Social and economic justice has Ben unattainable for centuries for 1 simple fact: human greed.
Even in systems such as communism, human greed made something very ideal into an effective oligarchy as government officials were able to increase their social standing via illegitimate means.
Generally speaking what we need to do is bring knowledge to bear on all aspects of our social/political realms. As it is now knowledge is forbidden a place at the table by the pathological myopia of ideologues. In the corporate world knowledge is subjugated to the quest of profit making. And the rest of the world is, for the most part, mesmerized by computer technology.
With respect to greed we have two ignorant camps with the one claiming greed is good and the other that it’s bad while both seem to be equally greedy for money and power.
Applying knowledge here might be somewhat enlightening.
Greed can be defined as self-interest that has no concern for collective-interest. Such unfettered self-interest can rather easily take hold of one in a society where making money is seen as the greatest achievement. Generally everyone wants to make as much money as possible. However much one might have it never seems to be enough. One always wants more.
After all money is everything. It’s how one affords to live, i.e., survive. So, it’s our survival instinct that money plugs into and there’s no way in which to quantify survival. Some might say they have enough money, especially those with limited money making ability or opportunity, but their survival instinct would jump at the chance to have more. For, isn’t it in everyone’s self-interest to amass as much money as possible to better ensure one’s survival?
Fundamentally, as everyone knows, we all operate from the standpoint of self-interest. But, in order to pursue our self-interest we must be able to recognize what truly is in our self-interest. Certainly, in the most fundamental sense, survival, self-preservation, is in our self interest. So, at the very least, we do not want to do anything to jeopardize our chances for survival. But there is always risk taking involved with the business of survival.
Taking risks is perfectly natural for most of the life forms on earth. They have to take risks in order to go on living. The very things they must do in the interest of survival threaten their survival.
A rabbit, for example, has to continually leave the safety of its burrow and expose itself to predators in order to indulge in the survival practice of eating. It is not unaware of the danger as it is ever scanning its surroundings for approaching predators as it nibbles its food. The danger the rabbit puts itself in must, of course, take a backseat to the necessity of its taking nourishment.
Survivability then is threatened by acts of survival. One cannot go about the business of surviving without putting one’s survival in jeopardy. That, of course, is no reason not to go about pursuing one’s survival.
But, then again, one has no choice in the matter. In order to live one is compelled to eat and in order to eat one must take risks.
One participates in this risk/reward arrangement by virtue of one’s own nature with respect to the natural world – it is all orchestrated by the nature of things. - and Homo Sapiens are no exception.
This state of affairs, being naturally ordained, works best in a natural setting - where all participants are held within the immediate, real-time natural scope of things. Everyone knows how to go about pursuing self-interest and everyone knows the risks involved and it is all wrapped up in a moment to moment existence.
It’s important to note that, while individuals are put at risk, the groups, colonies, tribes etc. are not. The existence of a colony of rabbits, for example, is not threatened by the necessary risk-taking on the part of its individuals. And the ratio of predators to prey assures the survival of both. Prey tend to out number predators by a large margin.
All life forms participate in this arrangement. The moment to moment behavior on the part of a primitive tribe of homo sapiens is what assured its existence in perpetuity. The future of the tribe is palpably realized through all of its momentary activities. Natural disasters notwithstanding a tribal people, confident in the pursuit of their short term self-interest, might say, “What sustains us now will sustain us in the future.”
One cannot say the same for civilizations - what sustains them now will not necessarily sustain them in the future. Indeed, what sustains them now can and does threaten their future.
Such has been the case from the onset of civilizations. The city of Ur, for example, where the very agriculture it depended upon for its existence actually sowed the seeds of its destruction.
In their civilized setting the people of Ur were not able to assess their long term self-interest in their short term survival activities with the assurance enjoyed by a primitive tribe. Being unsophisticated about the ways of farming they imagined that all it entailed was - plant seed, grow crop, harvest and consume. Ignorant in matters of soil erosion and depletion their once fertile farmland eventually became a barren wasteland and the City of Ur was no more.
The people of Ur believed they were acting in their self-interest. They were operating under the natural assumption that what sustained them in the present would go on sustaining them in the future. But, unbeknownst to them, civilizations tend to mess with the nature of things in ways that make it difficult to assess long term consequences while pursuing short term interests. Unlike the natural state of affairs, this holds true on a collective as well as an individual basis for civilizations.
Now, again, what all this comes down to is survival. And survival is, of course, uppermost in our self-interest, always was, always will be.
This was a simpler state of affairs in primitive times when basic self-interest was all about basic survival within the symbiotic arrangement of the natural world. What civilizations do in the name of their survival, in the name of their self-interest oftentimes turns out to undermine symbiosis with the natural world. For a primitive tribe it was rather obvious what their self-interest was and what had to be done to pursue it. There were, of course, dangers and risks involved in their survival activities – from predators, for instance, who posed a mortal threat to individuals.
But it was the survival of the tribe that was paramount. The tribe provided the best chance at survival for each of its individual members. Every individual knew that their survival was dependent on the tribe they belonged to and, so, they were naturally inclined to contribute in whatever ways they could to promote the ongoing welfare of the tribe as a whole. There was a natural symbiosis between the tribe and its members that knit them together as a cohesive unit. What was in the self-interest of the individual was in the interest of the tribe and vice versa.
