Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The (not so) surprising truth about what motivates us

Why do we do the things we do? Corporate ideologists tell us we are motivated by money and the stuff it buys. And too often we believe them. That's why we have green ambassadors like Priyanka Chopra giving out cash prizes to motivate green activists. 


The problem with the corporate understanding of the world is that it leads us down an unsustainable road. We'll eat up our land and the people who live on it, until there is nothing left. What happens then is ugly--and probably violent. At her book launch last Friday, Arundhati Roy argued that since since the Indian state and corporations have no other countries to colonize, they have turned inward and made colonies out of the interior--it's a form of self-cannibalism. And in some cases, violence is met with violence. It's not a new argument, but she makes it in a compelling manner. By the way, P. Sainath understands this question from a different angle, but he sees a similar dynamic.


That's all very depressing, but it leaves us to wonder: is there any hope? Is there a way the world could change which does require the barrel of a gun to impose it? When it comes to the ground realities we face, I just don't know. And this short essay is not going to try to get into speculation about how change might or might not happen. I'll just say that I take it for granted that any change will require a massive movement of people and a rejection of the idea that people are motivated primarily by the drive to get money and stuff. (It will also, by the way, require the rejection of the idea--historically favoured by some on the left--that people are motivated by being told what to do!)


I've always believed that once people have achieved enough to insure their survival, that other factors come into play. I think people do things because we care about power, autonomy, and the good feeling we get when we master something. I think we do things because love and belonging feel good--that's where duty comes in, by the way. I think we do things because we like to have fun. Sure, new things are fun to have--and having new stuff may make us feel powerful. But there have always been sustainable ways to feel powerful, loved or to have fun in the world; people were basically the same social animals we are today before we had a hyper-consumer culture, and we can go back to that way of being more easily than we think. 


It turns out I'm not the only one who think this. There are even some corporate types who have realized that if they want to motivate people, money is not necessarily the best way. This animated video does not really get into the way a sustainable world might look. But it does explain why people might well enjoy living in one. Do watch it. It will give you something to think about.

Video from KarmaTube

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