It is my contention, and readers will have seen this concept on this site before, that redefining terms is one of the most effective ways to cheat your way into a better light when having an argument or making a certain point. That is to say, using a word that has a negative connotation to undermine a concept which by itself is neither right nor wrong is sneaky, dishonest, and even heinous. Therefore, such a practice is a prerequisite to Being a Politician 101.
Among the words that are utilized, that is, abused, in the process of pushing government intervention into the economy or society are selfishness and greediness. People are aghast when referred to by such terms. People are also aghast when they meet another person who can be described by them. These words are powerful at stirring the emotions and they are thus used often in a political setting. What is politics but deceiving the masses by using words to manipulate? We can say that the State does whatever it wants, which is true. But it is also true that the political happenings, the headlines and speeches included, are a front to persuade the masses. The masses cannot be convinced very easily that the State should be given more power for its own sake, therefore they need to be convinced that the State should be given more power for “The People’s” sake. Hence, the need for words which pull emotional strings.
The State could possibly say: “We want more money. Therefore we will increase the rate by which we expropriate from those in society who have the money that we want.” That will not go over well.
So the State says this instead: “The rich have way too much and are being selfish. With your permission, we will help even things out.” That goes over pretty well. The State loves political democracy. Well, we are the elected representatives, we are just doing what our constituents told us to. Democracy is a farce.
Naturally, the recipients of State coercion say: “You cannot simply take from us. This is neither moral nor fair.”
The State could respond with: “We do not care what you say. We are the boss.” That will not look good. The State has the best PR agents in the history of mankind. The State’s Public Relations efforts begin in public school.
The State rather says: “You are now being greedy. Selfish and greedy. Tisk tisk. There are many suffering. And yet you folks put your greediness over the suffering.” The multitudes of the world love that. Show those rich people that they cannot take advantage of us!!
Now, aside from the curious fact that the wealthiest class in America, indeed the world, are the beneficiaries of State action in one way or another, we must realize that the use of the two Very Bad words are strictly propaganda. Nearly everyone would agree that selfishness and greed are not good, and there are two reasons why they should not be used in political hoopla. The first problem is that the entire conversation assumes that wherever there is a person who does not act according to the standard of some politician (which by definition would make the politicians the most hypocritical group of people in the world), that person should receive punishment by the State. But can the State be justified to take on such a role as Jiminy Cricket the Conscious of the People? Is every internal personal, and spiritual motivation to be scrutinized by the institution in society that has a monopoly on coercion? Is the State to be to the citizens what the Holy Spirit is to the Christians?
The second problem stems from the very choice of those two words. Selfishness is a desire to benefit yourself at the expense of another. Voluntary market transactions teach us that to receive Good A is necessarily to give Good B. That is to say that selfishness is excluded on the very basis that the rich received their money only by first creating something which the customer wanted more than the money that they gave up in exchange. This is tautologically not selfish.
Theft is selfish, but market activity is not theft. What is an example of theft? How about when an institution takes something from another without the permission from the victim? That would indeed be theft. In which case it is also selfish, is it not? What is an example of such an institution? The expected answer should be obvious.
And what about greedy? I should not have to make a demonstration of the fact that the politician is the greediest of all slithering things, but it is important to ask whether the private citizen is, or is not, greedy. Both Oxford Dictionary and Webster use the word selfish in the definition of greedy so, given the previous paragraphs, it would probably be a tough sell to say that all business owners are selfish, but for the sake of the argument, let’s work with it. Perhaps we can say that to be greedy is to always be wanting more. More of what? Say that I am desiring more and more kindness in my life. Am I greedy? If yes, then greed isn’t always bad. But if not, then greed must be an intense desire for something more specific. Maybe we should say that if something is an idol, that is, it demands our worship more than God, then we are being greedy for more of that thing. Thus, greedy is wrong because it is idolatry.
But why is financial profit per se an idol? Must we ask entrepreneurs to operate at a loss? Economically, a profit acts as a mechanism to give information. It tells businessmen whether they are putting their efforts and resources in the correct places. If many people do not like what you are selling, you operate at a loss. Thus, the grand irony is that, according to the politicized vocabulary of the left (and even many on the right who have fallen victim to propaganda), to not be greedy is to sell to people what they do not want and to give to people what they are looking for is a mark of greed.
We agree that are those in society who have made financial profit their idol. However, it should be clear that financial profit only comes after serving the market with goods that it wants and therefore the so-called greed can be beneficial to those who previously did not have the good. As an Apple iPhone owner, I hear many fellow owners complains about the phone’s price which reflects the greed of Apple’s CEO. Now I have never talked to Tim Cook about whether or not he is greedy, but I do know I am very thankful for my iPhone and my life is better because of it. While it seems very judgmental to simply assume that Mr. Cook is a greedy man, if he is greedy, it is surely to my benefit. The left, of course, is always pre-judging others by assuming their deepest intentions are known.
Furthermore, the fact that there are some who are greedy in their profession, does in no way logically prove that all profit-seekers are greedy in the least! If this were so, perhaps it is sinful for us to go to work for a wage. Or, in the very least, maybe it would be more ethical to take the money required to pay the bills and refuse the rest of the paycheck. Savings for the future must be ignored! The point, then, is that profit per se is not bad, and thus to throw the word greedy on those that have more than us seems a bit presumptuous. Perhaps it is those who want, but do not seek to earn, who are the greedy ones.
When we hear the words of the manipulator-in-chief, regardless of party, be not afraid to consider his chosen words carefully. They are purposefully picked for the sake of a specific goal. Manipulating by abusing vocabulary is wrong, but being manipulated is a choice. Selfishness and greediness exist in this sinful world, and the Scripture speak against them. However, when the rulers of this world uses them to increase power and domination, perhaps we ought to immediately assume the mindset of the skeptic.