Greed has shaped human history for centuries. From the dawn of the earliest civilizations to our social-media obsessed and online-shopping-addicted era, it has informed how countless generations have lived their lives.
Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business America show on CCTV America. His analysis represents his views alone.
Take a look at some of the most powerful and influential people and organizations of our time, and it’s obvious that the drive to get more, even at the cost of human life and dignity is what defines the world today.
Lillian Hellman’s 116 year-old play “The Little Foxes” centers on the Hubbards, a family with ambitions of rising to the higher echelons of society. I caught the latest iteration of the play at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. and it’s definitely thought provoking.
On the surface, they seem like your typical early 20th century American landowning family from the south. They have all the trappings of wealth. They even have African-American servants who were former slaves on a cotton plantation. But looks can be deceiving.
Ben, Oscar, and Regina Hubbard are well-to-do, but they’re not part of the southern aristocracy. Joining that class has been a family ambition, but opportunities to do so have been scarce, especially since they don’t have the financial largesse their neighbors are capable of. Their modern day equivalents would be the nouveau riche.
Their chance to climb the rungs of high society finally comes in the form of a business proposal that will let them build a cotton mill in town. But they need capital to do so and the only person who can provide it is Regina’s estranged husband Horace, who hasn’t been exactly enthused by the plan.
Still, they push through with their deal, promising to come up with the money even though Horace hasn’t really agreed to pitch in.
The Hubbards’ handshake on the deal sets off a series of events that will eventually lead to the unraveling of the family. The play was written at the turn of the century but their story is just as relevant today. In many ways, the Hubbard family’s tale of greed, envy and destruction is a tale that’s as old as the human race.
The title “The Little Foxes” is taken from a biblical verse that reads: “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” As the play progresses, it becomes obvious who the foxes are. Unfortunately the Hubbards’ destruction isn’t confined to the family. The corruption they sow eventually impacts the innocent as well.
Lillian Hellman scripted this play at the turn of the century, a time of great global upheaval. A decade after this play premiered, World War I broke out- highlighting the uncertainty of that age.
A different Europe had emerged from the Industrial Revolution, one that was driven by robber barons and industrialists who placed profiteering at the center of everything.
It’s almost uncanny how those times echo through today’s world. Hellman probably didn’t mean for this play to be prescient, but one of the main character’s monologues could have been uttered by a corporate raider or a high-powered Wall Street trader.
Late in the play, Ben Hubbard turns to the audience in a sort of an aside. He said, “The century is turning, the world is open. Open for people like you and me.”
“All their names aren’t Hubbard, but they are all Hubbards and they will own this country some day. We’ll get along.”
Pick any name from today’s newspaper and replace Hubbard with the likes of Trump or Madoff and it’s chillingly clear that the world hasn’t changed much.
Furthermore, despite the tremendous technological and scientific advances, human beings remain complex creatures who are capable of both selflessness and tremendous acts of evil.
This peculiar condition is highlighted by one of the most unforgettable and damning lines ever written by a playwright: “There are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it.”