We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Human Psychological Motivation as Will to Power?

Exploring the world where the primary motivation is desire to modify one's environment rather than the motivation to pursue pleasure. 

Part 1: An attempt to finally make practical use of Nietzsche in day to day life

Imagine if the greatest human motivation was not to move towards the ambiguous elusive goal of greater happiness, pleasure, physiological equilibrium, or contentness. How would the way we look at the world and ourselves change?

The building assumption in this series is that the most important motivation for a human being is to endlessly expand personal influence over conscious reality. This simple concept, most elegantly defended and argued by Nietzsche, has a surprisingly large ripple effect on day to day matters if it is taken seriously and if pursuit of happiness is subordinated to it. This is because most of the world's cultures have succumbed to the idea that all our resources and values should be geared towards reducing the frequency of unpleasant events happening to us on social and individual level. This notion is so ingrained in us that it almost seems absurd that something other than pain avoidance principle drives our bodies subconsciously. Many of popular economic and political systems are designed with the notion that human beings are but utility calculators that need a proper utility distribution arrangement. Pleasure and pain are just too obvious and immediate and have been so for thousands of years. However, pain avoidance does not sufficiently explain a large part of human social behavior as well as weakness avoidance does.

This is not some masochistic attempt to argue for embracing suffering but about re-prioritizing pleasure to secondary supporting role in pursuit of power so as to explore the world that results in a practical way. Nietzsche trailblazed in terms of revealing that historical events, notable celebrities, and social movements all thrive for power in creative ways such as sublimation. He never left any practical suggestions on how to live in a world where people just differ in their particular means of increasing strength. Recently, there has been some major understanding among researchers (such as those driving the field of positive psychology) that feeling of powerlessness is a major social as well as an individual trouble that needs to be addressed.

Human interactions begin to make a lot more sense and seem less irrational when we look at every human agent as being driven to greater and greater influence over his or her environment. Patterns of strategic behaviors emerge that are more enduring and predictable than ones emerging in quest of a new pleasure fix. This is due to the key difference between the two motivators.

The moment of happiness, once had, can't really be increased but only repeated whereas influence can be increased practically infinitely. Power builds on itself and a self reinforcing motivating loop is created pushing a person toward greater heights. Unlike pleasure, there isn't a relative ceiling (a meth addict can only experience so much in a moment of a high and an orgasm cannot be exponentially intensified). Once a person accumulates more influence, it doesn't paralyze but instinctively encourages the use of said influence for gain of more. Influence is thus constructive, creative, and the feel for it is internalized within a person long enough to lead to constant augmentation of the self.

A ready objection may await a reader's lips, "obviously some power is important to function but isn't it just one of the means towards happiness and its repetition?"

This question makes power just a tool towards some end which does not maintain primacy over the end regardless of the tool's importance. The objection has more weight than possible others in that it tries to eliminate debate on power being an alternate destination by making it one of the roads towards the only destination that matters (happiness). One motivation becomes consumed and absorbed by another. The ground is also set to prepare a counter-objection (in defense of power) for a tug of war.

The counter objection goes as follows: just like the joy of eating compels human bodies to survive and just like the joy of sex compels them to reproduce, the happiness achieved from power compels us to seek more power. The happiness we think we seek is just a possible side effect reaffirming our quest for influence. Just like survival and reproduction are more important physiologically than any fleeting joy, power is equally necessary especially considering it increases the chances of the two.

The tug of war of motivations created here is of course the chicken or the egg problem. We could argue endlessly which came first or if the feel of having power is pleasurable (making the two motivations one and the same or making power the subcategory of happiness).

Ultimately, the practical guide using the more correct motivational system would better predict, break down, and explain human interaction while taking into account the other motivation popping its head here and there.

Unlike other serious motivations such as pursuit of wealth (which is culturally agreed to aid in acquisition of happiness rather than being an end in itself), the feeling of influence over the world is internalized by a person a lot more than the feeling of being wealthy. Another lesser difference is that power is a lot more contextual than pleasure and thus can be more readily passed between individuals, lost, and gained. One needs others a lot more to create an interplay of resistance and competing influences.

Click to enlarge one mating aiding scheme
In later parts we'll explore how power flows among individuals and what we can do in our daily lives to feel more physiologically wholesome. There is no need to rehash or summarize Nietzsche as there are plenty of people who have done so marvelously. The time to bridge the abstract and the practical cannot come soon enough. Nietzschean thought (contrary to popular perception) offers the most tangible and practical day to day applications.

There is also the consideration to tackle the culturally ingrained negative perception of such a quest. Too much mud has been thrown on the notion of raising an individual's influence by institutions that rely on different motivational notions to maintain their own influence (such as organized clergy). Pursuit of shaping the world based on one's thoughts is natural, healthy, and personally inescapable and shared by all the people in the world regardless of their sociopolitical structures. Majority of the time desire for influence results in net benefit for society and contributes to its growth rather than resulting in use of force (robbery or violence on micro or marco scale). On the whole, individuals channel their power expanding energies safely into wealth generation, physiological improvement, the arts, etc.

In the modern world, acquisition of money is a much quicker and most socially acceptable way towards achievement of power and ways have been developed to accommodate it (ideological notions of enlightened self interest, free market economics, etc.)
. Although monetary practices, (especially as practiced by United States and England) have caused enormous amount of suffering internationally, the value of power on an individual level is not an automatic door to anarchy, fascism, or license to rudeness and cruelty. It is rather acceptance of ourselves and our motivations so we become more informed about how power flows in the world, become more efficient as people, and cut flows of power to those aspects of the world that unnecessarily weaken us in day to day life. The more influence an organism gets, the more alive and healthy it is.

to be continued..

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