"A person who has been punished is not less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment." - B. F. Skinner
Advertisements are like the human business equivalent of a dog peeing somewhere to say, "this space is mine".
How often do we agree or disagree with an idea not because of our knowledge of the facts but because of how the idea makes us feel?
Back in college, a peer once brought up the idea that the central motivation for human behavior is found in the pursuit of pleasure.
At the time I disagreed because of the stock I put into the character of the charitable person, one whose selfless acts derived from a deeply ingrained compulsion toward communal improvement. Obsessively religious at the time, I couldn't imagine a world in which morality did not radiate directly out from the central being of a moral god. In my mind, any good which existed, existed as an inescapable aspect of a universe with a good god at its center. Everything that was served as illustration of the character of the divine. Of course, this completely ignores how we come to terms with the bad stuff in the universe. Often, answers for evil and/or pain group them all under the incomprehensible umbrella of a good god's will, disregarding the importance of the horrid suffering to the human condition in favor of the idea that we are all too small and stupid to get how things really work. Or, I've also heard that any bad is simply what exists on the other side of the good, like the land where the sun doesn't reach. Mufasa says don't go there, but we sneak out anyway in the promise of an elephant graveyard. But since human suffering is apparently inescapable in this life, the best we're told we can do is to push ourselves closer and closer to the center of positive radiation, pulling our legs under the covers away from the prying hands of the carnal boogeyman. In this case, pain and evil is not the fault of the divine but something else, and our falling into it is all on us. If only we had more faith, we wouldn't be suffering so. My spiritual education at the time taught me that either the experience of the bad is our fault or that it's not really that bad at all if only we could see the truth. Switching between variations on these two themes kept the fault off of the only one with the real power to do anything about it—the deity—in favor of keeping us little people in check.
There is a search for pleasure to be found in doing what we think we're supposed to do, but the main reason we search for pleasure in life is, to my reckoning, what makes it a secondary goal. Above all else, human motivation is defined by fear.
I'm fully willing to believe that it's not as simple as that, that we're actually pretty complex and whether it be the pursuit of pleasure or the escape from terror, neither comes close to fully encompassing our will. The real issue is that in either case, our will is defined by that which manipulates us into action. Desperately, even.
Hope for reward and fear of punishment are tools for teaching behavior. Despite what we've gladly brought with us from the class structure of our primate ancestors, keeping others weak and afraid is not actually the best way to instill loyalty. Positive reinforcement continues to test better and better and better for teaching desired behavior.
I don't consider this to be a point toward PLEASURE in the V. FEAR debate, but I do think it points to the way we handle the logical reasoning behind our actions. If the only reason I perform an action is because of my fear of a particular punishment, I can be traumatized enough to oblige. However, this isn't a binary. Human beings have this tricky thing where we're constantly questioning ourselves and the way the world works, going along with how we feel at any one point or what seems right in the moment over what we may have learned through pain or reward as a little one.
Today, I'd probably stand more with fear being a base motivator in the big general sense, but I think that can also drive people to seek tiny glimpses of happiness within the yawning void. I think there are a lot of people who only act like they care about one another because they're terrified of the spiritual implications of acting out. I also think that for the rest of us, empathy with another person's situation and feelings is an even greater motivator toward sharing our love.
Maybe the human condition is an ultimately terrifying, lonely, flickering, meager existence.
But within that sliver of time, we can share a bit of our bread, a bit of our light, a bit of our mutual understanding.
Thanks for reading,