We all want more power; but it seems we don’t have a clue about all the power we already possess…
The book preview of Are Americans Really this __________? continues with Chapter 12 – People Power. If you would prefer to listen to the content rather than read CLICK HERE.
We humans are a paradox; a mystery wrapped in a riddle secured with a puzzle bow. Let us try to sort us out.
Society is a collection of individuals functioning more or less in harmony; frequently less. The potential of society is greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts matter.
Many people believe we human beings are just an advanced evolution of animals. Some argue we are not really an “advanced” evolution of animals, just another evolution of animals. A quick survey of the problems we cause around the globe provides validity to this argument.
Through natural selection we develop and express traits: attributes, talents, skills and abilities; strengths and weaknesses; and we exhibit a measure of motivation or drive. The best we can hope for in the Darwinian model is to be blessed with the optimum traits and sufficient drive to survive and thrive.
If you adhere to this humans-as-animals perspective, then welcome to the jungle. Let the contest, the competition begin. It is you against the world, every man for himself. Hope you got the right traits to compete effectively. Alliances with others are conveniences to temporarily concentrate power for the purpose of overwhelming, defeating and vanquishing foes. It is survival of the fittest. Everyone is out only to advance his or her survival interests. Life is a game of thrones.
Other thoughtful, observant individuals however, believe we humans occupy a unique position in the metaphysical expanse. Something more is afoot; something more than meets the eye or conforms to our physical senses in a single dimension of time and space. These people point to another dimension beyond the physical reality we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. To something bigger. Something we might label as spiritual, outside of time and space.
From this perspective individuals are not limited by specific traits – we can select, focus on, develop, and reinforce whatever attributes and talents we care to. And we rely on others who do the same – develop select advantageous traits. Our potential is virtually unlimited.
I have been referring to human beings as individuals and to society as a collection of individuals; the few, I-me-my versus the many, us-we-together. Perhaps that distinction is not accurate. What if individuals are simply part of a whole, like cells are parts of a body?
In this case then, what is best for individuals is what is best for the whole.
By my cursory observation, a preponderance of the evidence suggests we human beings first and foremost look out for number one. It is I-me-my, my survival and my ultimate success that matter. Is this perspective limited?
Could we be first and foremost social beings with an other focus? After all, many people have sacrificed and are sacrificing all they have including their very lives so that those they care about might survive and flourish.
Imagine that. That is a thought.
Isn’t that what love is?
Is love; this other focus – putting someone else’s interests before your own – is love part of our nature or is it something we learn together?
If you believe something else is afoot; and perhaps give credence to a spiritual dimension or a collective greater than I-me-my, then life and politics – the power game – are something else entirely.
But back to basics.
What motivates us to act?
We have needs and wants which we satisfy and express through traits; attributes, talents, skills and abilities in an environment. Needs are must haves. Wants are nice to have. Needs and wants arise through three distinct levels of motivation: instinct, emotion and intellect.
The base level of motivation is instinct.
We are semi-autonomous being’s intent on expressing life by surviving and reproducing. Instincts motivate us to cry out as babies when we are hungry and when we need comforting. Instinct moves us to seek warmth and shelter and prompts us to find mates and nurture and raise young. Instinct causes us to congregate in groups for safety and security. We, naturally, instinctively are social beings.
Two of our most powerful instincts however are governors. These instincts limit us: fear and the need to conserve energy.
Fear constrains us. Fear keeps us from acting rashly, from doing dumb things, for the most part. Fear is a pervasive and powerful force in the human drama.
The need to conserve energy is a practical adaptation to limited resources. Since food and other resources are not always abundantly available, we conserve what we have to see ourselves through.
Fear and the need to conserve energy are two of our primary drivers as we engage in the adventure of life.
The second level of human motivation or driver of action is emotion. Emotion is energy we feel within our bodies resulting from our interpretation of what we experience. How we interpret what we experience is very much under our own control. Determining what we think and how we feel is a human being’s preeminent power.
Since feeling is a component of the human experience, if presented the option to feel better or worse we always seek to feel better. We prefer pleasure over pain. People, moment to moment seek to feel better.
We ultimately convert experience – our interpretations of events and circumstances – into feeling; into emotions: good, bad or indifferent. The energy of those emotions move us to act. The energy manifesting as emotion causes us to select an option, a course of action which, we hope, points us ultimately toward better feelings. Since we are always seeking to “feel better” the emotion is our motivator to act. We choose, decide, or select based primarily on emotion.
Emotions and instincts are human beings’ primary motivators.
The third level of motivation is a unique capability: intellect – the ability to think.
While instinct and emotion are the primary drivers of human action, intellect is our most powerful tool for expressing life. Intellect – our ability to think – allows us to see differently, choose differently and act differently. Through deliberate thought we can override instinct and emotion. Through intellect we possess the ability to control our lives. Thought frees us from the confines of time and space. Because of our ability to think, to reason, and to imagine, we have other options. We need not be a victim of circumstance.
Our ability to think is the most powerful asset we possess to navigate life. Thought is the bridge between the physical reality of time, space and circumstance and the infinite dimension of spirit.
Unfortunately thinking requires energy and effort. Thinking is at odds with our instinct to conserve energy. So, in practice most of us do anything to avoid thinking.
We make decisions and we act most commonly and usually by instinct or emotion. We typically only think to rationalize why we do what we do after the fact.
And that – not thinking – is a good part of our political problem.
As we examine politics – how people gain and use social power – we must keep in mind the fundamentals of nature and the fundamentals of human nature.
Each of us comes into this world with enormous potential. We develop traits. We are driven by instinct, emotion and intellect. We can access and leverage the support and resources of others and of community. Life seems stacked in our favor.
So how do we go so wrong?
Why are hundreds of thousands of people living on the streets in the United States when millions have multiple homes?
Why are children going hungry in a country with more than enough food to eat?
Why are millions the world over dying of diseases we know how to easily cure?
These questions demand political answers. It is not about resources or know-how or knowledge. Why so many are struggling is about our use, misuse, and abuse of power.
People possess the power. We have what we need.
Why aren’t we using what we have?
Why aren’t we using our power well?
Let me know what you think of Are Americans Really this ________? in the comments below. Look for Chapter 13 – Why Politicians are so Inept on Monday. Have a great weekend! Scott