Todd Walton: Greed Redux

Under The Table

“It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” John Steinbeck

This may be a stretch, but stretching is good for us, so… it seems to me that everything going on with our psychotic leaders in Washington these days is concisely echoed on the local level and in our personal lives. This week the propaganda peeps refer to the ongoing fiscal crisis as the sequester (how Medieval sounding!) as opposed to the fiscal cliff they scared us with a couple months ago, but the crisis is the same crisis: greed. And the emotion perpetuating this greed is fear: the fear of not having enough. The fear driving our psychotic leaders, alas, is very real, while the basis for their fear is imagined.

I’ve long been fascinated by statistics showing that my generation, the so-called Baby Boomers and primary beneficiaries of that mythic era known as The Sixties—a time renowned for sharing and love and connecting with Mother Earth—are the most materialistic, greedy, self-serving people who have ever lived. Of course The Sixties didn’t cause us to become so anti-Sixties in our behavior; our parents are responsible for that, and our parents were children of the Great Depression, a time when their fear of not having enough had some basis in reality rather than fantasy. And, as it happens, most of the psychopaths now holding sway in our federal and state and local governments and courts are children of the children of the Great Depression.

My parents, for example, grew up skirting poverty and survived the Great Depression to become solidly middle-class. Our family was never in danger of starving or being evicted, yet when my siblings and I were little kids my mother would frequently rail at us during supper, usually under the influence of alcohol, that if my father failed to bring home money that very evening we would be headed for the Poor House. To my inventive young mind, the poor house was a large stone building with a dirt floor strewn with rotting straw; and that’s where we were going if my father didn’t come home with money. I wondered if I would go to the same school I was currently attending while we lived in the Poor House or if there was a Poor House school with cruel teachers who would beat us for talking out of turn, which was my great failing as a student.

By the time I was in my twenties, my parents were unquestionably wealthy, and that wealth continued to grow for the rest of their lives, yet they never for a moment felt they had enough money, and this feeling was so strong in them that it was only with the greatest difficulty they would share their money with anyone, including their own children. When my father died, he left behind a letter to me he had lacked the courage to send while he was alive, a letter in which he enumerated the two reasons he had never given me any money despite his having millions of dollars while I lived on the edge of poverty for many years. First, he did not want to support me on what he considered a frivolous and wrongheaded path as a writer and artist, and second, he did not think he had enough money for himself.

“Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed.” Mwai Kibaki

When I moved to Sacramento in 1980, the city council was stacked with people in the service of unscrupulous real estate developers, and my arrival in town coincided with the election of a new council member who had campaigned as a vehement opponent of the idiotic and shortsighted development that was laying waste to the Sacramento area. And then, quite publicly, within just a few months of his election, this fellow moved from a low rent apartment into a fine new home in the best part of town and went to work for the very developers he had vowed to fight. My environmentalist friends who had been so jubilant about his election were saddened but barely surprised by his conversion, for such dramatic ideological shifts were commonplace in that deeply corrupt city.

I, in my innocence, became involved with groups in Sacramento pushing for environmentally sensible alternatives to the New General Plan for the future development of Sacramento. But after a few years of attending symposiums and planning commission meetings, and realizing there was absolutely zero public support for any substantive change in business as usual, I watched in horrified fascination as a bunch of amoral sharks engineered a huge land heist under the guise of bringing an NBA franchise to Sacramento, a heist that obviated any hope of decent mass transit to the airport and improving air quality in the city. And once I realized there was no stopping the annihilation of the Sacramento Valley, and to save myself from the ever worsening noxious fumes engulfing our state’s capitol, I got out of Dodge, and none too soon.

“For greed all nature is too little.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Meanwhile, our psychotic leaders, who enjoy at our expense free and excellent healthcare and fabulous annual salaries, continue to call each other names and spout idiotic gibberish about the economy while failing to do anything to help the many millions of Americans who are in dire economic straits because of the actions of excessively wealthy people and corporations who paid for the election of said psychotic leaders, for whom those millions of struggling Americans are not people, but lower forms of life.

I used to be amazed when otherwise sensitive and intelligent friends would speak of homeless people as a separate species of hominid from housed people. And though I knew this gross insensitivity came from their not really knowing any homeless people, I still found their tendency to dehumanize people shocking, until one day I had a moment of enlightenment while sailing on San Francisco Bay in a little sailboat with five other people, the five of them homeowners with rental properties, I the only renter in the party.

As I rejoined the group after fastening down a yardarm or some such nautical thing I’d been told to do, I found the conversation had changed from harbor seals to what at first I thought must be a discussion of how to get rid of rats or vermin, but turned out to be a griping session about the terrible species of hominid known as Homo Renterus. And after five minutes of listening to these otherwise perfectly nice, liberal, educated, self-proclaimed Buddhists referring to their renters in highly distasteful terms, I could hold my peace no longer and said, “Excuse me, but I am a renter routinely abused by my landlord, and I find this discussion deplorable. Might we change the subject?”

