We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Human desire is insatiable. Now, some think this is a bad thing, blaming it on greed and consumerism. But think about Mother Theresa – a saint if ever there was one. Was she greedy? Insatiable? Well, yes, she was. If she could have helped one more person, she would have.

– Russ Nelson, The Angry Economist

24 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • permanentexpat

    Thank goodness that, like Albert Schweizer, she didn’t compose atrocious ‘music’.

  • R. Richard Schweitzer

    Is not the better word “insatiable” rather than “greedy?”

  • veryretired

    Which is why, from time immemorial, the message drummed into countless generations around the world is some variation of—What you want for yourself is immoral and a failure of virtue, but what you do for others, especially those chosen by the gods to be your leaders and/or spiritual mentors, is virtue itself.

    I have heard these moral lessons all my life. In religious teachings, in popular culture, in politics, in philosophy classes, the message is ubiquitous.

    If it’s for myself, whatever I do is suspect at the very least, and probably immoral. If I maintain my own ideas, I am arrogant. If I work hard to take care of myself and my family, I am “spiritually depleted by commerciality” and “corrupted by consumerism”.

    In an adjacent post, regarding arts funding, how many of those living off the public tit would be horrified by the idea that they earn the money to operate by producing work the ordinary public actually wants?

    Oh no, that would be spiritually devastating commercialism. But some working slob whose extra tax bite to pay for “art” that he neither wants nor finds the least bit interesting means he can’t buy a new a new dress shirt for an important promotional interview, or a new pair of shoes, is “greedy” and “selfish” for wanting to keep his money for his own needs and desires instead of someone else’s artistic vision.

    Rand and I have many different views on a range of issues, but here she nailed down a key element in the moral inversion that has held men and women in thrall to one thugocracy after another for millenia.

    If you want it, and are willing to work for it, you are greedy and insatiable. If I want it, and can justify by birth or religion or social position taking it away from you, I am noble, compassionate, and virtuous.

    This is the battleground. It is the result of this intellectual and moral contest for the minds of the coming generations that will determine whether we maintain our freedoms, and achieve the future prosperity that is only possible if free, creative men and women can live their lives as they see fit.

    It is not immoral to desire to fulfill one’s own dreams instead of someone else’s.

  • CountingCats

    What’s the difference?

    One is intestinal latinate, the other is gutsy anglo saxon.

  • TomG

    As veryretired summed it, whose self-interest is at play determines the judgement made (unfortunately) … with “a propensity for exuberating enthusiasm” deemed “untreated hyperactivity” by some authorities, for ex.

  • Gib

    This is a completely inaccurate description of Mother Theresa.

    She had plenty of money, much more than she was spending on her “Homes for the Dying”. She spent a lot of it on other nunneries to expand her organisation.

    Not only that, but her “homes for the dying” were exactly that. They weren’t places that people went to get better, like hospitals. Following catholic dogma, suffering is good. She liked to see it, and did not do much at all to lessen the suffering in those in her homes.

    Mother Theresa is no saint . The world is better off that she’s dead.

  • R. Richard Schweitzer

    To me the difference of “greedy” from “insatiable” is that the first connotes the acquisitive, and the latter connotes being incapable of being appeased or satisfied.

    The first is most commonly sociologically derived, the latter has evidence of organic (psychic) origins (drives).

  • Ian B

    Mother Theresa was a greedy, conceited, evil old prune who sought tirelessly to increase ignorance, pain and suffering. She herself had medical attention in the finest private western health facilities while those who fell into her clutches suffered without palliation in squalour.

    We can only hope that there is a God, and he sent her to a very special, very deep circle of Hell.

  • If you don’t like the example of Mother Theresa, substitute somebody whose altruism you admire. That person still had an insatiable desire.

  • TomG

    So in that vein, back to Mr. Nelson’s first point on Sr. Satan she was indeed insatiable/greedy in her desires, but contrary to his second point – not to maximize the number into the Pearly Gates, but rather to optimize individual suffering and humanity’s aggregate misery index (where’s Stephen King when you need him)

  • Paul Marks

    First of all I am NOT a Roman Catholic (before any of the kill-the-Papists commenters above accuse me of being one).

    However, trying to bring comfort to the dying is not evil. And nor is that all that Mother T.s order do.

