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Joshua  Beers

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Can/ should innate self-interest ever be overcome (by intellect, education, etc.)?

Pretty simple question(s) (not so sure if the same can be said of the answer).

I think that most would agree that humans are primarily self-serving creatures, albeit they certainly have "hard-wired" social tendencies but only to the extent that they can respectively reciprocate self benefit from society. In my opinion, this is at the heart of the problem when contemplating social/governmental revisions; you either get a society that acknowledges innate self interest and harnesses it to dangerous proportions, or a society that naively overlooks self interest and attempts to build a world that is diametrically opposed to human nature. Both are far from perfect. Of course there is the third option of fusing both but I tend to think that the world has seen such dual-systems before and they always seem to lose their balance eventually (usually to the whims of rampant self-want).

It seems to me that innate self interest is the paradox of society: it drives us together, but never too close. Which then begs the question: can (or even should) we ever get rid of it and how?

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  • Apr 27 2011: In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith wrote: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”

    Are we selfish? - Yes, but we gain a lot of pleasure in proving ourselves, that we are Not.
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      Apr 29 2011: And so you think we can build a society on the cornerstone that the best way to make yourself happy is to make others happy........? (Obviously a lot of people in the world have not come to Smith's wonderful epiphany. Is it something that can be easily taught? More so to answering the actual question: could such teachings be done on such quality and scale that it "overcomes" self interest as we know it?)
  • Apr 26 2011: Why do think there are only two choices? ("...a society that acknowledges innate self interest and harnesses it to dangerous proportions, or a society that naively overlooks self interest and attempts to build a world that is diametrically opposed to human nature.")

    Why can't you have a society that acknowledges self interest but that encourages it to be tempered with humanity? Isn't that, in fact, what most societies today attempt to do?
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      Apr 27 2011: Of course the latter is what we have and what people in North America are content with or resigned to. I am advocating seeing that in the big picture 'self interest' should not be seen with such a limited time perspective. The 'self interest' we see today is the eqivalent of our inability to 'delay gratification' which is THE measure of human maturity. To grab all we can get at the expense of others - and please don't bother repeating your phrase - you willfully ignore that there are people who because of corporate decisions and governmental interference are living desperate lives in countries where resources were harvested. Those decisions by 'self interested' individuals will come back to haunt our societies in the forms of wars and perhaps in economic retaliation by the states that have been exploited. Who will pay for the corporations' self interest then? It will be the people who NEVER benefited and yet who will be impoverished further or will be sent to war. I might suggest that you seek out a video by Robert Hare the world reknown Canadian expert on psychopathy on you tube or read his book Snakes in Suits. While I fully expect you to reject hiswell thought out and researched conclusions perhaps a portion of it will ring true.
      • Apr 27 2011: Oh, Debra! You ask me not to "bother repeating (my) phrase", but here you go again sounding like a broken record, stating the same thing you have stated dozens of times before.

        I accept that there are bad people out there. It makes no difference what 'system' we have, there will always be bad people out there. There will be people who break the law. There will be those who allow unfettered greed to guide their lives. There will be those who game the system. There will be those whose success comes at the expense of others. But why, oh why, do you assume that MOST people who have achieved any kind of financial success are like that?

        I attended a series of courses at Harvard Business School that are targeted at people who already own and manage successful businesses. There were about 80 of us on the course, about two thirds from the US and the rest from areound the world. Of those 80, the overwhelming majority -- maybe all but two or perhaps three -- were extremely ethical, very concerned about social issues, and trying to build businesses honestly and morally, treating their own staff well, giving back to their communities, and totally aware of relevant issues around the world. Here where I live, I am friends with perhaps 15 or 20 people who would be regarded as affluent, and among them I don't recognize a single person who fits your mold of robber baron, or whatever term you are using today. Where do you get your cynical view that rich people are, by definition, responsible for poor people's fate?

