Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Slacker Humanity

"I have a kind of alacrity in sinking."


The generally wise Theodore Dalrymple ponders the not-so-heroic motivations of Homo sapiens. His musings imply, to me, a few possibilities:

1. People often make the cardinal mistake of assuming that other people--whether of a different nationality, epoch, or faith--are very much like them. In fact, it pays to approach people as an anthropologist would, assuming nothing.

2. People are motivated by rather short-term factors operating in their local environments, which is why folks are far more worked up about, say, the economy than about such things as climate change or Afghanistan, which at this point represent relatively nebulous and distant threats.

3. Once people reach a certain level of comfort in their lives (and perhaps it isn't a very high level) they are significantly complacent about working harder. That may be why unemployed Americans stand by as undocumented immigrants take low-paying jobs and why the average American is not alarmed about China or India gaining some kind of competitive advantage.

4. As Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor claimed, people on average crave comfort and security more than freedom. Or rather, just as the alcoholic, deep down, wants not to stop drinking but to be able to drink without adverse consequences, most people want freedom without responsibility or the possibility of failure.

5. All of this is to say that humans are first and foremost mammals. We are energetic and ambitious except where complacency and the conservation of energy (often wrongly and pejoratively miscast as laziness) prevail, which is frequently.

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