A Capital Idea Part 38: Greed is a Psychological Disorder
One of the most difficult categories of psychological disorder to treat, are the personality disorders. One of the best known of the personality disorders is Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is a disorder of lack of conscience. People who have it tend to behave atrociously, manipulating others for their own benefit, without conscience, and often breaking the law in the process. It is easy to see how such a personality would lead to greedy behavior. However, there is another personality disorder which can easily be confused with Antisocial Personality Disorder, called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There are differences between the two disorders in terms of the world views of those who have them, their goals, and their life experiences. People who have Antisocial Personality have a world view that life is rotten and the world is corrupt, and a life history of a troubled family life, including most likely financial difficulties. They often wind up in jail, as conpersons, and in the worst cases, perhaps serial killers, and they live their lives with a lack of foresight, only focusing on getting through one day at a time. Those who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, on the other hand, view the "world as their oyster." They tend to be children of privilege, people who "were born with a golden spoon in their mouths." They think that life should be great for themselves, and is great for the most part, but should be a life of hardship for the unannointed masses. They make lots of ambitious plans, political and economic -- all of a greedy and power-grabbing or power-keeping nature. (If this description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder reminds you of many of our current politicians, it should.)
Of the two types of greed-producing disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the more dangerous one, because it leads to massive accumulation of resources, money, and power in the hands of a few unethical persons. While it is true that some people with Antisocial Personality Disorder end up becoming inordinately wealthy and/or powerful, it is far more common for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder to be born, or become that way. They are generally born of a social position which makes enormous wealth and power far more likely. Also, they are more forward looking, and likely to make plans and efforts toward the acquisition of wealth and power. Furthermore, they are in a position, unlike the typical antisocial person, to do so legally, through knowledge of and manipulation of the law. I believe that it is a massive takeover of the United States, and as much of the world as they possibly can, by a cadre of predominantly narcissistic, greedy people which we have seen evidenced during the past several decades, perhaps aided by some antisocial recruits. Some may argue that the world has always been dominated by narcissists, but I would say that this is not the case, and that opportunities for wealth and power grabs by the greedy have increased as the human population and our technological capabilities have increased.
To make things worse, according to Social Psychologist Roy Baumeister, narcissism is getting worse in the United States, and reaching epidemic proportions. (For a review of some relevant self-esteem research, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-esteem .) In my view, this is an outgrowth of our nation's military success and status as the world's greatest superpower. According to Baumeister, the emphasis on promoting self-esteem regardless of accomplishment, fosters narcissism. The thinking about self-esteem goes, having it makes us confident, feel good about ourselves, and thus, happy and motivated to accomplish much in life. However, as Baumeister has found, endlessly promoting self-esteem in children actually results in them having inflated self-concepts not supported by reality; thus, they come to live in a delusional fantasy land in which they are "stars" who all deserve to have spectacular success. In fact, as I have pointed out in a previous post on education, accomplished people, or people from cultures which emphasize effort and accomplishment such as in Asia, tend to have lower self-esteem than unaccomplished people, or those who come from cultures such as that of the United States which emphasize "natural" talent and ability over effort and accomplishment. In fact, research has found higher self-esteem among prison inmates than among those who have never been to prison! Obviously, there is something grossly wrong with this picture. It should be noted that unrealistically high levels of self-esteem which we are talking about in narcissists and others is pseudo-esteem, not true self-esteem, which comes from real accomplishments and genuine sources. Nonetheless, such people high in pseudo-esteem measure as having high self-esteem on common self-esteem questionnaires, which apparently cannot tell the difference.
Another psychological disorder which is related to greed is hoarding, which is when a person accumulates a massive amount of valued objects for which that person has no practical use. Hoarding is usually only associated with socially isolated people who never throw anything away, resulting in extremely cluttered and unsanitary living conditions. However, the most damaging form of hoarding is money hoarding, yet this is routinely done by those who can and desire to do so, and celebrated by society and in publications such as Forbes Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. The richest among us have far more money that they could possibly ever need, or even use, but to them it is a game in which the richest one is the "winner." If we are to even casually consider where all this money comes from, it is immediately apparent that it comes from people who are not rich, people such as the United States' shrinking middle class, and that the rich are simply draining resources built by the sweat of others.
As a consequence of the previous consideration of psychopathology, I propose here that greed itself is a form of irrational behavior which should be considered a psychological disorder when too extreme. Greed is irrational and maladaptive because it hoards resources which the hoarders neither need, can use, nor deserve. Greed is also irrational and ultimately maladaptive because it represents a self-delusional mindset typified by Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or possibly Antisocial Personality Disorder. However, greed differs from any of the previously mentioned disorders in that the pursuit of financial wealth takes on a life and a power of its own, a power which can take over, and in some cases, ruin, a person's life, but more importantly, can lead to the ruin and/or degradation of many innocent person's lives. Greed is also correlated with the need for power and influence over others, which leads to people being drawn to politics for the wrong reasons. Money also stacks the political odds in favor of the rich, as we are seeing play out in American politics now. Until we have a system which does not allow excessive wealth or poverty of any one individual, until we have a sytstem which does not allow the conflation of money and power, we will continue to have a corrupt political system which disproportionately draws from among the greedy and favors the greedy among us. Once we identify greed as a psychopathological behavior, and divest the political system of the greedy and the effects of greed, it will be as though we are waking up from a nightmare, to see a beautiful new day of social harmony and shared prosperity.