        I admire your concern for the world's underprivileged, and I am sure you do your share to try and improve their lot. But I just completely fail to grasp why you are so dead set against the system we have that has delivered unparalleled health and wealth to so many millions of people, while every other system in place in the world appears to have failed. Like any other thinking person, I don't believe our system is perfect, but let's fix it, not kill it.
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          Apr 27 2011: Revett, Why are you so fixated on a bunch of people to whom I never refer? Do you realize that i repeat my points because you never address them but always fall back on your own assumptions and thesis. You are the only one who uses the always and the nevers not me. I am not and never have suggested that all business people are unethical. I am involved in business myself. I do not think our system is perfect but I am engaging in an effort to fix it not deny its problems as you appear to be doing in each post. What I am dead set against is the misuse of such power as justified by 'self interest' and I have said things in this post that I have never said before. They are on the same theme and that is apparently what you object to. I do not see you ever put forward any idea but I do see you constantlly stomping on the ideas of others. Most people in the face of your obstanancy just give up. You said in a previous post that you have time and attention for MBA students- in other words people who think as you do. I have an MBA and I am happy for your experiences at Harvard but how about sharing some of that enlightenment?
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      Apr 29 2011: "Why can't you have a society that acknowledges self interest but that encourages it to be tempered with humanity? Isn't that, in fact, what most societies today attempt to do?"

      But Revett, While I agree that most "modern" societies DO acknowledge self interest and consequently attempt to temper it with "humanity"; I would asset that the problem is that this doesn't work! Self Interest always seems to eventually take control and over time erode the system. Probably because "common humanity", in a large degree, IS self interest. I think self interest is part of our innate human complex (please tell me if you disagree..). And so to attempt to water down rampant greed, with an appeal to natural humanity is quite the paradoxical conundrum.
  • Apr 26 2011: no,even if you get people to all drive toward the same thing it is still in their self interest. You will never get even a majority of martyrs.
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      Apr 29 2011: I tend to agree Deaven, I think that, that is the part that a lot of people overlook...."even if you get people to all drive toward the same thing, IT IS STILL IN THEIR SELF INTEREST"...Which isn't bad at THAT point per se, but it always seems to go array at some point because they were only in the same direction for RECIPROCAL purposes and I tend to think that in a large way, that IS humanity and you will never get it out.
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    Apr 26 2011: "A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at."
    - Bruce Lee

    1. First. the goal must be established. "Unite the World"
    1.a. "What will it look like when goal is met or close to being met?"
    2. Next, what prevents such events must be taken into consideration.
    (religion, culture, nationalism, and (but not limited to) educations.)
    3. Next, the significant actions/changes/wants/needs/efforts/understandings must be created/configured in order to know where to start to accomplishing the goal.
    4. Next, implications of considered/created/configured ideals.
    5. Then a series of trial and error must be done for consensus knowledge.
    ?. Goal met.

    (Feel free to add/move/replace numbers between 1 - ?, which is why I left it there, however for orderliness refer to the numbers in the steps to accomplishment, upon change in order I will edit this part.)

    3. Personally, an open-ended based education system introduced to all countries would be valuable, while the education would be based on critical thought, it would not deny anyone of their religious beliefs, 2. the only problem with this idea is due to fundamentalism.

    4. The Venus Project, is an idea that would create a world that would allow life's basic needs to be met; food, nutrition, health, and shelter. 3. + 5. Before and after such is where it is unfinished and undefined, hell, illogical to compute. (Check it out if you are unaware of the project, good things to consider.)

    A public education would be the easiest part, the system in which life is preserved has been created/considered, but still the original points have not been taken into consideration. Which is where we will start. Indeed I have skipped the first steps I created, therefore I do not even know where to start.

    Input is needed on the first steps, this is serious implication time, understanding what prevents the goal is the first step to accomplishing said goal.
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      Sky F

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      Apr 26 2011: There needs to be an extra part under number one and that is measurable results for your goal, meaning 'what will it look like when my goal is met?'

