Their kings wanted to stock their coffers with gold for an everlasting war and glory, the Church to make up for the money it had failed to obtain through the sale of indulgences to ‘lost’ souls, and the elderly, perhaps, to fill their teeth with gold so that they could die with a golden smile on their faces.
The natives of the New Continent were taken aback, rather shocked, by the total greed of the new arrivals whom they thought were gods come to fulfill ancient traditional prophecies. For them it was quite strange that ‘aliens from outer space’, probably from distant but very much civilized galaxies, could be so much preoccupied with gold and silver as to forgo the honor associated with royalty. The Olympian gods, who in former times lusted after women and gold, would have shown better manners.
These visitors, who came from across the ocean, did not ask the usual question supposed to be asked by green men, namely: ‘take me to your leader’, but preferred the more down-to-earth and rewarding one: ‘take me to the goldmine on time!’
In line with this, it can be said that the first question ever addressed (probably in Castilian) to the Red Indians after the motley crew from Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria had rowed ashore and met the natives, who sported gold amulets and gold ritual masks, was: WHERE DID YOU GET THE GOLD?!
Thus, it can be said that the first large scale hold-up in history took place in South America before it could move to the streets of Chicago and New York. Your gold or your life! The threat was so unfair that at the end of the day the natives lost both gold and life. Al Capone looks more just and kinder by comparison.
Suppose the new continent did not contain any gold or silver at the time, would the colonizers have continued to flow there just the same? one may ask. By all means! Greed has never listened to reason. There is a proverb in our country which goes somewhat like this: when they told the poor hyena that there was a faraway city made of meat and bones somewhere beyond the hills (a sort of meaty Shangri-La), he rushed out without asking to know of its exact position. It is, however, a tribute to the loftiness of the human spirit in the face of greed that Columbus had, at least, the sense to be appraised of ‘El Dorado’s exact position before he set sail westward. Go west young sailor till something stops you, like for example, a mountain of gold!
This was of course repeated in Africa, Asia and many other places the colonizers set foot on. The caravels used by these people might as well have flown the Jolly Roger (skull and crossbones) as they sailed the high seas with a Señor de las Quintas, a Marquis de la Grange, a Sir William Scot and a Van der Valt on board. It would have been more proper had these gentlemen changed their names to Señor de las Greedas or Sir William McGreedy, Van der Greed instead; appellations consonant with their trade and beffiting their manners.
Of course, all of these plunderers had priests and pastors accompanying them. While the natives were busy being saved in some remote churches in the jungle, the colonists stole and looted as they listed, for they all came with their own versions of Christian values elevating greed to the station of virtue. They ‘saved’ souls as a spiritual investment for a happy life in the hereafter, and saved money to enjoy life to the fullest in this uncertain world.
Those who, amongst them, got away with their ships laden with more gold and silver than would have been tolerated by the dictates of greed of the times, had to be hunted down and their vessels scuttled and their gold coffers robbed clean. In the game called hide-and-greed played in the open seas, rich bankers and investors watched with drooling mouths, as sea powers such as England and France slugged it out in various spots of the world for power and riches. These events were replayed in recent times in Iran, Iraq and Venezuela. It is like: the same film company that brought you The Sea Hawks starring England and France, now brings you The Last Plunderers starring America and England, and introducing China as a guest star.
At this juncture someone might interrupt and say that one cannot after all separate colonization from greed, for the principal motive behind the former is to take the land of others with total impunity, exploit the inhabitants and take away their riches without shame. No one ever went, one would add, to colonize other lands with glad tidings of salvation or emancipation or with the motive of preaching liberty, equality and fraternity.
Well, the problem was not so much with colonization as with the immense scale with which it was carried out, assisted by the accelerating socio-economic momentum that led to capitalism in all its ugly forms.
