I don’t know if we can ever fully separate our instincts from our conscious decisions—or if we even should—but in order to evolve socially we need to at least learn the difference. Instincts helped our ancestors feed themselves and beat out the competition for sex, but those same urges are leading us to violence and inequality in our industrialized, “civilized” society.
Greed is the biggie. It’s is the “hoarding” instinct that helped early humans keep enough food to get by in tough times—back then, you wouldn’t make it through the winter if you shared with your neighbors. Of course, other animals also display greed: A wild dog will snarl and shove other dogs away in order to bite off as giant a share of fresh carcass as she can, never thinking about her pack-mates’ hunger. And maybe she needs to act this way to survive.
A Koch brother, however, does not need billions of dollars to feed himself. Yet he fights to protect his enormous stash, even knowing he can never possibly spend it all. He does not want to give back, even for the good of the community. Those taxes he dodges could fund education, fight poverty and help construct a safe infrastructure, creating a well-informed and peaceful society. But blinded by instinct, the billionaire clings to his money without thinking of the greater cause. But he does pay the government, lobbying to keep dibs on the fortunes he has squirreled away.
The Koch brothers even helped forge the Tea Party, attempting to gain control of Congress and ensure that their money piles would never be spent toward creating a better world. And the Tea Party has fooled plenty of middle-class Americans into thinking that greed is a mark of patriotism. Those who aren’t rich themselves look forward to the day when they, too can hoard their millions or billions far away from the hands of their “lazy” and poor neighbors.
What these voters don’t realize is that the winner-take-all system they’re fighting for will make sure that they never actually do get rich—or even earn a livable wage. That’s because when we let a few greedy people control all of the wealth, we simply don’t see that money come back in the form of high-salary jobs. This was proven during the Industrial Revolution, when children and adults alike toiled in hazard-ridden factories for 12 hours straight with no access to education or upward mobility. Their clothes were tattered and their cupboards were empty. So while pure capitalists may lie to themselves and everyone else by pronouncing greed a noble trait, they are wrong—it’s a primitive instinct. Frankly, it’s astonishing how easy it’s been for the uber-wealthy to fool gullible voters into thinking that greed is synonymous with good ‘old American values. Don’t fall for it.
image: Bart Everson