I Want More!

pig“I want more”–this is the universal principle of a society built around consumer spending. And it is, by extension, the cry of all those who want more youth, through all the consumer products and services that we think can make us look, feel or be younger. The Buddhist world view responds, “Relax. It’s all right. You have enough.” But we don’t believe it.

I am thinking of three moments in literature, cinema, and television that all have a character saying, essentially, “I want more.” The first is from the Humphrey Bogart movie Key Largo, where Bogie is up against a gangster named Rocco, played by the inimitable Edward G. Robinson.

At one point, Bogie says to Rocco, “You know what you want, Rocco? You want more.”

Rocco takes the cigar out of his mouth and grins with delight. “Yeah, that’s right,” he says. “I want more!”

The second scene is from the TV show Seinfeld. In the show, Elaine wants to get a cartoon in the New Yorker and she tells everybody her idea-a pig is standing at the Macy’s complaint counter, looking up at the person behind the counter, saying, “I wish I was taller.”

The third scene is from Dickens’ Oliver Twist, where poor, hungry Oliver summons up the courage to go back to the food line in the orphanage and says, “Please sir, I want some more.”

Rocco represents the unwholesome trait of greed, the pig represents our human dissatisfaction with how things are, while Oliver represents the suffering victims of the inequality and injustice caused by the perpetrators of greed. This is, and has mostly been, the human world-at least since the advent of cities and an economy of money and trade.

We are currently in a world-wide re-assessment of the culture of greed, of “I want more” in an unwholesome sense, or–to quote another movie character, Gordon Gekko in Wall Street–“Greed is good!”

No, greed is not good, regardless what form it takes or what our object of desire is. How this relates to our attitude about aging, and the Buddhist lesson to be learned from it, will develop in future posts.

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