I don’t mean that greed was invented by Europeans. God forbid! Why should it be when sin (of which greed is only a component) had already infected mankind during creation? All men are created equal with equal count of greed genes in their blood. But, just as the HIV-AIDS virus had to wait for centuries hidden in some corner of our frail body for an opportune time to strike with a devastating impact, in the same manner had, the all-encompassing greed, latent in man, to wait for the invention of the gunpowder and fast moving sailing ships equipped with compasses to take the lead in the affairs of men.
The frightening thing about greed and all its attendant sub-vices was that it could easily lend itself to institutionalization. Hence, big overseas companies, factories using child labor, commerce and loan banks thriving on slave trade, insecure insurance companies, bloodsucking lawyers, usurers of all types, spawned, and committed unspeakable crimes in the name of progress. The IMF and the World Bank followed to complete the misery.
Almost a millennium and a half after the Sermon on the Mount had been preached, greed was elevated to the rank of a guiding principle, a loadstar to those in search of riches at all cost.
Can you imagine of anything as evil as greed made to work as a driving force and as a primary impulse for the fast socio-economic and technological growth of our planet? And yet that was what happened during the centuries that followed the age of discovery and conquest. Never in the history of mankind has greed been venerated and trusted so much as to be made to march with lies and cheatings massed behind its back and wars and strife guarding its flanks. Millions of Africans had to be moved to the Americas to help the Whites make fast money! And as one American son-of-a-gun has put it aptly, the fastest way to make money is to steal it!
Now with all the rich people getting richer and the poor getting poorer, things were getting dangerous. Adam Smith wanting to accommodate greed by all means advocated for capitalism. Marx, in his anti-greed campaign, wanted to reverse (or maybe to correct) the course of history by preaching communism. Georges Sorel, desiring to nationalize and sanctify greed stood for fascism. Mikhail Bakunin, from Russia, fearful of the motives of governments in all their forms, stood for their total abolition by preaching anarchism. One look at the sad situation in Russia at the time, and you would say he was right.
And prior to these gentlemen, we had Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Locke, who presented themselves as physicians and tried to find the proper balm, if not medicine, to cure the rising social and political ills of the time.
When all failed to effect a sure remedy to the current disease, it was assumed that liberal democracy could do the trick, not because it could cure the disease (far from it) once and for all, but it could at least gradually accustom the world to the disease itself. Most of the physicians who diagnosed the disease were either reluctant or simply hesitant to take the necessary but painful steps for a lasting remedy, which was nothing else but the application of the principle of human rights, equality, justice and tolerance.
Alas, as foolish mistakes and sometimes hasty decisions based on quick fixes created disasters in the four corners of the world, their consequences have been presented to us as breaking news to keep us worrying, as editorials to be analyzed by eager but insincere politicians, as research works to be commented by academicians, and as hot issues to be fought by rival parties. And as man-made disasters multiplied, Tarzan-oriented NGOs moved into action whose cure was, more often than not, more painful than the disease itself, including innumerable do-gooder organizations who went around dressing up wounds that could never heal.
As incapable physicians continued to provide remedy at every turn of the long march towards doom, the real but painful cure has been made to wait, and means are devised with which to placate and appease the people in the most subtle and clever way.
As I have said above, unscrupulous profit-at-any-cost mentality found its winged horse as a vector in the invention of fast moving sailing boats, gunpowder (at the time used for entertainment by the lighthearted Chinese) and the compass which helped greed and callousness to spread their tentacles far and wide.
Alas, with the invention of the airplane, the telephone, the radio, the TV and now the internet and the e-mail etc. and with the subsequent shrinking of the world into a small village, greed is just lurking across the fence. Paupers of the world unite, for the boogeyman is peeping through your windows to eat you alive one day!
The industrialized countries with their gospel of economic globalization are now ready to swallow the whole world hook, line and sinker. In Tigrinya the words ‘bdewna k’beluna delyom’ (they want to eat us alive) aptly describe the situation. Do you think that Americans will take kindly to the breakneck economic growth of China and India? It is now becoming very unsettling to Western eyes that the Chinese are penetrating deep into Africa. It is therefore time for America to overhaul its foreign policies and trade relations with Third World countries, for more investment concessions.
