…And now for the charismatic Mr. Gordon Gecko. Water asked what makes him so magnetic. Personally, I think his charm comes from how he proudly promotes his own self interest, and what appears to be appealing to basic (or maybe base) emotions.

In his post ruminating on evil Water said, “After all, evil has no essence of its own; evil is merely a perversion of something good. Love becomes lust; justice becomes wrath; rest becomes sloth. And ambition, the desire to be truly great and to accomplish worthy deeds, becomes pride.”

In his post ruminating on evil Water said, “After all, evil has no essence of its own; evil is merely a perversion of something good. Love becomes lust; justice becomes wrath; rest becomes sloth. And ambition, the desire to be truly great and to accomplish worthy deeds, becomes pride.”

Which Came First?

Looking at Water’s quote again, what struck me was that the evil presentation of any of the pairs was an emotion and the good presentation was an action or a thoughtful choice. A person feels pride, but does not feel ambition, a person chooses ambition. A person feels wrath, but does not feel justice, a person chooses to act justly. Persons definitely feel lust, but do not feel love? Hmmmmm, I sense the naysayers approaching. Yes, we call love an emotion, but I’ll come back to what currently appears to be an exception to my paradigm.

Steven Pinker is a brilliant Ivy League professor, who has written many wonderful books including, How the Mind Works. Pinker say’s that humans don’t have thinking brains that happen to feel, we have feeling brains that just so happen to think. While this might feel like an affront to how reasonable we all are, think about the implications of this concept (see, you just now felt first and then thought). Think about an infant that you know. Which best describes the child, the former or the latter?

Steven Pinker: With hair like that, he’s the anti-Gekko.

Tripartite Process

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) there is a triangle diagram often employed to show the relationship between emotions, actions, and thoughts, with each word at a point of the triangle and Bi-directional arrows along the sides of the triangle between the words. Each one affects the other. The idea in CBT is that if you can change erroneous, irrational, and illogical thoughts, then you can in turn change your feelings and actions. Another way of looking at this same model is that emotions that you feel about a particular interaction or relationship reinforce maladaptive ideas about the said relationship and/or interaction if you haven’t …well, thoughtfully, examined the rationality of the thoughts you have that come after a powerful emotion. The real kicker with this model is that if you don’t appreciate the thinking point of the triangle, then your behaviors become reactions to your emotions as opposed to a course of action based on thoughtful reflection.

If only we had Nick Cage here to solve the mysteries of our national treasure, Greed.

I Can Relate

So, back to Wall Street. Gordon Gekko appeals to Bud because he embraces this sense of self and passion and selfishness that I think is sadly the starting place of the human condition, so it looks familiar and very appealing.

Exhibit A:

Gordon Gekko – The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It’s bull$4!+. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal.

Gordon states that he does not create he owns. Ownership isn’t an action as much as it is a state of being. He embraces (owns) who he is believeing that by increasing himself he is in turn increasing his self worth, unlike the other 90% of Americans. He also pointedly says that he does not create. Creation not a state of being, but an action and maybe more importantly, creation involves relationships – if not a relationship with the co-creators or with the recipient of the creation, then at least a relationship between the creator and the created. Even if that relationship is with an inanimate object it occurs outside of oneself. You cannot relate to yourself. Well not really.

“You know, sometimes I relate to myself.”

Enter the foil for Gekko, Mr. Carl Fox. Bud’s dad is the hard working mechanic, and more importantly from a thematic standpoint he is the head of the Union. His character not only symbolizes, but embodies the idea of the collective and the merits of regarding others over self.

All You Need Is Love

The sharp readers might have thought, “Gordon wasn’t acting on pure emotion. He was quite thoughtful about his evil ways.” And you’re right. This is what makes him such a bad dude. This is why his “Greed is Good” speech is so memorable and creepy. If we were to ask our attorney friend Water “What is worse than murder?” he might say, “Premeditated murder.” Or he might say something about taxes. While embracing selfish emotions without thought is certainly not good, willfully and thoughtfully choosing destructive emotions is most certainly evil.

And back to the first hiccup in my theory. If love is just an emotion, then my whole post is pretty weak. Hwevr, if love is an action, and better yet an action that can only occur in the context of a relationship, then you have a real strong argument for self-denial being the hope for redemption from evil. If “I love you.” means “Gosh, you make me feel good.” then selfishness doesn’t sound so bad, in fact it sounds lovely, but if “I love you” means “I care for you so deeply that I will give things up for you and put you before myself” then we’ve got to rise above our nature and put selfish emotions on the backburner.