Greed - Evolution on a psychological level

13th March 2017


My intent behind writing this post is to offer a perspective on the role “greed” plays in the larger picture of human kind and how it may have evolved into what we know it as today. I must admit I am no expert on these matters and implore you to take this with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did while writing it. Without further ado, let’s dive into : In my honest opinion - Greed (Evolution on a psychological level).

Wikipedia defines greed as - an inordinate or insatiable longing src

For our purposes, we will not classify greed into categories of money and power as we know it in real world but on a deeper level of any tangible and intangible acquisition that can be viewed as selfish from a certain perspective. It may sound a mouthful, but fret not, I’ll clarify on it later on.

Evolution, on the other hand, is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. src

Well, now that we have the definitions out of the way, let’s get into the very question that led me to write this post : WHY ARE HUMANS GREEDY?

First off, not all of us are greedy (eh, maybe just less than others). This is not meant as an insult. If we are greedy, we are. The question is WHY? I have yet to find an instance of greediness in the animal kingdom. Yes, they compete for food, territory and hierarchy but that is plain survival or reproduction strategy. Greed in humans goes way beyond the requirements of either.

As I’ve mentioned before, we shall classify greed as any tangible or intangible acquisition that can be viewed as selfish. Thus, including money and power, it can extend to absolutely any situation of selfish hoarding/collection. For example, say a professor is so much into his subject that he voraciously gains knowledge of every bit of information regarding that subject from all available sources (and not entirely to teach his students). This is an intangible acquisition and is usually not classified as “greed” but in our case, it is.

So, in all of the animal kingdom, only humans have evolved to be greedy in their nature. What makes us so unique to have developed such an apparently destructive trait? Well, blame our big brains!

Evolution has seen us develop larger and larger brains. Our technological advances over the last 100,000 years has seen us settle down, grow empires, wage wars, land on moon and what not! But the one thing that has been haunting us throughout the ages has been a simple question - why do we exist? Our big brains demanded a “purpose” for our existence. Simple animal instincts of survival and reproduction weren’t enough. We needed something that defined us, something that separated us from others, something that made us unique, something grandiose! Where do you think religion comes from? Where do you think greed comes from?

Is greed an evolutionary development to balance out the side-effects of our larger brain size? This was the solution I found most satisfactory. Think of it over a span of several thousand generations, where we subconsciously questioned our very existence! Nature had to play in and give us something more than just the instinct to survive. And we wholeheartedly swept ourselves bit by bit into the notion.

“What is your point?” you may ask. My point is : Greed is ingrained in human evolution on a psychological level. See, if this is true, it means that evolution is not just a biological phenomenon (I admit changes in brain are biological in nature, but I’m talking about the psychological changes here). And that greed was, at some point of time, essential for our existence. That may contradict the current trend of what greed does to a society, and it should. Things always change with time, and we as humans have an uncanny ability to imagine and visualize those things from various perspectives. This is the gift we have as humans with “big brains”, and although it comes with its share of “side-effects”, the case itself stands that we can consciously change who we are and how we are.

So, that was my view on “why humans are greedy”. What do you think? Leave a comment down below. Cheers!