—Why do democracies fall to autocracy? Why do free markets fall to totalitarianism?
—We might be tempted to blame human laziness or ignorance or apathy. There are a lot of character flaws in man that do go a long way toward explaining why a shining, hopeful democracy might lose its way, might lose its grip on the ideal that men should control their own destiny. Sloth, wrath, lust, envy, gluttony, greed, and pride are all at work within the individual, and it is reasonable to think that the effect must be negative. But, do these effects corrupt capitalism and erode democracy to the point of collapse?
—On a micro-scale, sloth may reduce an individual’s productivity, but all 6 of the other deadly sins propel the individual in some unique direction. The individual would have to be dominated by sloth to remain unproductive, but people get angry, horny, hungry, jealous, greedy, and just pride all by itself can push us to finish what we start or to do better than we could have settled for. Let’s not forget that sloth itself can make us MORE productive by re-examining our courses of action and seeking out more efficient ways of doing things.
—Wrath might seem a good culprit for many an ill that society has. The truth, though, is probably that much of our anger is expressed in a positive way. Competition could not be so fierce without it. Injustice would not be confronted and torn down so convincingly without indignance. Yes, at a microscale it can be unpleasant and destructive. But, on the upside, it can also be a catalyst for catharsis.
—Could lust be what’s bringing us down?
—No way! Only if you don’t like love songs or sex. Lust, in moderation, is absolutely necessary just for procreation, letalone inspiration.
—If we examine the rest of these sins, we’ll likely find that each is a double-edged sword. Taken too far, they can destroy a human life, but their healthy, moderated expression adds value and meaning to human life.
—The seven deadly sins are not the only human experiences/emotions/motivations that have the potential to be destructive. Fear, sadness, even joy has the possibility of yielding negative results, if I am happy about the wrong thing, if I let despaire consume my mind, if I let raw fear dictate my actions and objectives. If I am happy for myself when others are needy or suffering, if I cease to contribute and become fatalistic and counter-productive from an overwhelming state of sadness, if I place the perservation of my ego and my person as my highest or even my sole priorities, then I am no longer an agent of civilization. So, then, what am I an agent of?
—Let me ask these questions in a more concrete way: If I can happily and proudly wear a thousand dollar suit knowing that around the block is a homeless man who needs a jacket, what am I an agent of? If I completely give up on the idea of trying to help that homeless man because I cannot help all men like him, what does that make me an agent of? If I willingly take from that homeless man for fear that if I stop taking, I will deplete what I have and fall to his level, what am I now an agent of?
—It should be apparent that in such states of mind, I am not working to build up society; I am working to tear it down.
—We happily take from the system what we do not deserve, while lamenting that the system and society are so broken as to work this way. In the back of our mind there is the frightful concession, “At least it wasn’t us society wronged. At least this civilization isn’t shooting us.”
—“They violated my rights, but at least they didn’t shoot me.”
—“They took all I had, but at least they aren’t shooting me.”
—“They shot someone they shouldn’t have, but at least it wasn’t me.”
—This mentality is what brings down civilization, this surrender to our primal nature. Pirates have famously been declared “the enemy of all mankind”, but what is a person driven by self-centered-ness to dominate the weak, to propogate injustice, to forsake the ideals of civilization? Isn’t he/she a pirate, too, even if he or she is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a senator? Even if he or she is you?
—How should we deal with these pirates that have infiltrated society?