Greed, Envy and The Berlin Wall
On August 13 1961, the German Democratic Republic – otherwise known as Communist East Germany – began erecting a wall that would not only separate West Berlin from East Berlin – now known as just Berlin – but would effectively cut off West Berlin from its home in East Germany.
The Wall was barbaric, senseless, downright stupid and a brazen lie, meant ostensibly to “protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the ‘will of the people’ in building a socialist state in East Germany.” In reality, it was built to stop the mass defections of mostly young, talented and educated Germans from an increasingly Sovietized government.
The Berlin Wall also included one of the most appalling symbols of the Cold War (apart from The Wall itself): a series of sniper-outfitted guard towers perched over a large area that became known as “the death strip.” Need I even elaborate?
I visited Berlin shortly after the Wall was torn down in 1990, and I found the newly reunified city to be a living monument to the supremacy of free minds and free markets. East Berlin had the sorry look of good times past. It was dull and depressed, unkempt and uncared-for. Envy hung in the air like the stench of a dead possum.
Because then, just a few blocks away – visible, accessible – was merry, glitzed-up, bustling West Berlin. Every day, the East Berliners got to gape at what they had missed, what they had been robbed of, and you could see that despite the joy of reunification it was killing them.
I think it would kill me, too.
Envy was one of the more insidious attributes of the East Bloc. True, that Western, capitalist societies have greed – also, deservedly, one of the seven deadly sins. Greed is ugly and mean.
But I’ll take greed over envy any time.
You may disagree with me and have many great reasons why I’m simply wrong, wrong, wrong, and I won’t fight you with a tit for tat.
What I will do is tell you a joke.
A Czech (i.e. Communist), an American (i.e. Capitalist) and a Frenchman (we won’t even go there) were sitting in a café and uncorked a bottle of wine. Lo and behold a genie popped out of the bottle and offered them each a wish in return for freeing him.
The American said, “Oh, me first, me first!”
The genie nodded for him to go ahead, since Americans always want to go first. And the American told him, “My neighbor has the most beeeaaauuutiful Cadillac I’ve ever seen. It’s big, it’s gold, and it’s a convertible!”
The genie says, “So, you want that Cadillac.”
“Heck no!” The American rubbed his hands together. “I want an even bigger, more beeeeautiful Cadillac.”
His wish was granted.
Next, it was the Frenchman’s turn. The Frenchman turned to the genie and said, “My neighbor has the most magnifique chateau! It is enormous! It has silver trim and gargoyles! The furniture is exquisite!”
“And you want that chateau?” The genie confirmed.
“But, of course!” The Frenchman said. “Only I want gold trim, bigger gargoyles and better furniture.”
His wish was granted.
Finally, the Czech stepped forward. He took off his hat and bowed his head. “Mr. Genie,” he said humbly. “My neighbor has the fattest, most succulent pig I have ever seen.”
“Let me guess,” the genie said. “You want and even fatter, more succulent pig.”
“No,” said the Czech. “I want that pig to die.”