Greed Is A Corruptor

Pyrrhus was a powerful king who ruled Epirus and Macedon for some years during the Hellenistic period. Plutarch tells a revealing story about him in his Parallel Lives (Life of Epirus, 14).

One of Pyrrhus’s valued advisors was a man named Cineas, who was entrusted on many foreign missions of great sensitivity. He had, through the agility and wisdom of his diplomacy, won over many peoples to the cause of Pyrrhus. Gradually he came to realize that his king was planning on a military expedition to Italy, to try to subdue the Romans.

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Pyrrhus of Epirus

So he confronted Pyrrhus and asked him if indeed he wished to conquer Italy and bring the Romans under his empire. When the king told him this was true, Cineas then asked him, “Sire, what shall we then do after we conquer Italy?” Pyrrhus answered that of course he would seek to acquire Sicily. “And after this, what then?”, Cineas asked.

“Well, of course then Carthage and Libya would beckon,” he responded. “They would be ripe for the taking.” Cineas then asked him if he intended to attack the Greek city states as well. Pyrrhus answered in the affirmative. But he did not realize where these questions were leading.

“And after all these countries are within our power,” Cineas said, “what shall we do then?”

Pyrrhus smiled and said, “Why, then we shall relax and drink, and amuse ourselves to our hearts’ content.” And then Cineas asked him this: “Sire, what prevents us from relaxing and enjoying ourselves now? We have the ability to do it at the present moment. Is it not possible to avoid all this suffering and war which we will inflict on others and ourselves, and seek this goal now?”

Pyrrhus was unsettled by this conversation, but he did not change his plans. He was later killed in battle during one of his campaigns in 272 B.C. His inability to be satisfied with anything, his lust to gain more and more, had been his undoing. This is a story as old as history.

Greed has a corrosive power. It seeps into the consciousness and hijacks it, preventing reason and judgment from performing their proper functions. As one of the old brokers said in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, “That’s the thing about money, Bud…it makes you do things you don’t want to do.”

Appetite and reason are the two components of the soul. If reason does not keep a firm, guiding hand on appetite, then greed begins to take hold of the soul. So one must be subordinate to the other. What distinguishes man from the beasts of Nature is that he has the capacity to use reason to keep his appetites in check. Animals are for the most part unable to think rationally about consequences. They are concerned only with the present moment, and cannot comprehend the laws of cause and effect.

Man, on the other hand, is constructed from nobler stuff. He is always probing for the causes behind things, and investigating one problem or another. He is fascinated by life, and by the strange and unfamiliar that he may see around him. Not all men are like this, of course. In fact, there are many who behave more like animals than men. But we should strive to emulate the good and the best, rather than the worst.

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Paolo Giovio

The humanist Paolo Giovio (1483-1552) stated the same principle in his treatise Notable Men and Women of Our Time:

Nearly all the philosophers admit that our souls are free and that they moderate all the appetites of the body. It often happens that, deceived by the pleasurable stimulation of the senses, it does not know how to retain control. Impaired and corrupted by bad acts, and forgetting their excellent freedom, our souls surrender to the slavery of their worst enemies, so that they inhabit bodies that are more animalistic than human.

Examples of this type of person abound today, and we can see them nearly everywhere. We know that just recently, for example, the president of the University of Missouri resigned his position for no good reason, under pressure from some empty-headed students. He surrendered his dignity and his position (worth about $500,000 per year) because he was a man of no moral conviction.

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President of the Univ. of Missouri: a man of straw, hollowed out by greed

At the moment of conflict, where a man is put to the test, he proved to be a man of straw. His greed had caused him to accept a position of leadership, but he lacked the internal fortitude to truly believe in his position.  At the critical moment, when he needed to stand and fight, he collapsed, and betrayed everyone under him. This lack of moral courage is one of the defining features of modern American life.

Those who have been tasked with a sacred duty of passing on Western culture, of safeguarding our institutions, of keeping discipline, of fighting against evil influences in society, and of protecting us from the predations of the mob or the powerful elites, have done nothing.  They seek all the benefits of their positions, but shirk all the responsibilities of their positions.

He was elevated by greed, and propped up by greed; he enjoyed the benefits and perks of being the top dog, but was unwilling to accept any of the responsibilities of his leadership position. And one of these responsibilities is to resist the shouting and clamor of the ignorant mob. This he was incapable of doing. Too many such spineless men occupy positions of power in our society. Their cowardice and greed put us all at risk.