    Nor is it R.C. doctrine that “suffering is good”.

    In fact attacking the Roman Catholic church for being too PRO comfort and riches has been a basic line of antiCatholic propaganda for centuries.

    Now they are being attacked for being ANTI comfort and riches.

    Actually the Roman Catholic Church does not hold that luxury or riches are evil, but it does hold that the rich have a moral duty to help the poor.

    Now one may dispute that – but is should be possible to dispute it without distorting their position.

    As for the thinking various Popes on economics – the best recent writer on that is Neil Woods (himself a Roman Catholic).

    There are indeed many errors – but the position IN ECONOMICS of the various Popes has never been claimed to be infalible – and nor is quite what is reported.

  • Gib

    The Roman Catholic Church couldn’t hold that luxury or riches are evil without everyone else being in a purpetual state of laughter. So, it’s hardly surprising that they let that one slide.

    You can surely see the difference between thinking that the vatican shouldn’t be as wealthy, and thinking that the poor people that they’re supposedly “helping” should be getting better, more costly treatment.

    Being PRO comfort and riches in regards to themselves, but ANTI comfort and riches in regards to the dying is exactly the issue here.

    It might not (*might* not) be RC doctrine that “suffering is good”, but it seems that it is the doctrine of her order.

    She’s being attacked for not helping the poor enough deliberately, taking money from other people under false pretenses, and generally just being a sick, evil bitch who managed to convince 99% of the opposite.

  • The Roman Catholic Church couldn’t hold that luxury or riches are evil without everyone else being in a purpetual state of laughter. So, it’s hardly surprising that they let that one slide.

    Or maybe that is actually what they think, ever consider that?

    You can surely see the difference between thinking that the vatican shouldn’t be as wealthy, and thinking that the poor people that they’re supposedly “helping” should be getting better, more costly treatment.

    Why? The Roman Catholic Church is a religion and not a secular charity. It may have charities, it may encourage charity, but the function of the Church is not solving the material woes of the world (such as giving people better medical care).

    Nope. It is about pushing their views on RELIGION and the God they want you to believe it. All the other stuff is icing on the cake and an aid to the main mission. If they have to choose between expending their resources on saving your soul or saving your body, it is preposterous to think they should build a clinic when they can build a Church. In the end what does it matter if you die (we all die) compared to saving your immortal soul? If an inspiring gothic church helps do that better that helping someone with their medical bills, so what?

    Personally I am 100% God-Free but criticising a church for having money and spending it on pretty churches rather than building clinics or giving it to the poor is like criticising a computer company for spending money to making computers.

  • Gib

    Sure Perry, I agree with you. Except I think a better metaphor is that criticising the catholic church is like criticising a communist dictator. They are both doing what is in their nature, which is to help themselves, and to help you by doing what they think is best for you.

  • Indeed, but you are being a bit unfair (to the Church rather than to Communist Dictators). Even Samizdata wants to tell you how best to live (i.e. live with as little reliance of the state as possible).

    I think the point is if you believe in God, then their behaviour may well strike you as desirable… and even if you do not, it is at least fairly consistent behaviour. If religious ‘salvation’ is a reasonable objective (being Godless, I personally have no use for it), then a nice gothic church provides a much better return on investment (i.e. more souls saved per century) than helping Fred Jones eke out a few extra years of his miserable life (he is after all, just one soul) :-)

    I do not think the Church is monstrous in the same way a Communist state is (which is not to say the Catholic Church has not have a few truly ghastly moments in its long history), I just think it is rather a waste of time, which in my books is a rather minor sin. I do not think the Catholic Church is fundamentally incompatible with living in a state of liberty (particularly when they actually stick to the logical consequences of the doctrine of free will), whereas a communist dictator is intrinsically inimical to liberty.

  • Ian B

    However, trying to bring comfort to the dying is not evil. And nor is that all that Mother T.s order do.

    They don’t bring comfort to the dying. They’re a bunch of lunatics who get their jollies from being close to suffering, because they believe that that helps them understand Jesus or something. They’re parasites.

  • Gib

    Perry,
    Telling someone how best to live is different to threatening them with eternal torture for failure to obey.

