“I don’t like greed, I don’t like ignorance. I really don’t like anger. But I love love.”–David Crosby
Upon seeing that I had purchased “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, dad expressed his dislike of the Beatles by derisivly claiming they were laughing all the way to the bank. Being a rebellious adolescent, I probably came back with a snarky retort along the lines that I was OK with that.
I knew the Beatles were filthy rich, but they had legitimately earned their wealth by bringing music and joy to their fans. Listening to their records triggered my imagination and expanded my understanding of human emotions. I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth out of Beatles records.
The idiom had its first printed appearance in Francis Hopkinson Smith’s novel Peter: A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero. It’s the story about a bank worker and his nosey sister. The book describes the changing attitudes of society and the increasing materialism at the turn of the 20th century. The phrase has come to deplore the act of making a fortune at the expense of others or in some other undeservable manner such as in a Ponzi scheme and other fraudulent ways.
In the case of the Beatles, perhaps they did laugh all the way to the bank. Many people, perhaps the band members themselves, may have started out thinking that what they were doing was foolish and silly, but when their gigs and record sales started paying dividends, the band became more serious. Meanwhile, I have a feeling that perhaps John Lennon, with his more cynical attitude, might have always laughed all the way to the bank. If that is true, I’m still OK with that.
Earlier this week, my friend Jonathan and I were discussing the state of the nation and the fundamental ills of society. We concluded that if we honestly want to get to the core of our social dysfunctions we should consider our addictions to drugs, conspicuous consumption, and existential emptiness as symptoms of larger issues. As a society we should evaluate candidates for corporate and political office according to their levels of ignorance, stupidity, self-centeredness, dishonesty, lust for power, and greediness. Will these individuals figuratively and literally laugh all the way to the executive suites and the banks?
“We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.”–Stephen Hawking
Citizens of the world have pretty much reached similar conclusions, but we have been powerless in the face of inertia. Laughing all the way to the bank and to power have been the default manner of running nations and empires since ancient times. The lusts for cash and power are powerful motivators that eclipse matters of the heart. There’s little we can do to change this. What is necessary is to recognize it when we see it and to call out individuals whenever they use it to shortchange society.
Each day we may encounter fellow human beings who are angry, resentful, or even anti-social. They are intent mainly on satisfying their own needs. There is so much pettiness, deceit, distrust, covetousness, and greed that it is difficult to find people and organizations who mesh with our personal ethical beliefs. At the personal level, we consider these factors when selecting beneficiaries of our estates in our wills. Who do we wish to inherit the hard-earned fruits of our dreams and labors? Is the kindness of others a screen for ulterior motives?
To some degree, all of us possess the common human vices: misanthropy, lust, hypocrisy, and greed. To become better versions of ourselves, it is smart to become aware of these in order to keep tabs on them. Whenever they come to center-stage we’ll understand how they influence our decisions and actions. We can come to notice how they filter our subjective view of the world and people around us. We see how some folks have lost control of their predilections towards satisfying their vices. If that is the case for ourselves, we are better able to remedy it.
In the end, while it is prudent to have bank accounts to help us manage our financial affairs, it is helpful to recognize when prudence morphs into greed. We can either laugh all the way to the bank by doing beneficial work; or laugh all the way into the bottomless pit. That is the abyss into which, our vain efforts to try to satisfy desires never reach satisfaction. This is ultimately up to us as individuals.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Ancient Roman philosopher, dramatist, satirist, and statesman, Lucius Annaeus Seneca. “For greed all nature is too little.”
I can’t begrudge talented people who achieve commercial success. I might be a little jealous (once upon a time, I would have loved to be a famous writer or singer myself) but I can’t begrudge them
Exactly. It’s the “tycoons” who hollow out their companies with unfair practices and then pay themselve huge salaries that grind my gears.
It seems the more people have, the more they need. It’s especially apparent in the uber-rich.
Greed is a harsh taskmaster. It’s like opiates.