What should be our guide, then? We should use this general rule as a guide: to control greed, we should keep our appetite for pleasure rationally related to health and strength. What do I mean by this? I mean that pleasure should serve health and strength, and should not be pursued for its own sake. Beyond a certain point—and every man should train himself to be aware of this point—health and strength are not helped, but are hurt.

Keeping this general principle in mind will permit our souls to perform their proper function as the controller and regulator of the appetites.

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44 thoughts on “Greed Is A Corruptor”

  1. Cineas was spot on. I have pretty much everything I want in this life, materially speaking. The only thing I desire materially, is to earn enough disposable income to allow a nice trip abroad once a year. The world is full of those with much more material stuff than me who are completely miserable.
    Of course, Pyrrhus gave us the Pyrrhic victory, which is where one loses so much in defeating the enemy, that it is equivalent to a defeat. Which is basically what the US has been doing to itself since 2001. We will destroy whatever was good about American society in the effort to defend American society.

  2. On the Adam carolla podcast reasonable doubt they discussed the mizzou situation around how the prez got to leave with a golden parachute of 1.7 mil.

    1. Haha.. ok that explains it then. I was wondering why even a greedy coward would so easily give up his position earning receiving a six figure salary.

  3. Balancing ambition, exertion, and striving on one side against peace, harmony, and contentment on the other, is probably the most difficult area that a man will have to master in his life. There are no guidelines and there are no rules, no standard for any man to follow but his own. Man’s life burns like fire and he must discover his own capabilities and limitations through trial and error.

  4. We must distinguish between greed and the desire to build and achieve. It is like the difference between killing and murder: murder is the unlawful or amoral killing of a human being.
    Desiring more because you want to build a business or real Empire is different that desiring money for its own sake.

    1. That’s easy. Our standard for this exercise is “A weakness is a strength that has gone too far.”
      To build something for a better, or more noble purpose, is a strength. I know it is simple, and their could be caveats to this, but I’m not covering that.
      To tear something apart only to feign a more noble purpose is weakness.
      The difference is actually quite subtle!
      A weakness, like a lie, has just enough truth to it to pass the lie detector in our brains. When a person of some type of great strength sets out on their endeavor, a weak person(s) will come out of nowhere in order to tear it down.
      They have no clue that they are pawns. A pawn is most effective when it takes down the most powerful peace. So you know them by their actions. And upon figuring out who it is they run to, you will know the mastermind moving them like a mindless scapegoat waiting to be extricated to a court system on their behalf.

    2. One of the biggest problems in society is women’s inability to differentiate men who have morality and courage. They only see money,no matter the MEANS by which that wealth was accumulated. A corrupt banker/politician can score a trophy wife just the same as the inventor of a meaningful technology. If women chose men based on wealth and resources in CONJUNCTION with moral behaviour, the greedy and corrupt would be left out and the incentives to behave with dignity would return.

  5. It is a sad day, as often these days are repeated throughout history, that those who succeed are often evil human beings. Before evil men can take over, or evil women for that matter as we can’t leave them out, weak humans need be in top positions to quell their betters and stifle dissent.
    In reality, these useful tools to corrupted elites serve three self serving purposes.
    1. To quell dissent through bureaucratic chicanery. Whether by brain dead partisanship told them by their masters, or through skilled manipulation of an evil, yet adept mind, these cowards serve the interests of their choosing. Rather then actually leading, they ensure that no one who can actually lead makes it anywhere. James Gordon in Gotham tv series is a good, albeit illusionary, example of this.
    2. To promote ideology and agitprop that is acceptable to their superiors, and not make any waves.
    3. To not actually lead, but stifle, and silence dissent no matter how reasonable and fact based.
    When actually challenged, they will never take on anyone they perceive they can’t beat. They will not hold their ground. But will attend ceremonies to monuments of their betters who have died before for a great cause. Completely oblivious to the fact that their character stands to reason that had they lived in the time of this great person’s life, they would most likely be part of the mob that sought the individual’s destruction.
    They hold to ideologies, because they can’t really think on their own. I see them everywhere. They may be able to think for themselves when it comes to math, or some other subject they are good at. But in reality, they merely go through the motions reiterating what their instructor tells them. It is not a genius level cognitive process, but the imitator’s exercise in copycat behavior.
    Lastly, leadership requires standing in the face of adversity. The only adversity these sycophants will ever stand against is the adversity of the easily managed, and totally like unpopular and stuff. To actually stand with virtue they will not. Unless it is both trivial, and easy to do so because the mob wills it. Their speeches they give consistently out their motivation as nothing other than a pathetic, weak, insufferable sap who is merely looking for a more prominent boot heel to attach their tongue.
    These assholes are the reason why Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and the rest made it into power. Because men like those were skilled in the art of using walking human power tools to set up the cause for their agendas. They don’t really think for themselves. They need a higher operating system to do the hard work for them.