      It's why having the goal "I want to be healthy" tends to not really produce any results whereas having the goal "I want to stop eating candy, soda, and desserts completely. I want to take vitamins everyday for 1 month straight without missing a day. I want to be able to run a marathon in under whatever hours." delivers a clear path to what you're trying to do.

      Vagueness is one of the biggest causes goals are never met.
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      Apr 29 2011: But Nicholas, Why would anyone want to do all of that? It would have to appeal to their self interest at some level, right? Which would mean that no matter how nice a system works it would still be using the same "motor" other systems use. Do you think that this kind of "good" self interest can really be maintained...?(I know it's surprising!..) But I'm very cynical that it could be. Because as Sky points out, rule number one houses a lot of problems of its own. Like he said vagueness, but I think the deeper problem he is getting at (tell me if I am wrong Sky!), is that in order to be met it would have to be more specific, but the problem with that is, the more specific it is, the narrower the appeal it has to the masses. And thus you're left with a big problem still. Why would the world even want to Unite? Sure poor people do! (because it would make them better off) But those who already "have" would probably be more reluctant (unless they feel they can gain even more, for themselves of course). And this is the age old problem. True unselfishness, seems to be at an extreme premium, if not an extinct species altogether!
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        Apr 29 2011: The best argument I can do to put it simply is... What is more productive? Working together or working against one another? A world divided does not produce as much as a world undivided.

        No such thing as true unselfishness, always needs to be something gain from an action even if it just feeling better about oneself. Some religions find true unselfishness to be an ultimate the final stage of understanding.

        It really gets into science as being a primary value in which we structure society around. (Eliminate the unlikely to make the likely more likely.) By working together we have more hands, minds, ears, and eyes contributing then we do by privatizing education and making invisible walls.

        Indeed to those who's needs are met this would all be an act of charity.

        The question everyone should ask themselves when they have their needs met is "What can I do to help others (even if it just those in your community/family)?" But even that is like playing darts in the dark. People are not trained to think that way on average. People are short-sighted due to non-open-ended educations (from society, schools, families, and/or other sources of information).

        Academia teaches you are either right or wrong and to be afraid of being wrong. That teaches competitiveness on an non-sportsmanship process. An open-ended education would suggest each peer must build off each other to help, challenge, and learn from one another and not just the educator.

        This is all fantasy because people are not worried about the big picture.. It is as if we are trained to worry about the 'now' and the short term benefits not the later and the long term benefits.

        The world uniting is inedible though; religions will see eye to eventually, countries will merge for economic gain, and/or technology will prove to better more lives and more will support it involving laws.

        It will all come down to my original question though, "What is more productive?"

        Profit tends to taint that....
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          Apr 30 2011: "What is more productive?

          Productive to whom? Society as a whole? Why would any individual in society care about its overall productivity IF he/she has nothing in return to gain for THEMSELVES. I admire your optimism but again I feel this is where we "break sync" haha. From what I understand, you seem to believe that there is/can be some universal goal that bonds and unites people (more productivity for example), but in my opinion that doesn't get to the heart of the matter. For the only real, reason anyone would do anything like that is self motive! I agree that everyone SHOULD ask themselves "What can I do to help others (even if its just family and friends)" But are they really going to do that? And even so, your answer there even gives way to some level of selfishness they would have.. "even if it's just family and friends"....even if its people that I'm comfortable around and that appreciate my existence basically.

          Furthermore, again in my opinion, I think you may give to much responsibility to education (or even social environment in general) in regards to human behavior. You make the contention that academia "teaches competitiveness". Just like with the earlier argument about "money," I think that this is the reverse way to look at it. I think that the competitiveness is is innate not a trait thats brainwashed into us. Sure academia may cater to it, but it certainly isn't creating it. And so with this in mind I don't think the world uniting is inevitable...in fact I tend to think the opposite: it's impossible...But that's just my opinion...."What is more productive?" Many different people will look at that question and give many different answers because at the end of the day they will add two little words that spoil the whole thing "What is more productive.....for me"
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        May 1 2011: "Furthermore, again in my opinion, I think you may give to much responsibility to education (or even social environment in general) in regards to human behavior."

