Conversations with Fear

Greed: January 30, 2000

     "What were we going to talk about?" asked Fear. "I forget."
     "We're going to talk about greed."
     "Greed," barked Fear on seeing the beginnings of my rendition of our conversation, "is one of my favorite disciples and deserves to have its name begin with a capital letter."
     "Okay!" I said. "My error."
     "Greed's specialty is to instill an impending sense of loss so people will clutch at and cling fast to whatever they can, thereby shrinking in on themselves, which keeps them as subjects of my kingdom because they become obsessed with what they think they'll lose in the future.
     "Remember the painting your father had hidden for so many years in the closet of his office at home?"
     "Yes, I remember. He thought it was so valuable that he was afraid to hang it on the wall, lest someone steal it."
     "Exactly," chortled Fear. "In that way, he kept his 'precious' painting, but neither he nor anyone else could see and enjoy it. That is the genius of Greed, the constant 'fear' of loss—if you will pardon my humor in using that turn of phrase."
     "Are you telling me that Greed affects all people the same?"
     "Essentially, yes. Greed has two marvelous sides to its personality—causing you to want more of everything because you can never have enough to feel secure, and at the same time implanting the sense of impending loss that impoverishes not only your soul but also that of all generations when you destroy the environment in your self-centered attempt to fill you emptiness. It's truly wonderful to watch Greed pit people against one another and their children and their children's children."
     "Explain yourself," I demanded.
     "Well," said Fear thoughtfully, "consider two eagles, each of which constructs a large stick nest. One eagle, the one steeped in 'Love,'" winces Fear with a disgusted look on its face, "decides to add a few sticks to its nest. Without a second's thought, it flies off to find the sticks it wants. This eagle will never be a subject of mine because it has the faith—or should I say the stupid audacity to trust—that no one will bother its nest in its absence.
     "Although the other eagle also wants to increase the size of its nest, it's smart enough to know that if it leaves unprotected that which it already has, it will probably lose everything. It therefore wisely and tenaciously clings to its possessions, the existing sticks of its nest."
     "But," I objected, "it's then self-limited in what it can do."
     "A minor detail," said Fear.
     "A minor detail? A minor detail! Is that your best response? That 'minor detail,' as you call it, keeps people from growing, from broadening their personal horizons."
     "Of course, you imbecile; how else can I keep control of them and rule them as my subjects. Have you not heard anything I've said? My kingdom is build on irrational logic or I wouldn't be a king, now would I? Without irrational logic, where would I find subjects to rule? And a king can never have too many subjects dependent on him. Numbers, after all, are POWER! Just look at how your churches are constantly proselytizing this religion or that, or how people of one religion slaughter those of another in the name of righteous belief, which is nothing but a numbers game to gain members and the power they represent."
     "Although I see you point, your example is a pretty lame one," I said.
     "Well then, let's look at something a little more generic."
     "Like what," I asked.
     "Like how you humans exploit natural resources," answered Fear, "in your feeble attempt to fill your spiritual emptiness because you find it easier to turn your back on Love, for which you must search within yourself, and come to my kingdom, which is like the gambling halls and flesh pots of Las Vegas in the state of Nevada, USA, where you seek to get as much as you can for as little as possible, especially at the buffets. In fact, if you could figure out how to do it, you'd take everything and give nothing for it.
     "Remember that once-popular song, 'Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose'?"
     "Yes, I remember it."
     "Well, it's Greed's task to see that you humans are always shackled by an escalating number of wants, an ever-increasing need for stimulation and distractions, which is especially easy in your Western industrialized society because you have bonded so closely to your fake god of materialism in an attempt to fill the void of your spiritually bankrupt souls.
     "You do agree that your Western industrialized society is spiritually bankrupt, don't you?" asked Fear with its usual smugness.
     "Yes, of course, but then you already now that I agree with you on that point."
     "At least you have the good grace to admit it. Perhaps you're not quite as dumb as you look!"
     "Enough of your idle bantering," I chided. "Get on with whatever you're going to say."
     "Okay, okay," sighed Fear. "You're no fun at all."
     "I'm not here to have fun," I replied with some impatience. "I'm here to learn, that is, if you can teach."
     "If I can teach!" muttered Fear, the smirk fading from its face. "Listen then—and learn!
     "Every time you perceive a material value and thus anticipate a material gain, Greed whispers to your mind that if you don't hurry and grab it, someone else will. In this case, as in almost all cases, now that I think about it, Greed calls upon three fellow disciples for help, namely Want, Distrust, and Competition, which, together with Greed, make an unbeatable foursome.
     "Consider that the larger and more immediate the prospect for material gain, the greater the urgency to exploit it because not to exploit is perceived as losing the opportunity to someone else. Thus, Greed plants the idea of material gain, and Want focuses your attention. Distrust instills the notion of potential loss, and Competition ensures your self-centered behavior in getting as much for yourself as possible, which, of course, is the current basis of your entire Western industrial economic system. How I love it! I couldn't have designed it better myself.
