The Native Americans had a very interesting take on greed. It was viewed as an illness to want more than one needs, for it was a sickness of the soul that poisoned the mind, and they treated greed as such. In Ojibwa, it is called windigo, in Powhatan, it is called wintiko. The term most widely known is wetiko, Algonquin for a cannibalism of life and resources in the name of personal satisfaction. No human exemplified wetiko so well as the white man, who consumed the newfound fertile land with frenzy.
Frantic consumption led to amazing development and innovation. Soon, the United States became one of the most powerful nations this earth had yet to see. Following ancient Rome and colonial Britain in its footsteps, the United States squandered resources in order to build an empire that influenced the entire globe. Like all examples of great societies that spread beyond their needs, greed served as the central tenant of worship. Kings and queens adorned in jewels, emperors feasting until they purged, and those states which acquired abundant wealth are all revered in history. These are the parents from which modern, capitalist society was born, and wetiko is its lineage.
The relationship with greed is an interesting one. At first, greed results in amazing feats of engineering. The Roman’s built aqueducts and roads that served as the foundation of their great civilization. In its youth, the United States relied on guns, trains, and mechanical ingenuity to populate the New World. This innovation is enticing and powerful. A quick look through history, however, proves that this ingenuity is short-lived and that all major societies built on greed fall under the weight of their own success. Like a virus, it jumps from host to host, consuming one and then jumping to another. After Alexander the Great came Genghis Khan, followed by the Great Roman Empire, which was revered by Colonial Britain, which in turn inspired the United States.
Greed is everywhere in our marketing. It functions as the veins of free market capitalism, driving consumption and production across every sector it touches. We worship it. Media plasters the figureheads of greed on billboards and magazine covers, exalting beautiful millionaires as they swim in their material wealth. Articles are written on how to achieve success through becoming wetiko, and as a result, greed has become an idol for our youth, revered as an admirable drive to achieve and an ambition to succeed.
Greed may be a common part of human nature, but it is assuredly not a universal trait.
Because we are human does not mean we are afflicted with wetiko. There is a part of us still intimately tied to simplicity. The foundation of happiness rests in the smallest things in life: sense of belonging, agency, and fulfillment. We need to care for a family, have a sense of control over our own lives, and possess self-satisfaction. Greed says this is not enough, that we need more, which causes us to forget that which is most important. As a result, those most afflicted with wetiko, tend to be the least content.
Poverty, climate change, and corruption are all caused by greed. Our modern culture must stop allowing this infection to spread. If we no longer worship excessive wealth, our attitude towards one another and the world would change drastically. We would no longer be encouraged to consume others in an attempt to obtain ultimate wealth. It would no longer be okay to have far more than one needs for the sake of self-gratification. We would value human relationships, those simple things in life that make us truly happy. Kindness instead of ruthlessness would dominate. Humility instead of vanity would define success.
Culture is simply a collective mindset, and if we begin to change the most fundamental ideologies of said mindset, we begin to affect change on society itself. Realizing that greed is a mental illness would be a major step in a more equitable direction.