I've always tried to figure out what greed was. What is the instinctual basis of it? I think it is related to status. If you consider a few things that are very similar to greed, you can reasonably link them back to instinctive drives that are parts of status.

First off, what is status? As a biologist, I define it as competition for the best genes. Anthropologists define as who you have reproductive access to. Women may reproduce across cultural and ethnic lines but they don't marry down in status. It makes sense if you are familiar with the ideas from the book "The Selfish Gene". We are instinctively driven to try to reproduce with whoever has the best genes. This is actually even far more true for females. It's hard to believe what our instincts for status will drive humans to do, but we are immersed in it. Status is a primary target of advertising. Beauty is an industry by itself. It goes on and on and on... cars, homes, zip codes, power, anything for status. People will not only do anything for status, but they are also drawn to it as well. Think of the celebrity worship.

So how is greed related to status? Well, certainly wealth gives status. It's one of the few things that does in this day and age. Beauty does, but natural beauty inherently comes from genes, so it's the essence of status. Regardless of the primping, you do need a foundation of beauty for the products to help a lot.

So what is the instinctive link to greed? An interesting thing to observe is neolithic hunting behavior. Sure, humans are called hunter-gatherers, but we're also called scavengers. Early humans were a lot more gatherer-scavenger than hunter. Only in the later neolithic period did humans get really good at hunting. Then they killed just about everything. In modern humans, the instinct is still there and though hunting is rapidly declining, there remain many places that still just shut down when it is hunting season.

One thing that is clear from anthropology was the high status of the hunter in the tribal world. Women actually often provided the majority of the calories by gathering plant edibles, but the hunting was critically important as well and for the males, it was the main element of status. In the cave art, it is images of the hunt. Our record of ancient humanity is largely recorded in the stone tools of the hunt (though stones do last well) and related to food preparation of meats. Some groups such as Neanderthals and the Plains Indians actually got most of their calories from meat. Considering the hunting of the large land mammals, this was probably true of other groups as well. The decorations of Gobekli Tepe are mostly suggestive of the hunt.

The question is how does the status of the hunter link to greed? One of its most notable features might be that there is no off switch to it. A real problem is that any wild crop that is subject to an unmanaged hunt tends to get hunted to extinction. This is true of most of the large land mammals of North America, Europe, and Asia. Later this got accelerated in Africa. You really see this in ocean species where there is little visibility and regulation is difficult. Species after species was wiped out to hunted to near extinction. Also, think of bears and the big cats. They were just over hunted. It applies to other wild crops such as timber. On the other hand, consider deer which cannot be commercially hunted, their population is out of control because their predators were hunted out.

One might ask why did hunting provide such status? Yes the food was necessary and some tribes were primarily carnivorous even but it was also probably a matter of sexual selection. What did the males do? They hunted and they often thought that other work was beneath them. It gave status partly because they chose it too but also it was a good competition for the females to use for choosing the superior male. So two things were giving the hunter status. The benefit of the food as well as the competition. These would both push for maximizing the hunt. Also, the societies that depended on the hunt more would have pushed for maximizing it, especially if between the successful hunts there were food shortages. The point is that not only did the hunt give status, but it pushed for overhunting.

In between these have been all the gold rushes and treasure hunts. Their history is one of obsession, blindness, and madness. Perhaps they are just a variation on hunting wild, non-animal crops.

Now this is not a direct link, but greed and hunting both have the same distinguishing feature that there is no off switch. No one seems to say that they have gained enough wealth and if you look at the history of hunting, you can see that they never stopped until the animals were gone. This may be the source of greed which has been such a feature of humanity since wealth could first be accumulated, perhaps before. It is incredibly dangerous to the larger society and has caused so much destruction.

Two points should be be added. Greed is not a uniquely masculine behavior. In that human way, no human behavior seems unique to any race or geneder. Also hoarding is different than greed or at least it seems to come from a different drive. Sometimes it is about experiences of want. In any case, this is about greed and hoarding may be another thing.

A Treasure Archetype. ... That's my rant and I'm sticking with it. Next: The Seven Deadly Sins of Nature.