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Deadhead Culture of Greed

Updated: Dec 13, 2022


I had an experience this week that was truly eye opening.

As a youth to get concert tickets to see The Grateful Dead we would write into their office and request tickets so that the ticket outlets were not taking anyone’s hard earned money, plus they wanted their fans to be able to get in to see them. The band was unique in doing this even way back then and it only fortified my respect for them and their inclusive community.

Fast forward to 2022 - Dead and Company final summer tour tickets went on sale this past week. I logged onto Ticketmaster to try to get tickets to see them this coming summer at the Gorge in WA. I then watched as ticket prices surged into ridiculous territory seeing some for $9000 for one night or $2000 to be on the lawn, all caused by live nation’s surge pricing and re-sale tickets and ultimately my friends and I walked away with no tickets at all. How did we go from mailing in decorated envelopes to try to get tickets for $18 in 1989 to this?

I had to delve into an uncomfortable topic to recognize that now even the Grateful Dead have given into the culture of greed.

Greed isn't the product of our forebrain's logical deductive cognitive-emotive process. The greed impulse originates in the primitive fear center, in the amygdale and related reptilian parts of the brain.

The primitive fear center of the brain, when left to its own selfish devices, runs almost constantly in greed mode. We do have this reptilian dimension to our decision-making processes - we naturally fear running out of goods and starving to death - it's in our genes. But we also have the power to use reason and compassion to over-ride greed.

Whenever existential anxiety threatens to surface into our conscious mind, we naturally turn to culture for comfort and consolation. Today, it is so happens that our culture—or lack of it, for our culture is in a state of flux and crisis—places a high value on materialism, and, by extension, on greed.

Our culture’s emphasis on greed is such that people have become immune to satisfaction. Having acquired one thing, they immediately set their sights on the next thing that suggests itself. Today, the object of desire is no longer satisfaction but desire itself.

The media we consume frequently unwittingly plays into this objectification of desire and leaves us feeling lacking. Psychologically, greed is an expression of fear - and fear ultimately in the end means our fear of dying. Once we are able to consciously accept that we're all going to die someday anyway, we can perhaps begin to make choices that aren't based on fear and expressed as greed.

He who dies with the most toys does not win.

In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., argued that greed, like addiction, is often a coping mechanism for unresolved mental health issues. By obtaining incredible wealth or success, people with deep insecurities strive to feel like they are finally good enough, or at least better than their peers. The logic is similar to how substances can provide temporary relief for emotional and physical pain.

Greed is also associated with negative psychological states such as stress, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and despair, and with maladaptive behaviors such as gambling, scavenging, hoarding, trickery, and theft. By overriding reason, compassion, and love - greed loosens family and community ties and undermines the bonds and values upon which society is built.

Greed may drive the economy, but as recent history has made all too clear, unfettered greed can also precipitate a deep and long-lasting economic recession. What’s more, our consumer culture continues to inflict severe damage resulting in, among others, deforestation, desertification, ocean acidification, species extinctions, and more frequent and severe extreme weather events. There is a question about whether such greed can be sustainable in the short term, never mind the long term.

Greed and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that healthy human beings have a certain number of needs, and that these needs can be arranged in a hierarchy, with some needs (such as physiological and safety needs) being more primitive or basic than others (such as social and ego needs). Maslow’s so-called ‘hierarchy of needs’ is often presented as a five-level pyramid, with higher needs coming into focus only once lower, more basic needs have been met.

Maslow called the bottom four levels of the pyramid ‘deficiency needs’ because a person does not feel anything if they are met. Thus, physical needs such as eating, drinking, and sleeping are deficiency needs, as are security needs, social needs such as friendship and sexual intimacy, and ego needs such as self-esteem and peer recognition.

On the other hand, Maslow called the fifth level of the pyramid a ‘growth need’ because it enables a person to ‘self-actualize’, that is, to reach his or her highest or fullest potential as a human being. Once people have met all their deficiency needs, the focus of their anxiety shifts to self-actualization, and they begin—even if only at a subconscious or semiconscious level—to contemplate the context and meaning of their life and life in general.

The problem with greed is that it grounds us on one of the lower levels of the pyramid, preventing us from ever reaching the pinnacle of growth and self-actualization. Of course, this is the precise purpose of greed: to defend against existential anxiety, which is the type of anxiety associated with the apex of the pyramid.

The game of Monopoly can be used as a metaphor for understanding society. Some people have a lot of money and status, and some people don't. Dozens of studies have signified that as a person’s level of wealth increases, their compassion and empathy levels decrease, and their feelings of entitlement and self-interest increase. Wealthier individuals are more likely to moralize greed being good, and that the pursuit of self-interest is favorable and moral. This is not to say that only the wealthy are capable of greedy behavior. We all struggle day to day with competing thoughts, of when or if to put our interests above the interests of other people. The key for both personal and professional equality is to be kind and practice empathy for one another.

In one study, participants were shown just a forty six second video about childhood poverty, reminding them how some people are extremely less fortunate. The researchers then wanted to see how willing people were to offer their time to a complete stranger in the lab, who was in distress. Results indicated that people that had described themselves as greedy and not greedy alike were more likely to help this stranger after watching this video. Greed is clearly malleable to slight changes in people’s values and perceptions. Yet our cultural media and values feed greed over empathy. We all have it within ourselves to give more of our time and energy to other people who are less fortunate than ourselves.

We have to be able to access feelings of abundance to experience true empathy and give from our true selves. But our capitalist materialist culture wants us to believe that we are all constantly lacking, that we will never feel abundant, that we always need more. The cheesier, saltier, larger next big thing is sold to us as how we may get to feel as good as them and how we may find happiness. This only leaves us lacking and continually unfulfilled.

Instead we can live from a place of abundance and not lack if we remind ourselves that in this present moment we are indeed at our truest core abundantly ok. We can accept that we already have with us everything that we truly need in order to escape the culture of greed.

May you realize that you are indeed enough and may you experience the abundance within you. ~ Rachel

"Our whole transformation brings us to the point where we realize in our being - we are enough."

- Ram Dass

“Singing "I got mine and you got yours."

And the current fashions set the pace.

Lose your step, fall out of grace.

And the radical he rant and rage, Singing "someone got to turn the page"

And the rich man in his summer home,

Singing "Just leave well enough alone"

But his pants are down, his cover's blown

And the politicians are throwing stones

So the kids they dance they shake their bones

Cause its all too clear we're on our own.” - Bob Weir

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