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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 01-Jun-14


Sunday 01-Jun-14

The corrosion of fear, the corruption of greed

Fear and greed seem to be quite different emotions (if indeed greed is one). And yet so often, they are found together. A classic situation is corruption, which is often driven by greed and controlled by fear. Uday Vir Singh was an Indian forestry officer who stumbled upon and then exposed a multi-billion-dollar operation involving selling iron ore to China, involving many corrupt officials and heavyweight criminals. Singh now lives in fear of his life. Without the protection of the law, such operations work through fear and greed. If you cannot bribe a person, then you scare them so much they stay quiet. And any transgressors or whistleblowers, internal or external, are subject to extreme measures as a signal to everyone involved to stay afraid.

This is also bad for entire countries. According to the Economist, a recent poll showed that 96% of Indians said that corruption was holding back their economy and 92% thought it was getting worse. The missing element is real trust, where you have confidence that the other person is acting with integrity. In a corrupt context, nobody really trusts anyone else, other than knowing that fear of recrimination will keep most people in check, which is surely a poor way to life.

Fear and greed also appear in bubbles, such as in the stock market and in housing. When people think they can make a fast buck, they become driven by greed. Other people fear being left behind, so they buy in too. Decisions such as these, that are driven more by emotion than reason, pay little attention to the real risks involved, with the result that when the bubble bursts, many are left penniless.

Greed energises and corrupts. A person sees something that will get them something they want with relatively little effort. They focus closely on this, and in doing so focus less on the happiness of others. This single-mindedness leads to a greedy determination that steps outside common social values. Fear corrodes, sapping the will and draining the desire to fight for what is right. In doing so those who are constrained by fear feel they have betrayed themselves and others and their self-esteem spirals downward.

It is perhaps a damnation of humanity that greed and fear are so widespread. All we can do is understand what is going on beneath the surface, including in our own heads, and respond accordingly.

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