Wall Street & Human Greed: Blame it on the genes….

Human behaviour is NOT determined by genes, it is mainly the product of socialization, the code of ethics in a certain culture, social conditioning in the family, in school, in society in general, etc. Genes are not all-powerful, independent control units but part of a sophisticated information-network in the cell and the whole organism, which reacts to different environmental situations. Social experiences can alter gene-expression so this is not a one-way street of control and command.

The “Selfish Gene” is an absurd concept whose main purpose is to excuse the devastating consequences of an insane economic ideology which encourages greed and selfishness, even claims that selfish behaviour will be good for the whole of society. Greed is not the result of “genetic interests” but part of the “pathogenic nature of our present social character” to use the words of Erich Fromm in his masterpiece” To Have or to Be” .

His conclusion was, that the economic system needed to fuel egotism, selfishness and greed in order to function (to ensure ever encreasing consumption and profit) and that this self-damaging behaviour would eventually create a sick society and destroy the environment. Fromm also pointed out that once “economic” behaviour became separated from ethics and human values the total victory of the economic machine, which was supposed to run according to its own laws (“rule of the market” in modern parlance) was only a matter of time.

But based on socio-anthropological findings, for him (and for me, too) man is an essentially moral and social being, which thrives on solidarity, compassion, love and shared emotions with other people, not material abundance or lust for power

To think that we are genetically inclined to cheat, lie, steal, or kill is the result of a disturbingly reductionist view of biology. Why has nature endowed us with a conscience? Why do we feel good when we help others, why are we capable of empathy and compassion – even for strangers and animals – when competition and selfishness are the ruling principle of nature? Why do people risk their lives to fight for justice? Why do progressive journalists and writers feel inclined to raise public awareness of corporate greed, political deception and environmental destruction in their writings? (They could make more money with cheap literature….)

The looming ecological catastrophe is NOT the result of unconstrained “genetic interests” but the consequence of the pathological pursuit of profit and power by TNC´s and unregulated “financial markets”. The only problem is that most governments, too, have succumbed to neoliberal ideology, the rule of globalized markets and the idea that the value of human beings depends solely on their ability to increase GDP.

The ugly truth is that humans, all forms of life, even soil and water have become commodities in this globalized market society. For economists, they have no intrinsic value, their price is determined by the market, by the law of supply and demand. The “labour market” is in reality a market for human beings, their economic “value” of course constantly falling, because downsizing, automation and outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries creates more and more “redundant” people…

The madness of economic theory can also be realized in the fact that nature is treated as “income” not as capital. To let economists calculate the “cost of climate change” is totally useless since they are incapable of understanding Einstein´s wise words:

“Not everything that counts can be counted

and not everything that can be counted, counts…..”

The intrinsic (and economic) value of functioning ecosystems is so great it can never be and need not be demonstrated in financial terms. Just a basic knowledge of biology and ecology is needed to realize that the totalitarian ideology of an  economic system based on eternal “growth” (as in cancer)  is incompatible with the “natural economy” on which our lives depend.

The great irony is, that too much “freedom” is going to kill us in the end because in a market society it means freedom from responsibility for short-sighted, stupid and arrogant producing and consuming patterns that are destroying the equilibrium of the natural production system for short term profits. Long term ecological damage and the undermining of social cohesion, are simply not factored in so the “success” of market rule and unfettered capitalism is an illusion…..

To talk about taking effective measures to combat climate change (read global catastrophe) and at the same time build more airports, roads, etc. to generate even more destructive “growth” shows that these politicians are part of the problem, not the solution. Nothing can survive (for generations) on this planet without a self-limiting principle. Cancer cells seem to be very successful for some time but in the end they commit suicide by killing their host…..

Greenpeace had a slogan in the 1980ies (adopted from native Americans / Indians: something like

Not Before the last river will be polluted, not before the last tree will be felled, the last fish will be gone, etc. will they realize that money cannot be eaten…”

The whole concept of individual liberty (not caring about the consequences of production or consumption) would have to be replaced with a profound sense of community, of responsibility for the future of the whole planet. Everything we do, what we buy, what we eat, etc. has ecological, economic and social repercussions, often thousands of miles away… But we are kept in ignorance about the absurdity of  “economic growth” as the leading principle of society and politicians still do everything they can to bring us closer to unprecedented ecological disaster..

They have turned us into gullible “consumers” but we need to become “citizens” again….

(consumare means to exhaust, to deplete so eventually to destroy…)

Book Selection:

  • To Have or To Be by Erich Fromm
  • The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi
  • Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher
  • Crimes against Nature by Robert Kennedy Jr.
  • Earth Democracy by Vandana Shiva
  • The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
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Filed under Change, Economy, Environment, Politics, Society

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