When too much is not enough

IT wasn’t too long ago when out of the blue, a certain businessman was hogging the business news because he was on a roll, buying companies here and there, as well as getting actively involved in several big marquee business investments with investors from a foreign country. He was able to secure loans rapidly from banks, both private and government. All because he was reputed to be very close to the powers that be.

A few years later, news sources tell us that some of his business ventures seem to be floundering. Very recently, the news is that the debtors are now knocking on his door and he may default on some of his debts. Worse, his padrino is no longer in power and can’t bail him out. It looks like the man acquired more companies than he could handle.

It reminds me of an interesting article I filed away a year ago about the discovered fossil of a giant, marine reptile known as an ichthyosaur that dates more than 230 million years ago. The remains showed that he had devoured a creature almost its own size, then died a short time later. Researchers concluded that it swallowed a much bigger prey and died while ingesting it, literally biting off more than it could chew.

Coincidentally as I am writing, in today’s online mass we hear St. Paul warning us about “greed that is idolatry.”

Greed can be all consuming. As the Roman poet Horace warned us: “He who is greedy is always in want.”

I hear the echoing voice of that government official who said: “moderate the greed.”

It’s always good advice to have “moderation, moderation, moderation, including moderation” to borrow that quotation from Oscar Wilde.

But we never heed such cautionary caveats.  Wanting more even when one has already too much to handle is in our nature. “Takaw tingin” is the term my old folks used to peg someone who puts more food on his plate than he can consume.

“Nothing succeeds like excess. Nothing is too much for me,” boasted Jacqueline Susann, the best-selling writer who not only extolled excess and decadence in her novels but also lived by it. She enjoyed world fame. Her books earned her millions. She always had the best table in restaurants and the best room in luxury hotels. But the more she got, the more she wanted. In our native parlance: Walang kasawasawang luho (insatiable extravagance).

Not content with the millions her books earned for her, she wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and would say, “I don’t want the Pulitzer Prize. I want the Nobel Prize. I’m not going to settle!”

Of course, towards the end of her life, she was running on empty as her riches were completely drained to pay for treatments for her terminal disease.

Jacqueline Susann’s life shows us the folly of insatiable greed, not just greed for money or riches but also our overwhelming craving for power, influence and adulation, although all these are intertwined.

Consider some politicians who never know when too much is enough. In the last elections, we have elected individuals who have marital partners, siblings, relatives already in government. One town even flaunts its roster of officials bearing the same family name, belonging to one clan, if not one family. They are all being paid by taxpayers’ money.

Over the max, over the top seems to be the spirit that moves our highly driven world.

Restraint and modesty have left the conversation as we say on social media. Kapal is a term that has lost its sting nowadays.

Having too much can lead to reckless extravagance or lavish wastefulness. I don’t know about you but I was aghast to read about the wedding of a party-list lawmaker who arranged to have her wedding in an exclusive luxury island resort in the midst of the pandemic.

What about that meagerly capitalized company that was able to bag P11.7 billion worth of contracts from the government to supply the Department of Health with face masks and face shields, personal protective equipment and Covid-19 testing kits.

The owners couldn’t wait to show off their windfall. Allegedly, less than a year after getting the money, they bought million-peso cars like Porsche, Lamborghini and Lexus. Not one but two. They had to flaunt it while the getting was good. Garapal is another word that has lost its ability to insult.

Who was that powerful woman who reportedly had a famous department store in New York closed so she could shop in private and away from the crowd? During her political family’s reign, there was no limit to her buying sprees because she had access to a government-owned bank, which had a branch nearby, treating it like her personal wallet.

O tempora, o mores! Where is that time when flaunting one’s riches was considered vulgar and tasteless? These days, no one is embarrassed by too much wealth even if the source is suspect. On the contrary, having too much not only commands attention but also evokes awe. The illegality or immorality of acquisition is no longer a factor. Everything is overlooked or allowed because you have become special, even adulated because you are deemed above it all.

But it’s all folly. Ages ago, wise men have been warning us: from one who has been allowed to take much for himself, much will be taken in return. Some 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca said: “It is not the man who has little, but he who desires more that is poor.” Do they care?

All we can do is wait for such people to get off the “hedonic treadmill” when they realize that happiness or contentment is not found by adding anything but by a process of subtraction. Statistics show that more people die from overindulgence than from hunger and cold. Eventually, there will be a tipping point and a backlash.

In the meantime, let’s first all agree to stop being awed by displays of excess and extravagance in school, at work, and in our private lives. Let’s make insatiable greed vulgar and yucky once again. Let’s revive the phrase “an embarrassment of riches” and give it an acerbic connotation. In a society where 99 percent can barely make ends meet, let us shame the licentiously rich that don’t know when to stop. Let’s have enough of too much. Nakakaumay na!