Greed has become a dirty pejorative word in our modern culture. In this post I will not argue for or against the morality of greed, but rather present a way in which the natural tendency to be greedy can be beneficial in the long term.
With regards to morality, I will only say this: The natural inclination towards greed is amoral. Choosing to acting on it or not is where one distinguishes between moral and immoral actions.
Human greed manifests in many ways. Several of these include:
- Food: Overeating given sufficiently available food. This results in the obesity epidemic in most developed countries.
- Money: Greed can manifest as extreme ambition in some individuals, willing to step over others to climb the corporate ladder and acquire more monetary assets than are necessary to survive.
- Land: The early colonizers of America were greedy, desiring to grab land for their home country (and manifesting as gaining personal glory) at the expense of indigenous populations. In addition, we developed our legal system to in part protect individual property rights, to ensure that those who greedily grabbed resources such as land were sufficiently protected by the law.
- Natural Resources: An example of this is the consumption of oil, and the unwillingness for our society to veer very much towards "green" resources unless they are considered profitable (tying into the "Money" manifestation of greed).
- Sex: Many people tend to have more sex and therefore children than they can actually support. Their greediness was manifested in an extremely powerful desire for reproduction, and hence sex evolved to physically release pleasurable chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. This leads to overpopulation.
Now we arrive at the crux of the result of greed. Overpopulation. In which our natural environment on earth can't sustain our greediness.
The biological definition of life is "the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death."
By that definition, we can characterize life as a self-expanding, self-perpetuating process. In essence, I would distill it down even further and state that life aims to convert non-organic matter and energy (Einstein demonstrated these are actually mathematically roughly equivalent) into more life.
Aside: I am using the terms non-organic and organic although I recognize that it is possible that life can manifest as non-carbon-based biological entities.
Every time we burn oil so that we can harvest more corn, the raw physical non-organic matter (crude oil) is, through a long process, turned into organic life (corn).
Every time a plant absorbs sunlight to grow, it is taking the raw energy from photons and turning it into organic life (leaves) rather than allow that energy to simply be absorbed as heat by the earth.
But since matter/energy is neither created nor destroyed, it will likely eventually be converted into life by some process in the distant future.
I propose that more greedy species evolved via naturally selection, resulting in human overpopulation.
But is that such a bad thing? If our current environment can't sustain our greediness, then life will be forced to expand beyond our world into the surrounding environment (solar system). According to the Kardashev scale, this will result in a jump from a Type 1 civilization into a Type 2 civilization.
In fact, the process of life breaking free of our current atmosphere has already begun.
- Life may have first broke free of our earth's atmosphere potentially millions of years ago with the evolution of tardigrades, which can survive in the vacuum of space for up to 10 days and yet even have fully functional nervous systems.
- In addition, sea plankton were discovered covering the International Space Station.
- For humans, who are not suited for extreme conditions, we cleverly figured out how to bring the atmosphere of the earth with us during the space race of the 1960's.
So life has begun to break free of earth's comforting atmosphere by either by carrying the atmosphere with it (space suits) or by being able to survive harsh conditions (tardigrades or sea plankton).
As a species, we will be forced to redirect more of our mental capacities into figuring out how to convert the cruder materials (rocks on Mars) into organic life. Which brings us to the future.
If life expands exponentially faster than the universe is expanding, (or at least before heat death) and as long as we leave earth by the time our sun expands too large, life will reach a point where it has taken over the universe, simply converting the natural matter into supporting material (spaceships like earth).
When new life is created, right now it becomes consumed by other life as organic resources ("food").
If the universe is infinite, then there is an infinite amount of resources available to life, as it consumes and expands all. Life will find an equilibrium as the harshness of the universe pushes back against the natural desire to expand.
Greed is naturally inside us as a species. Whether you individually feel the pull of greed or act on it is of no significance. In addition, the morality of acting on greedy impulses doesn't refute the amoral fact that greed is forcing humans to expand faster than the earth can support.
Right now, there may be "more than enough" to go around as detractors commonly exclaim. But that's shortsighted.
Perhaps greed doesn't have to be such a dirty word. If we are aware of it, and can channel our greed into "moral" endeavors such as expanding beyond our earth, then we can use our natural greed for the benefit of all, and continue the conversion of raw matter and energy into life.