        The responsibility of every reflection (cognitive experience) that consist outside of your parents is too much? Since when? An environment in which ONLY helps other people would produce people that help others, the number of those against such an environment, in any fashion, would be small in fractions.

        "What is more productive.... to me"

        Again this is learned. It is not in nature to step on another animals head to get ahead unless it is to survive. Now we aren't talking just surviving here, we are talking about people who are able to learn about the stars not just rock, soil, water, and fire. I blame academia because it produces competitive notions in without regards to the student sitting next to you, they do not matter to your progress, group work is rare in this system of teaching. This is why I emphasize the academic education so much.

        Ask any teacher the value of critical thought, and then ask them how much it is implicated.

        Through our instinctive drives to survive we produce/emphasize a competitive drive in our brains. If we do not feed this drive we do not have a healthy brain and in return body. In an outlandish way, greed/selfish actions feed that natural drive that keeps these rich people living strong. But, the reason I keep bring up academia is, because it limits where the brain can direct that natural drive to survive. Self expression through art is just as good of an outlet for these drives as is the knowledge you are winning a competition.

        Selfishness is inedible in nature for humans, we need to feel good about what we are doing or we are unhappy. (why do you think so many cubical employees just off bridges a year?)

        Email me with your email (the TED system is bad).I have created a curriculum that would easily influence individuals to think in global terms, instead of self
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          May 2 2011: While I definitely agree that environment is a great shaper of an individual, genes must not be underestimated. They WANT to reproduce: it's something we have in common with bacteria. And, I believe, that we get deep deep impulses from this. Namely sex and survival. Survival is not just eating enough apples. It's also the dominate genes in a species competing for their respective survival. It's man wanting to be the alpha male so they get the women. Its brute strength associated with strong reproductive chances. I don't see how you could think that these are not hard wired. While certainly accentuated by the social environment that grows out of them, yet again I feel like the former comes before the latter...Maybe we will have to agree to disagree on this one.... (sent you the message by the way)
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        May 3 2011: "I don't see how you could think that these are not hard wired."

        I never denied them being hardwired, I suggested we can change the course in which those drives are used. It involves cognitive science, it's too much to explain, for me right now.

        I suggest, if all needs were met and we had the curriculum I sent you. The only NEED people would focus on would be the free-will-like based thoughts in which the individual created through the interest they developed through life, naturally we want to be the best and most dominant as you said, but who declared only money, sex, and materiel-wealth measured that? Society. Why can't I want to be the best poet? Because unless you get lucky and/or be considered this generations best poet can you become wealthy on poetry or any art for that matter..

        The differences we are facing is simple. You are realistically looking at the world and then idealistically building on it (Plato). I am idealistically thinking and working towards realistic considerations/generalizations (Aristotle). (Hence my newest debate) I am leaving out the thoughts of culture, educations, and life styles in thought because if we understand how to think in that way eventually we will be that way. It's my optimistic philosophies based on "I think therefore I am" :Fake it til you make it" and "Be who you want to be" transcended into society. Society being culture, educations, and life styles. The way = together/oneness ideals

        Sometimes they are insensible, but I am working on that. Tell me what you think of the curriculum here. Our back and forth's are good reading.

        However you feel those ideals of greed are too attuned into our society? Our society is a reflection of the people, it just so happens now the society is reflecting itself on the people (95 Percent = 6 Corporations).

