Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reflections on Desire and Greed

Back in the 80s, the expression 'greed is good' became popular for awhile. This verbal contradiction was used to call attention to the value associated with needs, wants and desires, the driver behind all effort and all production. Needs, wants, even longings and cravings, are normal and even necessary to life.

Greed cannot, however, literally be good, simply because the word ‘greed’ is intend to name a vice. For example, in the Christian faith, greed, also called avarice and covetous, is one of the seven deadly sins.

But the word play and other uses of the word 'greed' have had me reflecting for a long, long time about what distinguishes morally acceptable desire from contemptible greed. Greed is excessive desire, but the question remains: what is ordinary, fair desire and what is excessive? How do we decide?

I had largely come to think that action distinguishes ordinary desire from greed. Though sin-in-your-heart types might disagree, I have trouble believing desire that has no consequences is a vice. If, however, your desire seduces into you into dishonorable behavior like cheating, lying, stealing, committing fraud, that might distinguish greed.

But last week I posed this question – desire vs. greed – to my Facebook friends. (I didn’t get a rousing response, which probably means this question interests me more than it does most people. Perhaps I should be taking the hint!) Of the people who responded, most spoke of a psychic or emotional internal difference in the individual, not of behavior or action.

I recognize that that might be significant.

Curiously, all too often when I hear a person charge others -- whether individuals or organizations -- with greed, what I hear is frustration and resentment. I wonder if this is projection or a ‘takes one to know one’ phenomenon. Responding to frustration with resentment and bitterness is an error or vice of some kind; resentment eats the soul.

Thus, it comes together for me this way: greed is desire that corrupts. Desire that results in bitterness in the psyche or dishonor in action – or both -- : that’s greed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Did a word ever send you on a wild goose chase? Me and suzerain. (Voc 2011-1)

When Gregg Easterbrook in his admittedly oversimplified description of modern Arabian psychology (The Progress Paradox , pg. 141) said "Americans asserted suzerainty over much of Islam's oil wealth," he sent me on a journey, as the folks from Raleigh County, GA say, "all the way to Egery and back."

The dictionary definition of 'suzerainty' refers one on to the word 'suzerain.'

A suzerain is a sovereign, either an individual or state, holding political control over another state, thus a dependent state. Historically, a suzerain was a feudal overlord.

Somehow that left me a little confused still about Easterbrook's use of the term. So I turned to Wikipedia to read up on 'suzerainty.' Wikipedia says that 'suzerainty' refers to a relationship between a superior and subordinate for which there are no accurate contemporary examples. The accurate use of the word, I gathered, refers to the relationship between a feudal lord and his vassals.

Before I realized what I'd done, I was reading up on the etiology of the word 'suzerain,' feudalism as a concept, feudal law, the history of OPEC and more generally the history of the petroleum industry in the Arabian peninsula and heaven knows what else!

So, guess what. I now have a fairly good idea where the word came from, why the word was coined in about 1600, how it was intended to distinguish a very specific relationship of reciprocal obligations between two political entities and how that relationship, if it every really existed, wasn't named or defined until it had ceased to exist. And I know the word is being used today in a very loose and unclear fashion to refer to various power relationships; the word tells us nothing about the nature, source or practices associated with the so named power relationship.

That said, nowadays the word 'suzerain' means 'overlord' and the word 'suzerainty' can be taken to mean 'overlordship' or the position of an overlord.

Chase done; there we go.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Judging a book by its ... title!

Have you ever bought a book simply because the title was


That what I did when I came across the title I Never Metaphor

I Didn't Like.

At first, I didn't really read the book. From time to time, I'd

open it and read a few of the quotes -- metaphors, similes,

analogies and similar items. That, it turns out, is a perfectly

reasonable approach to this book.

A couple of weeks ago, I started borrowing quotes from the

book for my Facebook status updates.

I was enjoying that quite a bit, but doing that got me curious

about the author and how he came to write such a book. So

I started reading from the start and discovered that the author,

Mardy Grothe, is a psychologist who started collecting phrases

and expressions he liked when he was a undergraduate student

in the 60s.

In addition to a career in psychology with a focus on business

relationships, Grothe has spent years fascinated by wordplay

and verbal witticisms. So far he has published five books

exploring imaginative use of language.

So, this note is an acknowledgement of Mardy Grothe, I Never

Metaphor I Didn't Like and the source of my recent and coming

metaphor Facebook status messages.

Thanks, Dr. Mardy!