  6. I saw an article from one of the usual suspects saying that Paris would kill Schengen, but “we would be poorer.”
    The classic argument of open borders apologists and racketeers.
    I said – so you’d be “poorer” (the operative word, not necessarily “poor”), but at least you’d have less stuff in your own country.
    If having more stuff just for its own sake is all you care about – and it is all they care about – then degeneracy follows.

  7. Greed,
    the most powerful word in American society these days. You hear it and see it everywhere! We are made to believe that if a Man has money or power that they are brave and know no fear. But yet you see it all the time within nations!
    Armies with superior weapons are annialated by peasants with outdated rifles and rpg’s. Why? Because we are too worried about what others would think about us if we go ahead and ram through them like a sicle cutting through grain.
    People like the CEO of Missouri State was a man of power but lacked the courage to push through that nonsense and stand firm. Instead he gave those students his power over to them making those students more confident in their future endeavours. They will be on the look out for any discrepancies of the staff so they can knock another big shot off their pedestal.
    Many Men these days lack courage to stand and face whatever troubles are coming down the road. Sometimes there is no way out except through them!
    Greed is just a curtain that people tend to hide behind and look strong, until the curtain is pulled away from them and there you will see their truth.
    Great post Quintus! As always!

    1. I fail to understand how greed and living on appetites has anything to do with lacking courage. These are two separate concepts. Sure, sometimes they may overlap in one person, but that does in no way indicate correlation. I sense lazy thinking here.

      1. Yes they are two separate concepts but they do overlap. When they do overlap the person will lack courage only because they do not want to lose the position in life they have. This can be affecting one person or a group in general. Since we live in a society that looks down on standing up for yourself they will in turn try to defuse the situation by laying down and letting their opponent feel as if they won.
        They may have lost the fight but they still have their resources and lost nothing. They will continue to live nice and enjoy the fruits.

        1. Ah, that makes sense. But then it is not really a craving for conquest and action that drives them. It is the status of ‘owning’ a lot that they identify with. In a real sense, they do not live in the moment, rather they are afraid about their possessions. The man who lives in the moment may choose to go for a conquest as well, but he may do so to satisfy his appetite, not to fortify his status and possesions. Rather, he would crave the risk and danger and actually be quite unafraid of losing.
          Which is a bit contradictory with the assessment that these people take stupid risks instead of thinking about the future. Indeed, the man who cares for the future may be most prone to the thing you just described.

  8. I had a business professor who used to talk about “little g” and “big G” greed. Everyone should have enough ambition “little g” to want to make a comfortable living, support his family, educate his kids, etc…
    But a man shouldn’t be controlled by Big G greed – crazy risks, dishonesty, and corruption.

  9. Follow the Aristotelian Mean and you’ll be fine no matter the emotion or impulse in question. A healthy respect for wanting to keep one’s own labors is perfectly just and fine, yet most people now call this greed. What it is actually is the Mean between Avarice and wrongfully extreme, self denying Philanthropy (the kind that deprives you and even your loved ones of what you need to survive)

    1. GoJ. Was it you awhile back that mentioned Aristotle’s chart of vice? I looked it up but did not save it. I probably have the name wrong.

  10. Great article.
    What always strikes me is the continuity between the perception of hybris that the ancient philosophers had and the Christian relation to greed.

    1. Lust like greed can bring any man right down. The vices are different, but, the consequences are exactly the same.

        1. This is what happens when a society worships degenerates, especially the ones who made $1 million an episode. I don’t like Islamists anymore than you or anyone else on ROK, but this weakens us, and gives our enemies more reasons to come after us.

        2. good one! Would be interesting to think if Charlie was Charlene. Of course the patriarchy, rape culture and misogny caused Charlene to be infected.
          Sex addict. I can’t say it and keep a straight face.

