By Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
I was a greedy child, constantly munching. I didn’t get fat, I became robust and big, because I was also greedy for adventure, hiking, climbing, chasing animals, and fighting other young fellows. Later I became greedy for learning everything under the sun, and after that in acquiring money and property. Acquiring wealth is the main thing people associate with greed, one of the seven deadly sins of the Christian Bible. Greed, avarice, cupidity, or covetousness, is often an intense and despicably selfish desire to own dollars and things. Ivan Boeskey, Wall Street inside trader, said greed is right. Oliver Stone in his 1987 film “Wall Street,” derived form Boeskey and Michael Milken, had the character of Gordon Gekko state that greed is good—that alliterates better. I say greed is great.
Well, what about the old adage that moderation in all things is best? The Greek poet Hesiod wrote “there is a measure in all things.” In Greek that is “pan metron ariston.” In junior high school I wrote an essay on this last saying in which I argued that I don’t know what is the right measure for me to do something; what is right for another person may not be right for me. I concluded that I am the measure of all things that concern me. I received a poor grade in the essay, which stung me, that’s how I remember the matter. Apparently my argument offended the teacher’s preconceived notions about moderation.
Moderation is fine for ordinary people, not for those who want to achieve great deeds. Extraordinary persons extend themselves to the limit of their capacity; they take big risks. Alexander the Great did not become great by seeking just a few lands to conquer. He stormed out to overrun the world with his Macedonian generals.
Isaac Newton did not labor for a few hours and took his rest, neither did Thomas Alva Edison. Newton would forget to eat when he was a hot pursuit of a scientific finding. Edison did not sleep for days and nights, catching a catnap now and then under the staircase of his Menlo Park laboratory.
Yet, the human body and mind are homeostatic systems, requiring that the equilibrium be restored after it has been severely disturbed. The greater the disturbance, the longer the period of rest and recuperation that is required for health and future performance.
The human body and mind grow stronger under the influence of immense stress, provided the stress does not cause permanent damage. The load must be to be applied carefully and increased gradually, then followed by a recovery period so that the organism may recover and grow the muscles, bones, and neuronal connections for improved performance.
Nothing happens unless a worker gives the task at hand the outmost effort.
Nothing to excess is for those who don’t desire to accomplish much in life. Greed is an excess which is sometimes necessary. One can be very greedy for freedom; slaves, who were not so fired up, did not escape their bondage. Barry Goldwater declared, when he ran for U.S. president, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Goldwater added later, “and let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Yes, others like Goldwater defend their extremist views well that way, such as the men of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. God dictates only one truth and one right. Anyone who deviates from religious dogma one iota makes his life forfeit.
Surely, the accumulation of immense wealth cannot be right. Jesus taught “lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and thieves break though and steal.” Only the treasures of the spirit are eternal in the ideal world of Heaven.
We may be willing to accept great intensity in acquiring things, if we call that attitude by the name of passion, rather than greed.
Still, a man like Andrew Carnegie had a passion for success and wealth; he labored all his life to accumulate the world’s largest fortune on earth in his time. Was that effort for nothing? No. Carnegie funded thousands of libraries throughout America with his money, as well as Carnegie Hall and Carnegie Mellon University.
Steve Jobs did things to excess, pushing himself and his associates relentlessly, calling anyone who flagged “wimp.” He did suffer and die from pancreatic cancer, perhaps because of the extreme stress he lived under, but he built up Apple, the world’s most valuable industrial company.
Elon Musk is following a similar path to Jobs. He’s known to work 100 hours a week as the CEO of Space-X and Tesla Motors. Musk is on his way to build two great companies, darlings of Wall Street. He also helped organize Solar City, run by his cousin, the largest solar collector company in the U.S. Has not Musk heard about moderation?
Passion is fitting for such men as Alexander, Carnegie, Jobs, and Musk, but I don’t care to join their way of life. I have no great desire to change the whole world, just my little corner. I’d rather be somewhat dispassionate and detached, an ordinary man, healthy, and content, at peace with my soul and my fellow human beings.