Gordon Gecko in “Greed”
Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in The movie “Greed” seems to be the epitome of what’s wrong with the world. He never has enough. In the movie’s most memorable line, he bluntly claims, “Greed is good.” Of course, we the viewers think to ourselves, “No. Greed is not good. It is bad! And you are bad.”
We have some good reasons to condemn a guy like Gordon Gecko. He is money hungry, inhumane and selfish. Condemning him is fun too—we get to feel righteous because we certainly are not like him. But I wonder, might there be some natural force—nothing metaphysical mind you—beyond his particular personality that pushed him to always want more?
I know—you are saying he was just greedy. He wanted more money and more stuff than he had a right to. Sure, I guess he did. But isn’t something of what was in Gordon Gecko in all of us?
The Competition Starts Before the Competition
Here is a true story. My very young grandson, a likeable intelligent person—let’s call him Seth to protect his identity—sits on the floor with his brothers at a game of KerPlunk, a sit-in-a-circle game that uses marbles and sticks. The first step is to put all the sticks horizontally through the holes in the vertical tube so that they block the marbles from falling through. The boys enjoy this step as much as the actual competition. Seth’s first move is to grab most of the sticks for himself. I admonish him to share. The boys insert all the sticks into the tube.
Also, before the game can begin, all the marbles must be loaded into the top of the clear tube. The boys enjoy this even more than putting the sticks in. Seth, returning to form, quickly grabs all but a couple of the marbles to himself. Every time we have played this game I have told him he must share. I tell him yet again and he grudgingly shares the marbles, but is careful to keep a little more than his portion to himself. The marbles are loaded into the tube and finally the game begins. Each turn consists of pulling out one stick and hoping no marbles fall. Winning is defined by ending up with the fewest marbles. Ironically, whoever loses is rarely upset – after all, he has the most marbles!
Seeking a Bigger High—Architecturally That Is
Games (including sports of course) are just one aspect of life where we can watch the quest for more. Architecture also provides a very visual demonstration of the quest. The Khalifa Tower in Dubai is surely the most stunning physical display of the quest for more. The building rises 2716 feet above the streets—over half a mile. Have you ever watched the odometer on your car to see how far ahead you can see a stoplight? When you see a light a quarter of a mile ahead, it’s way out there. If you pay very close attention and if all the conditions are right, you just might spot a light half a mile ahead. Now imagine a building going that distance straight up into the sky.
The Khalifa Tower is the latest of a series of “skyscrapers” built during the last 130 years to win the appellation “the tallest building on earth.” All these buildings fulfill practical and commercial purposes of course, but building tall is expensive. The quest to build the highest occupied structure has cost investors and even countries huge sums of money.
What is this quest for height all about? Is it greed? Is it a quest for status? Is it just for a good view? (I have been to the top of Willis Tower in Chicago, the tallest building on earth for a number of years. It was still called Sears Tower. The view was fantastic.)
Now for Just a Few Billion More Bytes
The quest for more can be found in small spaces too. Nowhere is the push for more so dramatically—and successfully—demonstrated as in the quest to cram more information into less space. I’m talking computers. This time I am the example. In 1988 I went a little nuts and bought the best personal computer I could afford. (Well—I told myself I could afford it.) The Gateway PC had a forty mega-byte hard drive. It was the biggest and fasted home PC you could find.
The computer I am typing on right now has 220 gigabytes (Is that really 220 billion bytes?) of hard drive memory. That means it holds 5,500 times as much data as my first computer. The thing is about four years old now, and….well….I think I need just a little more data storage, don’t you?
Too Many Turkeys! Too Many Weeds!
The push for more is hardly confined to human activities. Maybe it all stems from the animal need to reproduce. In my back yard, I have seen as many as eight adult turkeys at once. I assure you, that is way more than enough for me. The male turkey is of course notable for his ostentatious tail feathers. He seems plenty big just walking around the yard, but put him with a female and he puffs up not only his tail feathers but his whole body, and he slowly circles her as if he is the sexiest thing on earth. Who does he think he is? Does the female actually like this show-off? Maybe he is proof of the irrational side of the drive to reproduce.
Whether it is smart or dumb, the drive to procreate seems built in. I don’t have to go far to see that plants have the push too. The bishop’s weed on my back hill is coming back.
When I discovered bishop’s weed next to our house many years ago, I thought it was nice ground cover. One of its more friendly names, Snow on the Mountain, suggests how beautiful it appears. Only later did I learn of its ugly side. It gradually spread through the lilies of the valley, then into the myrtle, then around the corner toward the euonymus. The stuff would have filled the whole yard if I had let it. I pulled it and dug it up for five years before it was gone. Now it’s back, hogging all the space it can get.
And What’s With All These People?
I probably shouldn’t get mad. The bishop’s weed doesn’t have any nasty intentions. It is just wired to reproduce itself. And speaking of being wired for reproduction, what about us human beings? I know it’s natural for us to want kids and grandkids. But this poor earth! Can it handle eight billion of us?
Does Even the Universe Want More?
Okay…I admit I am painting with a pretty broad brush. Lots of people I know want less—less environmental pollution, less media, less traffic. Some even want less money, bless them!
But the great tide of reality seems to be for more. More people, more data, more space, and more stuff.
Even the universe seems to want more. Ever since the big bang the universe has been expanding—fast. And the latest science says that it is expanding faster and faster. There is even a theory that as everything expands—including space itself—new universes pop up to fill the gaps!
What! One universe with a hundred billion galaxies isn’t enough?
What are we supposed to think of this ubiquitous, overpowering quest for more? Is all this good or or is it bad? Maybe it’s an unanswerable question. One thing is certain, it’s part of life. It’s built in. Maybe we should just decide what to do with the reality of more. If there is a positive side, maybe we can find it.
Could We Please Be More Positive About More?
The real Gordon Gecko’sof the world may be lousy role models. Yet, some versions of him have created companies that supply valuable products and provide thousands of needed jobs. And trying to see that part of us that is like Gordon Gecko might help us better understand ourselves. After all, if it’s natural for my wonderful grandson (now a very competitive athlete) to want more, wanting more can’t be all bad!
The push for more height in architecture has at the very least brought us beautiful buildings. The rapid increase in the memory and speed of computers has made a massive amount of information available to the average person. The urge of plants to procreate has yielded increasing amounts of food for humans.
Might this be possible too: could we see the constant expansion of life and its growing complexity as a space to grow ourselves as humans? I know, there are all those nasty negatives—cheating, pollution, conflict, and suffering—and the negatives seem to be multiplying rapidly. But could you and I balance the headlong rush for more stuff by seeking a more nuanced understanding of life? Wouldn’t that harness life’s drive for more for the benefit of life itself?
Maybe the story of life isn’t just the story of more physically. Maybe it’s also a story of evolution toward more understanding and even wisdom. I hope so—don’t you?by