    I do think that the catholic church is incompatible with liberty, for believers. If you don’t do what they say on contraception, abortion etc, you’re going to hell. Then there’s that 10% tax they take called “tithing”.

    The major difference between a communist dictator and the catholic church is that the catholic’s threat of punishment waits until death, but is infinite. The communists’ punishment is sooner, but much less.

  • I do think that the catholic church is incompatible with liberty, for believers. If you don’t do what they say on contraception, abortion etc, you’re going to hell.

    Not so. I know lots of libertarian catholics. Some write for this blog. As long as the Church does not threaten them with armed men, why should I care? If they decided they do not agree, they can always say “screw this” and leave (I did). That is a bit harder when something becomes a national law.

    Then there’s that 10% tax they take called “tithing”.

    Also voluntary. I doubt 1/10th of 1% of Catholics world wide actually pay a tithe to the church.

    The major difference between a communist dictator and the catholic church is that the catholic’s threat of punishment waits until death, but is infinite. The communists’ punishment is sooner, but much less.

    I disagree. The major difference is one is backed by force and the other is an attempt at moral persuasion. You can always tell the catholic church to F-off and refuse to play. They will not sent a squad of Swiss Guards to sort you out with truncheons. Try that approach with the state and see what happens.

  • cj

    I agree 100 percent with Perry. Which is why I’d prefer (for example) most welfare programs to be administered by religious or voluntary secular organizations (as opposed to gov’t taxation).

    If I don’t like a policy or practice of my church (or secular charity), or am disappointed with their effectiveness, I simply quit giving my money to them and direct it elsewhere. If, however, my money is taken via gov’t (taxation, fees, regulations, etc.), I may bloody well have to wait four, six or many more years to effect change (i.e., the next election cycle, when a ‘bond initiative’ that was abused finally ends, when a ‘temporary tax’ comes up for renewal, etc.)

    Non-gov’tmental associations are much more easily and quickly abandoned by the individual, and thus more responsive and accountable. THAT’S how I’d like to control my money.

  • Gib

    Perry, if you believe in God, and that the catholic church is his earthly representitive, then the threat of eternal torment is just as real (and worse) than threats by real governments.

    Believers can’t say “screw this” until they stop believing, or at least modify their beliefs.

    Of course, to non-believers, none of that applies, the church is only a slight nuisance in these times.

    That’s why I said “the catholic church is incompatible with liberty, for believers

  • TomG

    “Believers can’t say “screw this” until they stop believing, or at least modify their beliefs.”

    History proves otherwise – their struggle starts out being called ‘heresy’ and they’re then deemed ‘schismatics’, as evidenced by Orthodoxy, Protestantism in all its paths and micro-branches (Puritans, Roger Williams, Joseph Smith, etc) … where each would profess to be steadfast adherents of their formulized faith, even to the death.

    On the tithing idea, some parishes I’ve lived in have urged that concept as a family-committed goal – but I don’t know of many Catholics today, with the very high cost of living, that could entertain such sacrifice (if you notice, the classic 12-member Irish family is not even a third that size on average).

    Final take: It’s interesting to me how easy it is to profess atheism when all’s well – and yet upon facing imminent expiration, faith in a Creator and the inherent teleology this reactive impulse connotes, becomes the sole preoccupation of the nondeluded. We can find fault in any established religions – but that’s not a reason to reject the very evident reality that we’re more than just a chance happening. Even Nature worshippers are implicitly choosing theistic parameters they find palatable, subconscious or otherwise. And finally, I contend that many who profess atheism are merely agnostic – it taking a lot more thought to derive thorough conviction that one’s faced with an eventual abyss of dark nothingness. Here’s a review of a new book that attempts to explain-away faith once more:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/22/books/22kaku.html

  • Gib

    TomG, a catholic becoming a protestant is modification of their beliefs that the catholic church is the earthly representitive of God. I agree that people change their mind like this. My point was about those who don’t.

    There’s several things I take issue with in your last paragraph, but I see no reason to sidetrack this thread even further by responding to them.

  • Paul Marks

    Too late for Gib to see this but I will write it anyway (assuming I do not loose connection and am left shouting at the box).

    Many Protestants, for example Calvinists, taught that luxury was evil – and no one “laughed” (at least not for long).

    People like John Knox did not take kindly to being laughed at.