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A mistakenly cynical view of human behavior holds that people are primarily driven by selfish motives: the desire for wealth, for power, or for fame. Yet history gives us many examples of individuals who have sacrificed their own welfare for a cause or a principle that they regarded as more important than living their own lives. Conscience -- that powerful inner voice that tells us what is right and what is wrong -- can be a more compelling force than money, power, or fame.
Assignment: Is conscience a more powerful motivator than money, fame, or power?
The love of money, goes the old adage, is the root of all evil. Money, as well as desire for fame and power, are powerful catalysts that compel people from all walks of life to particular decisions, right of wrong. The love of money and the desire for fame and power are more powerful motivators than conscience itself. this principle, while cynical, is exemplified in both literature and history.
The epic poem "The Iliad" by the ancient bard Homer is centered around the Achaeans' attempts to retrieve the beautiful queen of King Menelaus, Helen, from the Trojans. The Trojan War, which recounts the Achaeans' struggles, becomes much more than a fight over a mortal woman. It becomes a power struggle between two iron empires of the ancient world. Ultimately, each side (the Achaeans and the Trojans) fights not so much as to keep Queen Helen than to prove its superiority over the other side. At the Iliad's conclusion, the Achaeans infiltrate the Trojan stronghold. Rather than simply retrieve Helen, the Achaeans burn and pillage the city, eliminating a powerful rival.
The notion that power, money, and fame are more powerful motivators than conscience is illustrated in history, in the Jacksonian Bank Wars of the late 1830s. Andrew Jackson (president at the time) was a hot tempered man who would lash out against those who opposed him. Henry Clay, a politician who was in the running for the 1840, encouraged the recharter of the Second National Bank of the United States. Clay knew that Jackson's opposition to the charter would lose votes for Jackson. Had Jackson followed his conscience, he would have supported the recharter as a national bank provided national financial stability. However, his desire for power and his distrust of banks and bankers led him to veto the recharter, setting into motion a series of events that led to the Panic of 1837.
Our continuing theme that money, fame, and power are more powerful motivators than money can also been seen with the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the subsequent great depression. The Roaring Twenties was an era of individualism and consumerism. Consequently, the economy boomed as Americnas purchased great deals of goods. However, due to generous credit, the consumers often spent more than they could afford. Wealth began concentrated in then hands of a small elite, and combined with the aftereffects of WWI, the economy went into a downspiral and the US sunk into the Great Depression. The greed of corporations led to the Great Depression, neglecting any thought of America's future.
As seen with these examples from literature and history, money, fame, and power are more powerful motivators than conscience. That is not to say that conscience cannot be a great motivator as well. However, the desire for "more" is an innate human inclination. The desire for more for ourselves often clouds our forethought, our conscience. Whether our actions lead to the worsening of others' conditions, at the the time we make certain decisions, we are focused on the prospect of gaining money, power, or fame for ourselves.