Saturday, October 25, 2008

Greed versus Avarice

In general speech we speak of greed, and again in general speech we view such as a sin. In fact, in Catholicism, it is considered one of the seven “deadly” sins.
In fact, the word does not even carry-over to other languages. Its closest counterpart in the romantic languages is “avarice”. French people, for example, have no word for “greed”. In common English, both words exist, and the distinction is immediately evident: When one suffers from “greed” one is acting under his own influence, when one suffers “avarice” there is more innuendo than cause.
“Greed” comes to us from the old English, and refers specifically to hunger. The closest cousin to the word is “gluttony”, a word which exemplifies the specific nature of the term.
Avarice does not immediately translate into gluttony. The nuance is simply not the same.
Therefore “greed” can and should be used when the episode involves immediate need, avarice when it is controlled and systematic. Greed is the result of what we can account for as a type of “need”. It is pardonable because it is the result of a “cause”. It’s not my fault.
Avarice is different; it is not pardonable. Avarice comes to us from the old French, and carries an immediately negative connotation. Avarice is long-term, and holds the implication of not only immediate, but also long-term gain. Avarice is something you hide. Greed relates to an immediate situation. It is different from avarice in that it can be excused. It is not to be promoted, but it can be excused. It is, after all, the result of hunger.
How is it that we have become so accustomed to the concept of greed? We even worked the opposite term out of our normal language. We rarely speak of a “voracious” character but often speak of the “greedy”.
So let’s look at our current attitude towards foreign markets and the environment. The immediate pleasures, not the success, of the last 150 years of human civilization have exposed our greed: We are hungry, and are acting on impulse. We have satisfied our greed, or gluttony.
This can be easily proven to be acceptable: It is not the result of avarice but of greed that North America has the most obese people on the globe. It is the result of a rather short history of over-consumption that our planet is now in a precarious situation. And more short-term solutions are being offered, because we’ll surely not curb our appetite anytime soon. Look at carbon credits!
Europe lived a long time containing and correcting itself against avarice. And it never pardoned the condition. North America holds gluttony and greed in its highest esteem. Our core values are based upon the immediate satisfaction of wants; not needs. Because our needs are so completely over-satisfied, we’ve let another term creep into our language: A much softer concept than pure avarice, pure greed.
And so the unpardonable, systematic act of grabbing everything for oneself is still a shameful sin. But we’ve allowed for the episodic occurrence of essentially the same thing. As long as it is episodic, we can call it an instance of greed. How episodic is our greed though? Maybe it is really avarice.


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