Sunday, June 20, 2010
EAT! SCREW! RUN! KILL!
Part One in my series on Curiosity.
Why do we do anything?
I ate three hot dogs this week. I bought a Phoenix record. I ran twice. I got up early to watch the World Cup. I drank beer. I called my mom. I read about “Bloody Sunday.” I graded papers. I ignored a phone call. I DVR'ed the President and Glee. I watched one but not the other. I remembered a lost friend.
Why did I do any of this stuff? Seriously. What is the engine that drives human movement?
And how did I eat three hot dogs? Yikes.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be exploring why people do what they do. I'm interested in what moves us. I'll be examining myself and, if you freaky readers are into it, I'll be examining you.
I'll start this week with a list of concepts I'm playing with. Get in here if you've got ideas that I'm overlooking. Get in here!
I Blog America's Taxonomy of
“Why People Do Stuff”
The concept of INCENTIVE.
We love this one in our country. INCENTIVE is the prime mover. Desire + work = action. People don't do things altruistically. People do things to get something for themselves-- and all of us want things for ourselves. It's natural, baby. It's Adam Smith's economic psychology blended neatly with Thomas Aquinas' theological credibility; The Wealth of Nations' manifesto and the Quinque viae's undeniable elegance. All movement begins as the same force: to serve one's needs or desires.
The concept of SURVIVAL.
Here is Charles Darwin's contribution to the conversation. Not entirely distinct from the INCENTIVE argument, SURVIVAL boils things down to eating, reproducing, and running from danger/neutralizing danger. Keep the species, the relationships, the family, the business, the town, the country-- keep things going. Help things thrive and kill things that present danger. During a riveting episode of the BBC's Planet Earth, my tatooed, bearded, and reflective friend Brian eloquently observed that all of life is about four interjections: EAT! SCREW! RUN! KILL!
The concept of GUILT and SHAME.
Ok, I don't want to go to deeply into spirituality, religion, or psychology here. I have tremendous respect for all three and I recognize that the politics of these kind of conversations can often overshadow everything. And it's not to say that religion or psychology can be reduced to guilt or shame. But I would be remiss if I skipped the idea that we do things in order to avoid GUILT and SHAME. Here, we care less about what we want and more about avoiding what we don't want. We act in order to not feel bad.
Finally, my favorite concept of CURIOSITY.
Curiosity offers no unified theory. It's a messy idea, really. The CURIOSITY argument seems pretty easy to deny, actually: 1) the reason to do anything comes from curiosity and 2) people are curious because they want to understand the unknown. The deniability of CURIOSITY rests in the idea that, after childhood, our curiosity atrophies. I'm not sure we do very much to satiate our curiosity throughout the day. We don't investigate much, we don't explore much, we don't leave our comfort zones much.
We're not, actually, all that curious.
I mean, sure, we watch our celebrities or our politicians, we watch our children and our parents-- we are “curious” about some things. We want to know what's happening next door when the cops show up. We want to know what our best friend is doing at the hospital. We want to know what you will get me for my birthday in November. November 3rd-- just a heads up, people.
But we are not curious when we are eating three hot dogs. We are not curious when we call our moms. We are not even that curious when we are watching Glee or the President. We are not all that interested in understanding the unknown here. We're basically just being amused. Or irritated. But we're not being curious.
So why do I add it to the list of 'Why We Do Stuff?'
Because I suspect, in any effort to improve anything, CURIOSITY might be one of the most important and useful reasons to do act.