        Bush ideas = always publicized... Obama ideas = rarely publicized (At least from my knowledge)

        Bush = deflation (debt = slavery) Obama is slightly inflating us, patterns?
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    Apr 26 2011: I absolutely believe that human beings have the intelligence and reasoning power to understand that innate self interest is sometimes an unenlightened path. Philosophers have aruged about it and popular writers have great influence as people gravitate to ideas which help them justify their selfishness and ignore the obvious cognitive dissonance that they feel. In the end, we are all people- all in need of a planet that works and a system that sustains us all. Perhaps it is the ultimate self interest that gets us to the end of all the justifications and all of the selfishness to realize that we all lose when anyone is hungry, thirsty, cold and sick. Every life lost is a loss of experience and wisdom on this planet which could lead to better solutions for the whole group.I wish I could remember the poem about the Holocast which suggests that by waiting and letting others be taken by the Nazis because it was 'none of their business' they only ensured that there was no one to help them when their time came. How 'enlightened' was that self interest?It is small thinking to define our 'ingroup' too narrowly. To sustain a selfish self interest in the face of another in need requires a second step of hardening our hearts.It might work for awhile but as they say 'what comes around goes around' and in a practical sense all those countries who capitalized on the lack of education and the low wages and cheap resources and corrupt leaders of third world countires will see the results of their 'self interest' when they or their loved ones are the ones in need and their need is met with another's self interest that is also informed by history.
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      Apr 29 2011: I agree with a lot of this post Debra, but what I want to know (and admittedly don't really know myself) is....What is the solution? There is a reason why people naturally "justify their selfishness and ignore obvious cognitive dissonance", because selfishness is a large part of WHO we are...if individuals were completely devoid of selfishness, I think one could argue individuals would have no identity at all! It seems to me that this is how humans are "wired" and as a consequence we have to deal with the large scale "injustices" this causes.
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        Apr 29 2011: Great question. I guess what I believe is that it is becoming more and more important for people with differing perspectives - that is perspectives that differ from the powerful corporate or governmental ones- to have the ability and platform to speak up. Corporations and governments have a huge share of media and advertising budgets so that they can spin their perspective of what is 'good'. They run on short term agendas.
        We need to have independent think tanks or academics like Sam Richards who articulate and have platforms like TED to say- hey! this might be good for these reasons but if we allow (say) GE to pay no taxes and move their production overseas and buy up their raw materials in some back room deal with a 3rd world government (this is all fictious and off the top of my head) these could be the long term consequences for all of us: we all pay more taxes so their shareholders are enriched and their CEO takes home millions, we have fewer jobs and our wages are suppressed and our kids have no future, and we may have to go to war when the improverished people of that 3rd world country decide to hold all of us accountable for GE's role overseas.
        We also have to start listening to those dissenting voices without allowing them to be torn down and destroyed by those they are opposing. Why should academics not have the freedom to declare these perspectives. Why should newspapers need to be shown up by Wikileaks? The 4th estate needs to take its rightful and independent place so that our socieities are balanced and fair.

        Truly 'Enlightened self interest' considers long term consequences and the consequences to people we interact with. I used to tell my kids when they were in sports that being a good winner was really important- because being a gloating goofball plants the seeds of revenge in your adversary.
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          Apr 30 2011: Again Debra I find myself agreeing with most if not all of your post. However, while I agree with a lot of your characteristics of the "enlightened self interest" society, I would like to know how we get there! How do we get from point A (where we are now..corporations, but it's not just that, its the individual character traits that create the "top dog" corporations and basically just greed, small and large scale) To point B (where people are willing to channel their selfishness into more of a conglomerate, collective will that makes decisions/actions with unselfish, utilitarian empathy)? To me it seems as though the core problem is selfishness! And somewhere between point A and B, we need to rid ourselves of it! But this goes back to my original question! Is it even possible to rid ourselves of it? And if so how do we do it? (not just on an individual level, but societal)!
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        May 1 2011: All I have to offer you on this Joshua, beyond what I have already shared it that people are smart. They will combine their own real interests with the real best interests of others when and if a powerful communicator and/or teacher points out in a compelling way that the highest good for all is better than the best for a few. John Forbes Nash the mathematician and whoever was the director of the move a Beautiful Mind went part way toward that goal. As I have said in other postings on other threads Ayn Rand and her generation primarily advocated selfishness under the title of Rational Self interest. She harnessed the story telling art form to give permission for a miserable selfishness that inspired a generation of post war tycoons. Even so, Nash bashed through that conceptualization with Enlightened self interest which demonstrated that once you are well identified with your own group (whatever that is defined to be) everyone will be elevated and do better by a cooperative effort to maximize results- thus enlightened self interest. I am just proposing that we just get a bit more real. On one small planet- full of human beings with the same needs- there are consequences to using power or brutish force or influence to hold others in poverty, sickness or starvation. It might already be too late and the haves may have sewn so much alienation and disregard that the 3rd world nations will not forgive but--- if I guess that impulse will be short lived because in general it is people who have known hunger, thirst and abandonment that are the most unwilling to impose it on others.