     "Come to think of it, I did design it—a stroke of pure genius, if I do say so."
     "Well, you couldn't have done it without us," chimed Greed, Want, Distrust, and Competition.
     "True," Fear acknowledged grudgingly, "but that's beside the point. No one invited you to join this conversation. I'm sure you have other things to do, like bother someone; so, butt out!"
     "Kindness and compassion are not among your virtues, are they—that is, assuming you have any virtue," I commented.
     "How can I rule with such weakness and drivel as kindness and compassion?" asked Fear rhetorically. "Now, if you don't mind, let's get on with our conversation. I don't have all day, you know.
     "As I was saying, it's this notion of loss that you fight so hard to avoid, which means that the resources you covet are managing you—not the other way around, a circumstance I find most satisfying! That's why newly discovered resources are inevitably exploited to the point of collapse or even extinction, a task that falls largely to my four disciples: Greed, Want, Distrust, and Competition."
     "How, exactly, does all this work?" I asked.
     "Well, simpleton…," Fear began.
     "Incredible," I thought, missing the rest of Fear's statement, "that's just how I used to talk to myself. No wonder I had such a battle to overcome Fear.
     "I'm sorry, Fear," I said out loud, "my mind strayed momentarily. Please repeat your statement."
     "Well simpleton, that's another reason I shall prevail; you humans have such undisciplined minds that they wander at will, but under my tutelage, of course, and my constant encouragement. The point I was making is that Greed introduces Want who rivets your attention on your perceived material gain to the point that it's seared into your mind. When Want has done its job, Distrust steps in and destabilizes your inner sense of love, peace, and harmony to the point that you will let nothing come between you and your material goal. At this moment, Competition takes over and masterfully guides your behavior to its ultimate self-centeredness—grabbing all you can for yourself without a single thought about the welfare of anyone else. I believe you call this 'shared leadership' chuckled Fear with obvious self-satisfaction."
     "Why," I queried, "are you so sure this 'shared leadership' of yours will always work?"
     "Because," answered Fear, "I have built into the capitalistic system the notion that it must be ever-growing, ever-expanding in order to be healthy and viable, which not only ensures that people will focus on gaining as much for themselves as possible but also that they will avoid—at any cost—the potential loss of that which they have already accumulated and/or think they can accumulate.
     "This acquisitiveness is the impetus for the 'ratchet effect,' which is your capitalistic fix for your addictive materialism."
     "What, I asked, "is this 'ratchet effect' you are talking about?"
     "The ratchet effect works as follows:  During periods of relative economic stability, the rate of exploitation of a given renewable resource, say timber or salmon or anything else, tends to stabilize at a level that economic theory predicts can be sustained through some scale of time. Such levels, however, are almost always excessive because mainstream economists, with their pin-hole vision and piecemeal thinking, take existing unknown and unpredictable ecological variables and convert them, in theory at least, into known and predictable economic constant values in order to better calculate the maximum expected return on a given investment from a sustained level of exploitation.
     "Then comes a sequence of good years in the market, or in the availability of the resource, or both, and additional capital investments in exploitation and processing are encouraged because competitive economic growth is the root of capitalism. When conditions return to normal, or even below normal, however, people, in the form of corporations, having overinvested, appeal to the government for help because substantial economic capital, which is often parlayed as potenial jobs, is at stake. The government, in turn, typically responds with direct or indirect subsidies that only encourage continual overexploitation.
     "The ratchet effect is thus caused by unrestrained economic investment to increase short-term yields in good times and strong opposition to losing those yields in bad times. This opposition to losing yields means there is great resistance to using a resource in a biologically sustainable manner because there is no predictability in yields and no guarantee of yield increases in the foreseeable future. In addition, your linear economic models of ever-increasing yield are built on my brilliantly engineered assumption that you can in fact have an economically sustained yield despite all the data that says such a yield cannot be sustained biologically. I believe you call this avoidance behavior 'informed denial.'"
     "Can you be less preachy in you explanation?" I asked.
     "Look, you asked me, remember?"
     "True."
     "I'll explain it any way I choose. So shut up and listen."
     "Okay," I replied. "I apologize."
     "That's better," said Fear. "Now to continue. Where was I? Oh, yes.
     "Then, because there is no mechanism in your linear economic models of ever-increasing yield that allows for the uncertainties of ecological cycles and their variability or for the inevitable decreases in yield during bad times, the long-term outcome is a heavily subsidized industry. Such an industry continually overexploits the resource on an artificially created, sustained-yield basis that is not biologically sustainable. Consider the article in your own Sunday newspaper about the Steller sea lions.
