The desires that drive us

Christmas is a time for evaluation, reflection and projection. And time, moreover, that allows us to think about good intentions. What moves us? What makes us get going and deploy our energy? What explains our behavior?

Bertand Russell left us some clues in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Let’s put ourselves in context. Russell had a bright and versatile mind. Philosopher and scientist, defender of women’s rights, his commitment to pacifism landed him in jail. He opposed Hitler, Stalinism, the atomic bomb, racial segregation, and the US invasion of Vietnam. He made peace his fight. And he maintained a healthy skepticism all his life. On one occasion they asked him if he would be capable of dying for his ideals and he replied: “Me? No! He could be wrong.” He is considered one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, although he declared himself a mathematician.

In his speech, he defends the idea that all human activity is driven by the wish; that it is the desire that is at the base of our behavior and works as the main source of motivation. Russell maintains that it even takes precedence over a sense of duty, since the latter does not act unless it wishes to be obedient, and that human beings have infinite desires that are not fully satisfied. The explanation of all behavior is thus connected with desire.

According to the philosopher, there are four great desires:

The first is the desire to ACQUISITIONthe desire to own the most assets, some necessary and others not, and that, no matter how many goods are acquired, more is always desired and it is never enough. He believes that this desire is clouded by the fear of losing them. We are not satiated. “The boa constrictor,” Russell tells us, “when she has had a proper meal, she goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up until she needs another meal. Human beings, for the most part, are not like that.” It is necessary to see the time of life that we dedicate to satisfy this desire!

The RIVALRY, the desire to compete, is the following. And it weighs on us so much that it may be that some cheerfully face impoverishment or their own misfortune, if they can thus ensure the ruin of their rivals. This desire is born of narcissism. We are more competitive than collaborative.

The desire to obtain social recognition can become an end in itself. The VANITY human has no limits and is in our genes. All our lives a phrase accompanies us: “Look at me”. You only have to take a look at social networks to realize what some people are capable of. It can take myriad forms, from buffoonery to the pursuit of posthumous fame. Having an inflamed ego is usually expensive.

The love for him CAN it is for Russell the most powerful of the four wishes. It can be confused with vanity, but it is not the same. Vanity is based on glory, on social recognition, on fame: it’s easy to have glory without power. But for some people, the power is infinitely superior. The pleasure of power is more intense than the power of pleasure. And it has no limits either. It’s insatiable. The more power you have, the more power you want. It generates addiction and is fed back by the experience of power itself. However, Russell does not see the love of power as something strictly negative. Power gives the possibility to make things happen. Without power there is no impact or results. Power needs fair and compassionate ends: it must not be an end in itself, but must allow progress in the field in which it is applied.

His speech does not end here, he also reflects on some secondary reasons, such as the love to emotion Most human beings want to escape boredom. He believes that “the nature of sedentary life has fractured the link between body and mind.” He writes, and let us not forget that he writes in 1950, that the type of physical constitution that we have is suitable for a life of very severe physical work, just as before. People did not need anything to avoid boredom. Resting was enough. “But modern life cannot be conducted on these physically strenuous principles,” Russell writes. A great deal of work is sedentary, and most manual labor exercises only require a few specialized muscles… and if the human race is to survive, which is perhaps not desirable, other means would have to be found to ensure an innocent outlet for the unused physical energy that produces love by emotion…” “I have never heard of a war that originated in ballrooms.”

Thank you very much Mr. Russell for these thoughts. The drift of the world, 70 years later, tells us that these desires are still very present and have led us to the current situation. It seems urgent to change, modify or mitigate some of them. And it will cost us, because they are in our nature. But you will have to try. My best wishes to all of you in these times of evaluation, reflection and projection.

We would love to thank the author of this article for this awesome web content

The desires that drive us