Needless to say, I was never invited to that party again, on land or sea. And what I took away from the experience was that there is something so inherently hierarchical about our culture (or is it our species?) that most people tend to dehumanize those they perceive to have less than they, and lionize those with more. My parents did this and many people I know do this, too, and I probably do the same thing without knowing I’m doing it, and I wonder what possible value such behavior could have in terms of cultural evolution, other than to maintain the status quo of the haves lording it over the have-nots.

“Compassion is the natural response to an open heart, but that wellspring of compassion remains capped as long as we turn away from or deny or resist the truth of what is there.” Joseph Goldstein

In my readings of Buddhist dharma, I come again and again to passages concerning the universality of suffering, and how we develop compassion by opening our hearts, both to our own suffering and the suffering of others. And it occurs to me that by dehumanizing others we spare ourselves the discomfort of opening our hearts to their suffering. If those landlords on that sailboat opened their hearts to the suffering of their tenants, they would no longer think of them as enemies. And if our psychotic leaders could open their hearts (assuming they have hearts) to the suffering of the American people and people in other countries, they would not be able to carry out their entirely self-serving policies that are so cruel and hurtful to so many.

So I’m working on ideas for bumper stickers about this and I’ve got the gist of what I want to say, but I need some help here. What do you think about OPEN YOUR HEARTS, YOU ASSHOLES! Or HEY YOU INSENSITIVE POOPHEADS, YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY HUMANS ON THIS SPACESHIP. Or YOU’RE NOT OKAY IF I’M NOT OKAY.

But maybe that’s being too subtle.
(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2013)


The ’60s was an interesting time, but wasn’t universally experienced in the same way. Recall the ‘straights’ and ‘freaks’. It was more like a colorful parade passing down Main Street; most of the folks were stationed along the curb watching, at some point it was over and almost everyone went back to their business (of acquisition), maybe with a souvenir or two. But history has cycled back around for one of its ryhmes.

AND NOW HERE WE ARE – AGAIN. There’s a bumper sticker for the times.

I only remember Reagan’s “WIN” button. But here are some refs on something fairly new being digested on the human evolution front. What was the key ingredient for our evolution? empathy.

Well, Todd, you know very well that our leaders are not psychotic. Psychosis is a disorganization of thought and experience, is global and highly disabling. I suspect you mean psychopath (I prefer the synonym sociopath), people with out the ability to care about others or even the future. In this case yes, of course these are the main players in our drama of mutual destruction. Dominator cultures like ours promote competition that favors the ruthless and no one can be as ruthless as a psychopath. Your friends who hate their renters are not likely psychopaths themselves, but they are influenced by psychopaths in power and tend to ape their heartless ways. One of your friends who actually was able to surmount the economic barrier and actually talk in a mutually respectful ways with renters would likely be moved to moderate their antagonism, but the barrier between owner and non-owner is tall and seldom do they meet as equals. I am both sorry for the loss of your social contacts and glad that you lost them. They just were not nice people. Wealth tends to do that to people. An actual psychopath would be unfazed by any human contact at all, though an intelligent one will put on a great act to deceive you. Others are irrelevant to the psychopath except as tools. Sound like a lot of politicians? Captains of finance? And there are the garden variety of psychopath that pursues more modest plunder, like alter boys, for instance that exercise little control over our lives. The intelligent ones are the model for many motifs in literature. Vampires for instance. The serial killer. And how about that Dexter.

Dominator culture is a total package of evil. That is why we are destroying ourselves seemingly without great concern.


I love your parade analogy, and would only add that many of the 60’s paraders enjoyed the party aspect of the parade, the costumes and the revelry, without much care for what the parade organizers thought the parade was about. But I guess what most fascinates me about that time as I experienced it, was how many (most) of the paraders I knew who seemed so intent and excited about creating a more regenerative way of living on the earth, became the very people they consciously opposed—their parents—and then some. Which all goes to show the lasting power of how we are programmed as children.

Herb, your point about the difference between a psychopath and a psychotic is well taken, but I’ll split the difference with you in terms of labeling many of our overlords one or the other because I get the feeling they are a mix of psychopaths and psychotics, some of them, as you say, disabled and disorganized in their thinking, yet somehow functioning in that madhouse with the aid of their handlers. When I listen to John Boehner, for instance, I sometimes think he is an evil psychopath and sometimes think he is simply bonkers, as in wildly delusional. The end result is the same—a terrible heartlessness regarding others.