     "The world's largest species of sea lion is starving to death because of the explosion of commercial fishing in the North Pacific, where the Steller sea lion lives, an explosion begun by foreign factory trawlers in the 1960s and '70s, and then continued by American vessels. Unabated, exploitive fishing has reduced the population of Steller sea lions from more than 175,000 individuals on the wind-swept islands off the Aleutian Peninsula of Alaska and in the Bering Sea in 1960 to about 25,000 today. In short, the sea lions are starving to death.
     "This is not surprising when you realize that an estimated 440 million pounds of pollock was hauled out of these waters per year in the mid 1970s. Pollock, for your information, is a bottomfish. By 1998, more than 2 billion pounds were caught annually, much of which wound up as fish sticks and sandwiches in U.S. fast food chains.
     "Although the Steller sea lion was finally awarded endangered species protection in 1997, after years of legal battles, pressure from politicians and the fishing industry made regulators in the National Marine Fisheries Service reluctant to restrict the catch of pollock in the sea lions' feeding areas.
     "As you might expect, commercial fishermen and some Alaskan politicians cried foul when protection was finally enforced, which, of course, will call science into play.
     "When the notion of sustainability arises in a competitive conflict—such as commercial fishermen against the environmentalists who speak for the Seller sea lion—the parties marshal all scientific data favorable to their respective sides as 'good' science and discount all unfavorable data as 'bad' science. Environmental conflict is thus the stage on which science is politicized, largely obfuscating its service to society.
     "Because the availability of choices dictates the amount of control you feel you have with respect to your sense of security, a potential loss of money—which I cheerfully encourage—is the breeding ground for environmental injustice. This is the kind of injustice in which the present generation steals from all future generations by overexploiting a resource rather than facing the uncertainty of giving up potential income. Am I brilliant, or what?"
     "Do you really want me to answer that?" I started to ask.
     "Don't butt in," snapped Fear, "its rude. As I was about to say, if I hadn't done such a magnificent job of duping humanity over the centuries, you would clearly see the lessons taught by history."
     "How did you 'dupe' humanity?" I asked.
     "Simple," replied Fear, "I implanted the idea that the bad times in history could not happen in the present; something you want desperately to believe and thus all-too-willingly accept. Therefore, despite the warnings of history and the evidence of contemporary data, the majority of humanity—especially your so-called political leaders—insist that you can exploit all your resources with impunity because they will secretly pass on the results of such exploitation to the next politician and thus the next generation. As long as they get what they want, the future can take care of itself; in other words, they are entrusting to me the well-being of their children and their children's children—and yours.
     "If history is correct, and I can attest that it is, your current problems with resources are not environmental problems, but rather human ones, which you have created many times, in many places, under a wide variety of social, political, and economic systems. Although your current environmental problems can be repaired for the most part and future ones can be avoided, you will only exacerbate them because, as I told you before, you are loath to look inside yourselves to find the cause of your distress, which is your irrational, self-centered thinking, and that is why I, 'FEAR,' shall prevail.
     "In addition, fundamental issues concerning resources, the environment, and people are complex and process driven, which requires the integration of knowledge and of the multiple disciplines necessary to understand them. But by teaching you to be self-centered and thus strictly self-interested, which breeds mounting distrust, I keep you searching in vain for immediate, simplistic answers outside of yourselves, which clearly don't exist, and therein lies my genius. As long as you look for the cause of your problems out there somewhere," said Fear gesturing into the distance, "I'm invincible! Ha! I've got you, and you can't get away."
     "Rather pompous, aren't you?" I asked sharply.
     "I don't think so," replied Fear with a half smile. "After all, as long as you insist on viewing change as a condition to be avoided, I'm in charge because the uncertainty with which I inoculate your mind weakens your resolve and instills the doubt that you will ever have the outcome you want, which inevitably causes you to run with a disaster mentality to the dark side of the future, where I await you.
     "Pompous? No, I don't think so."
     "What do you get out of this?" I queried.
     "The ultimate control of humanity and thus the world."
     "It'll never happen," I countered, "because Love is stronger than you are."
     "We'll see," replied Fear. "I have all the time in the world; do you and your environment?"
     "You sound pretty cocky for someone who can only collect pessimists, cynics, critics, and worrywarts as subjects," I chided.
     "I accept them, yes. They obey my wishes without question and are thus perfect subjects."
     "They may be perfect subjects for you, but Love's subjects, which you can't control, will change the world for the better in ways you could never imagine.
     I was silent for a moment before asking, "What do you think, have we reached the end of this subject?"
     "Yes," said Fear. "I see no point in continuing."
     "Let's take a break," I said, "and then talk about violence."
     "While I concur with the break, you are incredibly slow to learn that my desciples deserve to have their names begin with a capital letter—Violence."
     "Okay, okay; I'll do my best to remember."

© chris maser 2000. All rights reserved.

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