        My kids and I used to play an intellectual imaginary game we called the United States of the World. We would decide what products should be produced where in the world and pretend that countries woud be admitted one at at time to the union and be the focus of the union until that place raised its standard of living to match the rest. So some places manufactured, some farmed etc. based on resource
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          May 2 2011: Well I hope you are right Debra. I disagree with you that people are generally smart. While we certainly have potential, I feel that our primal instincts are ultimately too much for us. Perhaps overtime I will gain some of your optimism! Awesome "intellectual imaginary game" by the way, I'm sure your kids are quite the critical thinkers!
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    Apr 26 2011: "..do you really think we can educate against human nature (on a large scale especially?"

    HAHA YES!

    But it would not be AGAINST nature at all, but with it. The same competitive drives can be harnessed/focused/influenced on to a personal interest. Art, martial arts, sports, hobbies, etc.

    A large scale, only if everyone's needs were met through technology, after that absolutely.

    The competitive drive is our instinct by encouraging people to be competitive they would perform their interest to the fullest effect!

    The reason the world is what it is today in my theory would be that those people focused their competitive drives in the pursuit of money, which ultimately created greed, selfishness, and in my opinion further evil. Expand?

    http://www.ted.com/conversations/2360/uniting_the_world.html
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      Apr 26 2011: From what I understand of your response Nicholas, I'm guessing you believe that humans are innately "good" (unselfish, benevolent, etc.) I have trouble believing this; in my opinion it seems human survival hinges on a deep (often subconscious) selfishness. I was a little confused by what you thought of this...you agree, yet you just think it can be harnessed? (my bad if I am interpreting your argument incorrectly) Isn't that just capitalism? I think that my biggest difference with your contention would be the assertion in the last paragraph. You say that basically the innate "good" in mankind is tarnished by money; which then consequently brings greed, selfishness, etc. To put it simply, I think the reverse is more along the lines of reality. I don't think that "money" is some esoteric force that bends people to its will; Rather I think money is the easily understandable/accessible manifestation of consumption (particularly what is called "conspicuous consumption") which is just the narrowed innate desire of greed, selfishness, etc in each member of humanity.

      And yes, please expand if you like... (the link didn't work for me by the way, sorry!)
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        Sky F

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        Apr 26 2011: I made a similar comparison before with his idea. I thought his idea reflected an economy. Way to hit the nail on the head Joshua.
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        Apr 27 2011: "From what I understand of your response Nicholas, I'm guessing you believe that humans are innately "good" (unselfish, benevolent, etc.) I have trouble believing this; in my opinion it seems human survival hinges on a deep (often subconscious) selfishness."