    Fine. Intelligent psychopaths make fools of us all. Unless I can pin one down in an fMRI machine, I don’t know any reliable way to sus out which of the monsters is the actual psychopath. Masters of disguise they surround themselves with doubles in a crowd of the cruel. Intelligent psychopaths are the ultimate practical chameleons. In my work with abused children and incarcerated minors I had significant opportunity to study these people, who conventional medicine deems untreatable, BTW. I love Stout’s book The Sociopath Next Door. She presents evidence that the incidence in the US is about 4%. The population is otherwise normal and intelligence varies in the same distribution as the rest of the population so maybe one quarter of that represents the intelligent cohort of psychopaths. One percent, hmmm?


My suggestion for the bumper strip reads simply, “The Hippies were Right.” Believe me, when the neo conservatives read or hear that statement, they instinctively know that we
are talking about the moral and civic values outlined in the The Port Huron Statement.

Conservative Republicans are still frightened by the word HIPPIE!

Very well written. My current concern is the push to privatize the Post Office. There’s money to be made by cutting service,wages and benefits as well as replacing union workers with lower paid workers. It’s all greed and I think the hostile takeover of the Post Office illustrates this.
HR2309 proposed by Representative Darrell Issa is being pushed as a remedy to the problem Congress created with passage of HR6407
S361 and HR630 would do away with HR6407 which alone would put the Post Office in the black again. Both bills need support from those who want to preserve the Post Office as a service.
Issa claims he is striving to save the USPS yet he is ignoring expenses that can be deleted without disrupting the service.
#1. The Postal Accountable and Enhancement Act,HR6407 needs to be rescinded. In 2006 the PAEA signed by Bush, mandated that the USPS fund 75 years of retiree health benefits in 10 at 5.5 Billion a year which has been mistakenly referred to as a loss which could lead to the conclusion by hasty readers that the Post Office’s expense for labor is the cause of the loss, not the demand for 75 years of retiree health benefits paid to the treasury in 10.
#2. Overpayments of 50 to 75 Billion the USPS made to the Civil Service Retirement Service should be returned.
#3. Overpayments the USPS made to FERS need to be retrieved.
#4.The USPS needs to charge more for delivering UPS parcels to places UPS don’t.
#5. Adjust the ratio of managers to workers.
#6 Quit giving deep discounts to large businesses.
Issa’s solution is to cut the workforce by at least 100,000, and make Postal Workers’ wages and benefits depend on a separate board when a contract isn’t agreed upon. This is a case where Issa’s cure would cause the death of the USPS as a public service and have it revived as a business with lower paid workers, higher rates , less service and higher pay and bonuses for those at the top levels of management.

S1789, sponsored by Lieberman, passed in the Senate in April but not in the House,would cut 100,000 jobs with the USPS when we don’t need to have more unemployed workers. S1789 would decrease compensation for injured workers and end it for those over 65, when we don’t need to take away compensation or lower compensation for injured workers. It would weaken the unions which promote a “living wage” at a time when we don’t need to add more people to the “working poor”, S1789 would close smaller post offices (some have already closed), and slow mail delivery by closing 200+ distribution centers.
In 2006 Congress voted to have the USPS fund 75 years of retiree health benefits in 10 amounting to 5.5 Billion a year.
Saddled with funding 5.5 Billion a year that had nothing to do with mail delivery, the USPS could no longer have it’s revenue =costs as it had done until 2006.
If this bill is passed or HR2309 the USPS will end up virtually privatized with lower wages and benefits for its ’workers, a scaled down and overworked workforce, more mail services contracted out, less services for the public including curbside service in place of home delivery.
This is how the Post Office could end up privatized if HR2309 were passed.
Management is replaced if they cannot successfully restructure Postal Service finances when the Postal Service fails to pay its bills for more than 30 days, a receivership-style authority takes over for USPS management with an explicit mandate to cut costs while maintaining universal service.

Would someone tell me of an incident in the last ten or twenty years where governmental power actually told the truth when it could get away with a lie, any lie. Illegitimate leadership (no other kind in evidence) lies gratuitously as well as to gain an advantage. The demented denizens of Greedistan that run things have an allergy to the truth. This is the core reason why our current societal arrangements can not be reformed. There is no there there to organize around. The lying, one lie meant to cover the vulnerabilities of the previous lie, layered one over the other like an onion, means that we have no reliable history. We will have to abandon what we have been told is our history and start making a new one. Granted it is still possible for seriously independent thinkers to propose alternative histories that correlate better with experience, but it is a Sisyphean labor. As soon as one layer of the onion is peeled back another is revealed, and when, by dint of great labor people drill down to the center of the onion, presuming it is possible, there would be nothing there. This is a property of sociopathic leadership that is systematically antagonistic to reality itself since there is no advantage for the ambitious in conforming to reality and every reason to construct a false one.