Now they seem to be coming back in full force. The old masters are coming along with some new ones. There is no choice. What do they want, why are they flocking to my country? asks the poor and hungry African villager. Oil? There is more oil in their goddamn hair than in the whole goddamn country. Gold? There is more gold in their bloody teeth than in this bloody country. Wait a minute my African friend, not so fast. Who knows, maybe right now, you are standing on a rich deposit of lithium or uranium or even plutonium, and just under your papaya tree your soil may be sloshing with oil and squeaking with gold. So don’t ask foolish questions!
How about partnership? asks the Africans economic adviser. Hey, the rich don’t like partnership. They don’t like to consult with poor people either. The rich investors from the West simply say, “Hey, look here young man, this world is after all ours; we made it the way it is; now how about a glass of whiskey…”
Whether we like it or not, the world has now become a small and smoke-covered planet (one of nine) revolving around the sun. Mankind is lucky that this planet doesn’t miss its orbit and hurtle straight onto the sun or swoosh on a collision course with one of the unwary planets in the solar system, and kiss itself goodbye. No, never. It keeps on revolving by the grace of God, dancing to the rhythm of the music of the spheres. But nobody seems to give a damn about this amazing grace and this everlasting miracle. Well, just for being doubtful, there are asteroids lurking in the dark bidding their time. Will mankind stop thinking about its own narrow interests and start to reflect about the whole world just for a moment?
The Earth revolves around the sun carrying on board 189 countries and about 7 billion people, bickering, threatening each other with weapons of mass destruction, wishing instant death for each other, eating their hearts out because one lucky country has struck oil while theirs has just dug out only trouble; signing a declaration of war just because that country has just snatched the World Cup ‘illegally’ from it, etc. They never stop antagonizing each other because they have not learned the art of tolerance and the concept of brotherhood.
The Hindu looks to the Moslem as a misguided spiritual object; the Moslem in his turn despises the Hindu as a hopeless polytheist; the Jew wishes to grill the Arab alive; the Arab dreams of one day barbequing a rabbi in his synagogue; the White feels far too superior to talk to the ‘Nigger’; the rich feels the best way to eradicate poverty is to eradicate the poor; the believer waits for the day he could attain bliss by seeing the infidel roast in hell; the macho feels like tearing a woman into shreds, and the pervert dreams of one day walking barefoot on women’s breasts. Très interessant!
You know what one Frenchman said when asked to give his views about poverty in Africa. He said, and these are his own words: They are born too much and they don’t die enough!
Have you ever seen passengers fighting on board a commercial airliner? The hostesses are watchful lest the fight turn into a ‘nightmare’ in mid-flight. Should something resembling this take place on the plane, the captain will do everything in his power to put things in order, even to the point of shooting the troublemaker with a tranquilizing dart.
Fortunately, our planet (moving like a jet plane in an empty space) is strong enough to withstand small fights here and there, but the moment the big powers start hurling nuclear bombs at each other, there is a possibility that the entailing shock could nudge the Earth off its orbit and those of us who continue breathing after the rise of the mushroom cloud, have to kiss our a..s goodbye for all time.
The planet Earth is carrying on its back a mass of people polarized between the rich North and the poor South, or the West (with its hedonistic culture) and the East (with its mystic-oriented traditions). This situation which is daily worsening through lack of tolerance and understanding between the diverse peoples of the world has made this planet a tinderbox. Hence, only a mad and determined country impelled by greed, lacking tolerance and reluctant to live on equal terms with its neighbors, could start the nightmarish countdown and blow this world to smithereens along with its inhabitants.
Our planet seems to have changed a lot since its creation at the dawn of time. A planet that had accommodated dinosaurs and pterodactyls, not to mention saber-toothed tigers and dodos in the past, is now incapable of accommodating even the most innocuous and humble of animals such as the antelope or the gazelle.