        Not only do I agree humans are willing to be selfish innately but that is also what I considered into the "harnessing" idea. A human nature competitive instinct being met internal on external actions is what I was circling. However the rest of the ideas after this are assuming all needs were met. If needs are not met for everyone there is a lot of unequal playing ground and superiority ideals are of a problem too. So even in a world where everyone has needs met, there will still be those wanting more and more than they rest, which is natural. But if there is nothing more to achieve than being the best at some interest, hobby, or skill perhaps greed would become extinct too. I do not know I am not God, yet...lol

        The rest you are right on. And that link was a post that got taken down but the comment below is of the same nature.
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          Apr 29 2011: I'm a little confused Nicholas by your solution (sorry, it's not your articulation, I'm sure, but probably my simple lack of understanding.) What I think you are saying is that: If everyone has common needs met, then in a very real way, greed goes too?? You counteract this in your own post..."So even in a world where everyone has needs met, there will still be those wanting more and more than the rest which is natural."..right that's conspicuous consumption:consuming beyond the threshold of "need." If/When you get the chance could you just rephrase your contention Nicholas, so sorry man, but I just don't follow...
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        Apr 29 2011: Don't apologize it is my articulation.

        If all needs were met, (Venus Project)

        We would still have natural instincts to be the best, but it wouldn't be involving money at all. It would involve being the best at art, a skill, or a hobby. Those who would want the most of a material would be extinct. What could you have more of than me if I have all my needs met and can still pursue my interest? Indeed my ideas are dis-attaching from money-based economics. Money would be on an entirely different system if all needs were met. Money would be used soully on extra-curricular activities and partial trade to fund the movement and processes, inflation would be rare. But these are all conditional and abstract.

        It goes into my idea that if everyone was 'enlightened' to the most accepted sense of the word. Actions that would be considered dis-favorable (evil) would be extremely rare if society produced all needs and gave true unbiased/open-ended education.
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          Apr 30 2011: Ahhh..OK. Thank you very much for re-articulating. Although an interesting thought, doesn't today's extreme wealthy (the Donald Trumps of the world) prove this wrong? Needs are satisfied thousands of times over, yet that doesn't seem to quench their selfish, consuming appetites...if anything it seems to feed into it more! Better yet, just look at a country like America, from a general standpoint, its peoples needs are usually met and met well...yet this doesn't build a more unselfish society, instead what it builds are large, full scale shopping malls!
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        May 1 2011: You mean the Rothschilds of the world.

        Donald Trump is nothing. He gets paid for being the face. The brain are the lobbies that exist; the companies and corporations that run the show are groups of people. In this nation companies are treated as an individual on paper. These lobbies influence the government so heavily that it isn't just individual who are so greedy. Systems ran by more systems making a very few inheritors constantly rich. Some of the richest Americans do not even understand how much money they really have in respects; these top rich Americans own more than the bottom 40 percent of the world. Source: "Top 1 Percent"

        "like America, from a general standpoint, its peoples needs are usually met and met well"

        It seems that way, but I beg to differ completely. http://www.laprogressive.com/rankism/labor-social-justice/unions-middle-class/ While today it is more apparent by Wisconsin that the Unions are under attack it directly affects the American economy. Wisconsin has now dictated that they are indeed battling a corporation directly.

        The educations in America make people materialist. Reasons: 1. We do not teach self expression. 2. We do not have entertainment that challenges thought. 3. We are educated based on academic education; no rewards for self expression, just correct answers.

        In fact society encourages us to be materialist. We talk about rich people more than we do poor people in 1. Entertainment 2. Newspapers/Media. You can't watch/read a commercial, movie, t.v show, and/or magazine without reading about a celebrity.

        I am not saying celebrities are bad people nor they are our problem. The problem is we idolize these people too much. These people are entertainers the majority of the time, just publicly acclaimed artist, which anyone can do with practice!

        The problem is we do not just say "She was good in this" or "I like her single" We are saying "she did this" "He did that" "did you hear about?"

        U.S = consumer zombies
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          May 2 2011: Agree with most, if not all, of your post. I 100% agree that U.S.=consumer zombies. Furthermore, I agree that our society (from many angles) shoves materialism down our throats. However, I think this is bound to happen in a society with a (relatively recent) boom of wealth. I know my point may be getting quite stale, but it seems that these things are simple manifestations of what lies INSIDE the individual. This is where it comes from. And as long as it originates from the human psyche, it is my contention that we will never eradicate such selfish rooted actions at the individual or social level.