Does capitalism promote greed?

The distorted image of man in capitalism

Countless scientific papers have contradicted the myth that humans are naturally selfish, materialistic and competitive

When the neoliberal Nobel laureate in economics Milton Friedman was asked by a television presenter whether he had sometimes doubts about capitalism in view of the inequality of wealth and whether greed really forms a good basis for society, Friedman asked back: "Do you know any society that doesn't over greed works? "

When Friedrich Hayek, also a Nobel laureate in economics and an icon of neoliberalism, declared that society was best served if people were guided solely by the pursuit of profit, a journalist asked in dismay: "Isn't this a philosophy that is mainly based on selfishness? What about altruism? When does altruism come into play? " Hayek's reply was simply: "He doesn't come into play."

Do we live in a competitive and elbow society, in which everyone is the blacksmith of his own fortune and himself is the next? Competition that never sleeps, stimulates business? The world belongs to the Ich-AG, because "the winner takes it all"? Avarice is cool, and the rule is: Mine. Not yours, because the bottom line is that I count?

Hand on heart:
Are people naturally more selfish or altruistic?
Are humans naturally geared towards competition or cooperation?
Are people naturally more materialistic or frugal?
Do humans have a natural sense of fairness and justice by nature or is this primarily a result of upbringing?

If you are convinced that people are by nature selfish and materialistic, that their behavior is competitive and that a sense of fairness and justice are not innate but have to be learned, then you are certainly in the majority.

At the latest with the collapse of the communist Eastern bloc, it seems to have become a matter of course that the communist image of man, which postulates equality, does not correspond to human nature. But what about the currently prevailing capitalism, which is based on at least three basic human characteristics? Namely: on egoism, competition and materialism. Does this image of man, which, for the sake of simplicity - I am well aware of the reduction in it, I would like to call a "capitalist image of man" correspond to human nature?

Philosophers, economists, theologians, psychologists, sociologists, biologists and representatives of many sciences have written their opinions on human nature and formulated their respective convictions on thousands of pages for centuries. However, the question of human nature has only been at the center of concrete scientific research for a relatively short time. This interest is all the more important because the assessment of human nature is not a pastime for graying academics, but rather has very concrete consequences for society and the life of each individual.

A question with consequences

If man is naturally selfish, the goal of education should be to limit selfishness; The social norms for living together must then be explained to the child step by step and to be taught. But if the human being is by nature rather altruistic, the main goal of education should be to allow human natural abilities to develop as freely as possible.

If a person is by nature a competitive being and is motivated by competition in a particularly sustainable manner, then school grades are extremely useful. Likewise any other form that enables the students to be compared with one another and drives competition. If, however, people tend to be more cooperative by nature, then joint learning turns out to be the optimal form of learning and giving grades a dubious, perhaps even destructive motivation.

And last but not least: If people are materialistic by nature, consumer society is a matter of course. If, however, people tend to be frugal and sharing, then a sustainable economy that concentrates on the production of central needs instead of consciously generating abundance does not appear only sensible from an ecological point of view, but simply appropriate to human nature.

The answers to the relevant studies on human nature are therefore of fundamental interest and the current scientific findings about our own being are of existential importance for every human being.

This text is an excerpt from the book "The Rediscovery of Man" by Andreas von Westphalen. Man is naturally selfish and lazy. In general, he is out to get the most benefit for himself and only performs at his best under competitive pressure. At least that is the prevailing opinion in science, business and politics - with far-reaching consequences that we all feel: for example in the failed educational and social policy or in an increasingly controlled world of work. The image of man in capitalism is nothing more than a fairy tale spread by the economy.

What if man has a wrong idea of ​​his own nature? What if we are mistaken about something as existential as our own being? In this book we will now embark on a journey together to a largely unknown being, a creature that is as fascinating as it is impressive: humans. The journey begins in the face of a hurricane.

Sodom and Gomorrah in New Orleans

Man is a wolf to man.