Civilization blows that arrangement apart. Members of civilized societies are cordoned off into separate hierarchical classifications where self-interest becomes problematical. What serves the self-interest of a civilized society does not always serve the interests of individuals and vice versa.
This has to do with the differences in how one’s membership in a tribe vs a civilized society is contracted. We were compelled by the force of nature to be part of a tribe. That compulsion came from within us and in that sense it was freely chosen. And it was positively reenforced on a daily basis through the palpable benefits of belonging to one’s tribe. There was a real sense of belonging engendered in the crucible of tribal life. In a civilized society, however, one is compelled by forces outside oneself to abide by laws imposed on one by a ruling class. Laws which benefit some at the expense of others.
Contrary to a tribal situation, then, one does not always feel that one’s self-interest is benefited by the civilized society that one is forced to exist in. So, individuals do not necessarily feel themselves to be an intrinsic part of a civilized society as they once did as members of tribes.
Now, while a civilized society does serve to remove the need to attend to basic survival regimens on the part of its individual members it does not remove their survival instinct. Nor does it remove the risky business involved with survival.
Survival in civilized settings is centered around money. For the most part individuals get money by preforming specialized tasks that contribute to one enterprise or another that supposedly, in turn, contributes to the society as a whole. In other words one serves one’s self-interest by making money working in a company whose business contributes to the GDP. And that is deemed to be a boon to the survival of the society as a whole. But, just as in the City of Ur, where a farm worker was thought to be contributing to the survival of the society as a whole but was actually doing the opposite, a worker in a modern society doing a job in a particular industry that contributes to the GDP may be doing more harm than good as far as the big picture is concerned. A company that’s dumping toxic chemicals in a river, for instance.
As tribal people we could not lose sight of the big picture. It was plain to see in everything we did. But burrowed into our little civilized cubicles, engaged in our momentary industriousness, mesmerized by the tunnel vision of making money we can and do lose sight of it. And so it becomes problematic to identify what is truly in our self-interest and what is not.
Money is the one and only means of survival. Money engages our survival instinct, as individuals and as individual companies. It engages the survival instinct in a way that can isolate self-interest from the big picture. And, so, a perceived self-interest can trump everything else.
The self-interest of individuals and the individual companies they are employed by can become entwined so as to be indistinguishable. But not in the way tribal members are entwined with their tribes, where the self-interest of the one benefits the other. Within a business, for example, an individual’s self-interest can override and damage the interests of the business. And the results can be disastrous.
Inexorably engaged by a survival instinct that is riveted to the idea of making more and more money one becomes disengaged from everything else. Like reality, for instance. And so, a perceived self-interest obscures real self-interest which makes it very difficult to make sound judgments regarding risk/reward factors in the big picture.
It may be natural to downplay risks in favor of rewards but it’s downright suicidal to ignore them altogether. In the natural world becoming too engrossed in a meal advantages predators - a feeding rabbit, for instance, too slow to sense a predator. In a civilized setting ignoring risk in favor of a perceived self-interest can also have dire consequences.
Companies like Enron, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, British Petroleum BP, et al, believed that they were acting in their own self-interest while in retrospect one might think they were hell-bent on destroying themselves. They were operating with respect to a perceived self-interest that undermined real self-interest. If they had been operating with respect to the big picture their real self-interests would have been plain to see.
BP, for instance, would have been extra conscientious in seeing that all emergency safeguards were in place and functioning. Perhaps BP now has a better sense of their real self-interest. Just in terms of the financial loss it has incurred from the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico it must be evident that it would have cost far less to have had all safety devices in place and functional rather than having to contend with an out of control gusher a mile under the sea.
It might be too much to ask that BP executives be concerned for the natural environment they operate in and feel remorse at the damage they have caused to the Gulf of Mexico. For them the Gulf is there to serve their business interests.
But, again that is ignoring the big picture. Natural environments are part of the big picture and must be conscientiously considered as part of a truly enlightened and therefore real self-interest.
However, had BP merely been duly concerned with covering their own butts by having all the appropriate safeguards operational then that in turn would have served to protect the natural environment as well. Real self-interest encompasses the big picture.
And the executives at Enron, “the smartest guys in the room”, as they liked to refer to themselves, did they really think that they were operating in their own self-interest? Probably. But it was a delusional self-interest. They replaced their real self-interest with a perceived self-interest that was determined merely by high quarterly earnings, which were the result of cooking the books. They knew the earnings were not based in reality but chose to ignore reality in favor of phantom earnings. Their perceived self-interest then took precedence over their real self-interest. And this, of course, led to the catastrophic collapse of the Enron corporation. If the executives were truly self-interested they would not have been in the business of committing fraud. By operating with respect to perceived self-interest they sowed the seeds of their own destruction. If they had pursued their real self-interests they would have conducted business in a forthright manner, which would have also served the interest of their company, its shareholders, employees and customers. Real self-interest, then, serves the interests of others as well.
How can we keep self-interest coupled with collective-interest and, so, within the realm of reality?
By keeping an organic, wholesome collective-interest in play at local community settings. That is a much more realistic prospect than trying to promote it at state levels where it’s merely touted as some abstract notion of togetherness. The localities then, in a grass roots oriented social body, would infuse their enlightened configurations of self-interest/collective-interest throughout the whole social body.