For this, Buffalo Bill and his ilk will be called to account in the Day of Judgment for massacring wild animals just for fun, including all the big time hunters in Africa and the French Canadian fur hunters, the Russian seal killers, the greedy Japanese whale eaters, the big logging American companies in the Amazon, all timber companies and lumberjacks with their dynamites, shotguns, chainsaws and their big lumber trucks held as exhibits. Not even the buyers will be spared. They will stand before the Grand Tribunal to testify, and they won’t be set free without further questioning.
And then to add insult to injury, Western industries had already made their doomsday contribution by filling the atmosphere with gas, smoke and soot, not to mention electronic debris. Well, if this continues unabted we will soon be shivering in the frozen wastes of the Earth for millennia or cooking in our sweats in the torrid wastes for eons.
Alas, until now gas emissions creating greenhouse effects were coming from the West, but now they are wafting from the East. Greed’s gravitational field seems to have changed its global position.
Scary, isn’t it? Now here are some suggestions on how to treat the ills that are afflicting the world, before it is too late. Let’s begin with the first, namely the question of asteroids.
Once I saw a film in which, to save themselves and the world from an incoming asteroid, the two superpowers (US and Soviet Russia) concerted their armed forces and logistics and directed their nuclear arsenal against the intruding monster hoping thereby either to blow the flying monolith to pieces in mid-air, or failing that, to nudge it off its course and send it hurtling into outer space without touching the Earth. In the end it was a big success. The asteroids left the poor earth alone and zoomed to eternity. Unity does create force; hence, in the event that something of that sort happens again, the world has enough infernal weapons to be used to save mankind from deadly astral collisions instead of using them to wipe out each other.
The film continued. You know what? Once the common enemy was blown out from the sky for good, the two powers went back to business as usual, accusing and calumniating each other impelled by greed and mutual suspicion. I think the world really needs some asteroids and a few meteorites now and then for the realization of a lasting world peace. But if, in the first place, the peace and unity created by the asteroid had been genuine and not made for expediency, it would have endured.
The second question is political and should be tackled with caution. The best cure for narrowing the gap between the North and South is economic justice, respect for universal human rights and wholehearted tolerance. A small global village cannot go on existing for long with the rich getting richer everyday and the poor getting poorer every second. If the money spent for stupid wars and idiotic conflicts had been used wisely to help the underdeveloped countries get out of their misery, there wouldn’t have been any reason to build lethal weapons and squander the world’s wealth in fighting.
Humankind should recognize that it is more profitable to be at peace than to be at war, even if for the time being it seems more tempting for one to get what one wants through war alone. Well, you can’t do a right thing in the wrong way. And war is wrong, while peace is right. And so war will only spawn small wars.
And should the rich wish to invest in the land of the poor, let them do it in the spirit of partnership; let them act with foresight, for at the end of the day, it is money spent wisely that will make them more prosperous and more at peace with other nations and with themselves, a sort of sustainable prosperity and tranquility.
The third question is related to global warming. The smoke of greed, alas, is wafting from every side, emitted from millions of factories that keep on producing for the sake of producing, ready to burn anything for energy, including the Earth, if it were possible, just to keep churning out merchandize that have no immediate benefit for the poor and the needy.
Now, as nations enter the race of producing trash by all means and at all cost, the earth will be covered with toxic smoke blocking the sun and ushering in the Ice Age or the Furnace Age before the appointed time.
The remedy is simple and easy to administer. Let the nations and governments of the world assemble and agree to put more attention to the question of the existence of humankind as a species rather than centering their energies and deliberations on short-term profits based on greed, for there may come a time when neither their industries nor their economic prowess nor even their armaments will save them from the oncoming doom.
However, there are countries which can be categorized as misfits. These always wanted to have their own way, at all cost. Others are voracious and insatiable like America and now China. Still others are too scared to live without the Bomb; it is a sort of Teddy Bear for them, especially at night when they sleep with one eye open. We must keep a sharp eye on all these before they could do something stupid.
It requires only one mad leader with eccentric vision to push the button to ‘light ‘ the national Bomb after convincing his people to commit kamikaze in the name of the motherland (whose blueprint exists in heaven). And the rest is history (or maybe recycled history).