When the media covered the events in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the governor of the US state Louisiana summed up what shocked people around the world: "What anger me most is that such disasters are often the worst of the world Reveal people. " There was always talk of robbery, rape, car theft and looting. From shots on rescue helicopters. And last but not least, from numerous murders.

The images of the US city after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flood went around the world. They were solid evidence that one of the most devastating natural disasters in US history once again turned the worst imaginable human imagination into reality. New Orleans was more like a war zone than a modern American city.

The Superdome, which housed 30,000 people, was the epitome of inhuman horror. A stunned city mayor confessed that hundreds of armed gang members raped and murdered there. The residents are in an almost animal condition. The New Orleans Police Chief even spoke of raped babies. Reports put the number of deaths there at a good 200.

In order to cope with the horror in the city, the mayor ordered 1,500 police officers to immediately stop their rescue and rescue operations and to take action against the raids on the streets of New Orleans. For her part, the governor promised to "restore law and order" and sent thousands of National Guard soldiers to the crisis area who had express permission to shoot at looters.

Deadly consequences of a wrong image of man

These descriptions seemed to confirm the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes' image of man. Without state control, people were just wild animals, whose brutality and ruthlessness claimed far more victims than any of the worst natural disasters. "If it weren't for a small thing. These terrible descriptions are completely wrong", as the psychologist Jacques Lecomte remarked, who has dealt extensively with this catastrophe and to whom I owe the idea to begin our journey to human beings with this story and the following chapter .

"Many of the media reports, especially about rampant violence in the Superdome, appeared to be completely unfounded," found the final report of the US House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry in 2006. Shortly after Katrina, the renowned Los Angeles Times meekly admitted that the reports were about Rape and violence, as well as the estimate of the number of fatalities, were wrong. Other media followed this assessment. In the Superdome there were actually six deaths, not 200. Four died from natural causes, one from an overdose, and one human had committed suicide.

So many reports were grossly exaggerated or even fabricated, even if some criminal acts, such as the looting of a Walmart, had actually taken place. Most of the looting, however, was done by individual, desperate people.

Well-founded media criticism would certainly be required at this point, because too often journalists in New Orleans had obviously taken second-hand rumors at face value. Certainly, sensationalism has triumphed over objective journalism, and racist prejudices have also been reflected in some cases. The decisive point for the consideration to be made here is, however, that one of the main reasons for the completely distorted representation is likely to be the prejudice about human nature. The information and pictures seemed too clear to prove that Sodom and Gomorrah prevailed in the Den of Sin of New Orleans and that here, once again, the true nature of man was revealed. Just as the governor had verbally complained.

The hidden side of the human

The reporting in politics and the media, which was a sign of self-satisfied confirmation of one's own prejudice, tragically claimed many lives. Because the security forces were expressly instructed to stop rescuing other people in order to concentrate on controlling a completely exaggerated crime.

The one-sided media presentation also meant that something very astonishing was overlooked. In fact, much of the people of New Orleans were not pitiless egoists who walked over dead bodies, but spontaneous altruists. The stories of heroic helpers are numerous. As a representative reference is made to the book "Heroes of Hurricane Katrina" by Allan Zullo. It presents ten people who risked their lives to save others - often people they did not know. People used their fishing boat or kayak to rescue unknown people. Also impressive: a large part of the medical workforce stayed with the patients in the hospitals. The New Orleans Police Chief later admitted that "the general reaction of New Orleans residents was at all inconsistent with the image of general chaos and violence described by the media."

If there are lessons to be learned from New Orleans about the true nature of man, then it is above all the extremely remarkable altruistic acts that man is apparently capable of, especially in disaster situations.

Used literature:
Lecomte Jacques: La Bonté humaine. Altruism, empathy, générosité. Paris 2012.
Ricard, Matthieu: All-encompassing charity. Altruism - the answer to the challenges of our time, Hamburg 2017. (Andreas von Westphalen)

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