Shifting the Definition of Greed

Yesterday, Sen. McCain made an interesting comment. He claimed that the definition of “rich keeps creeping down.” I don’t think someone who owns more houses than he has fingers has any right to complain about being called rich, but that’s not the point. The point is that our models of reality are moving targets.

Think about this for a minute. Think back to the way your parents lived, your grandparents, and beyond. The quality of life, the sheer amount of STUFF that people have these days is staggering. I got to see my grandmother’s original washing machine with the rollers for a wringer. I got to use it too – and wonder how, exactly, it saved time. My other grandmother still rings off quickly, remembering when a long distance phone call was an expensive luxury.

Entertainment is another great example. I remember when Walkmen – the original, tape deck ones – came out. I remember when movies rarely appeared on network TV, or when VCRs first came on the scene. We are, compared to even thirty years ago, living in a plethora of entertainment. It wasn’t all that long ago that people had to literally go somewhere to hear music unless they made it themselves.

Yet we still think we’re bored.

My son had gotten used to having dessert a while back. One night we simply didn’t prepare one, and he got mad. He *expected* his dessert, and we were wrong and unfair to keep it from him. Perhaps it was part of an evil plot to “redistribute” dessert.

Or perhaps he was spoiled. He was so used to getting a luxury that he believed it was a necessity.

Our entire culture – myself included – lives in fantastic wealth compared to most people on the globe. People very much like you, me. People with hopes and dreams and feelings. People who look at the things we take for granted as fantastic excess.

We adapt our perceptions to what’s around us. Our *idea* of poverty and wealth shifts and flows. We do not consider ourselves “richer” than the generation before, though we have access to entertainments they could not obtain. We have more things, more electronics, and better communications than anyone could buy decades ago. But yet we consider these things commonplace, not part of being rich.

But unlike being “rich”, there is a baseline for poverty, an absolute zero.

That actual zero of poverty – that point where someone cannot survive – that zero cannot be shifted by a concept, an idea, or a bit of paper.

We – almost by definition anyone who is reading these words on a computer screen – are rich in comparison to the unshifting line of global poverty.

In our homes of excess, how dare we complain about helping others who have less than us? How greedy must we be?

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