic problem, that we are running up a huge national debt (mostly owed to the Communist Chinese) that will have to be paid off by future generations, is an obvious and direct result of our greed and selfish short-sightedness. We are giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires while wasting trillions of dollars in borrowed money on an unnecessary war.

Our main environmental problem, our unwillingness to change our behavior in order to prevent global warming, also stems from this main source. It would not be tremendously difficult to conserve energy and would not cost that much more to build buildings which better utilized solar or geothermal heating, but we cannot be bothered to make even that effort.

People have always had a tendency towards greed and selfishness but in the past our religious and political leaders almost universally called on us to rise above these baser tendencies. Earlier generations were, at least for an hour a week in church, routinely reminded of what our conscience also tells us when we listen, that we have a primary duty to serve others and to society – not just ourselves. Most of today’s sermons no longer seem to emphasize that. There are even preachers today who preach a theology of greed -- the so-call Prosperity Gospel. They promise that God will reward you with material goods and earthly treasures, rather than the spiritual rewards that religion used to offer.

Political leaders in the past called on their fellow citizens to sacrifice for the common good. “Ask not what your country can do for you...” Today we have entire political and economic theories dedicated to the supposed benefits of greed. They actually claim that we can blindly pursue our individual self interest and the magic of the market will transform those actions into something that will feed the hungry and house the homeless. Look around at the growing income disparity and the number of children and families without health insurance and ask yourself how well that is working out.

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