        3. Just saw a small snippet of Charlie’s coming out. I felt terribly sad when he spoke of having to pay $millions to blackmailers and extortionists. I would love to be rich, but I would never want to be famous.

        4. John Lennon said something along those lines. Slightly more rich and slightly less famous. And seeing how he got killed by a deranged fan while on a walk in New York, one can hardly blame him.

  11. I agree with Saint Thomas Aquinas’s later classification of greed as a vice. He was in accord with the earlier pagan writers on this. I’ve never been quite so sure of his classification of pride and anger in the same manner. I think anger is a healthy and natural response to many events and situations, likewise pride when linked to respect and honor can be virtue.

  12. Animals are for the most part unable to think rationally about consequences. They are concerned only with the present moment, and cannot comprehend the laws of cause and effect.

    Ladies and gentlemen, you see before you a nice contradiction of the manosphere: Those that glorify the consequences and those who wish to live in the moment.
    History is just the dramatization of chronicle. Here is another version of the story: The king was one of free will who did as he willed. He had an appetite for power and he satisfied it. He died in his shoes. Meanwhile, his advisor was a mean coward who was governed by fear of the future and failure.
    I fucking love to live in the moment.
    By the way, did Greeks actually use the word ‘Sire’?

  13. Once again I go back to the old post about playing the hand your dealt as best as you can. I believe everyone is sanctioned their lot in life first by being born into that position and then a combination of personal choices and fate until death. Greed seeks to take that which is not allotted to you or more than what’s been apportioned to you through sinful ways. And remember that not-doing something can also be seen as greedy or sinful such as never giving money to that bum that sits outside your condominium steps.

  14. I think the West could do with a bit more greed and open pursuit of narrow self-interest. Most of the evils we face today resulted from actions taken in the name of compassion and altruism, whether sincerely or not (although I’d agree with the article in re to greed’s potential for corrosive effects at the individual level).
    It also depends on the state of the culture. In a healthy culture, self-interest, ambition and greed will generally require the pursuit of excellence and virtue. In a corrupt society, the opposite is the case. Contrast for example university presidents in earlier eras who had hippies beaten and killed and women and foreigners excluded from admittance (virtuous acts) vs. the craven acts of the current university administrators. I don’t think these were inherently superior men but they lived at a time when being a sniveling worm who catered to the loudest and most mentally ill students was not smiled upon by the community and would not have been in their self-interest.

  15. “They seek all the benefits of their positions, but shirk all the responsibilities of their positions.”
    That describes 90% of corporate executives in America.

  16. My buddy pulled up in his new convertible Ferrari and I told him I was too embarrassed to sit in it. He thought I was jealous, but I couldn’t help but wonder – what could possibly be one good reason to own it in the city full of stop signs and hills (San Francisco)? If it’s not desperate need for attention of overcompensating for not getting laid – what else could it be?

  17. Ridiculous green necktie with a children’s cereal pattern on it. Weak bracelet. Guy defines himself right there in that top photo.

  18. In this case, QC, please keep in mind the business proverb “if you aren’t growing, you are going to be eaten.” Cineas sounds like the song of the powerless.

  19. With regards to the erstwhile President of Mizzou I have to respectfully dissent. There was no way he could have prevailed, as the faculty was already out for him, and even if he chose to fight the agitators he’d have never had the backing of that school’s Board of Curators.
    Even Sun Tzu in The Art of War would argue that retreat and finding a new job, or just living off a pension at that point, would be a better option than fighting a battle that is unwinnable.

  20. Under the communist purges of the 20’s through the 50’s, the pyrrhic victories, the ‘worker’s paradise of peace and plenty’ finally arrived snail mail, only the spoils arrived a bit off target and half way around the globe:
    http://mytakeontoday.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/corbis-crb002827.jpg
    Mob heirs, like kings with silver spoons also get uppity and lose judgement, trying to prove themselves and out rank their predecessors. Pyrrhic greed and gluttony of ‘made men’ who turned into manic little bitches ultimately spelled the end of the big mob crime families. Pyrrhic victory to all with silver spoons. An ’empty’ or ‘hollow’ victory is akin to a ‘full’ defeat. Did I mention ‘silver spoon’?
    http://www.funnypica.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/big-fat-girl-eating.jpg
    .

  21. Not quite sure how do you conclude that President of the Univ. of Missouri is greedy. Seems more like a case of “fuck this” more than anything else. He signed up to serve, if the ones he is supposed to serve happen to hate him, what is the point of going on.

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