Universal Ethics > Research > Happiness > Incompatible Motives

Cooperation Incompatible Motives

In the list of human motivational needs, I included only "cooperation compatible" motives. Those are motives where multiple people can be pursuing satisfaction of those same motives, and all of them can be happy.

However, humans can also have "cooperation incompatible" motives. We have names for many of them: cruelty, anger, hate, laziness, greed, lust, jealousy, bigotry...

Some of these have a peculiar sense of satisfaction to them. For example, if a person is attacked, it will invoke within that person a feeling of anger. Their body will mobilize for defence, as adrenaline is released to bring the body to a state ready to fight. If the person acts on their anger and successfully defends themselves by striking and inflicting damage on the attacker, there is a certain satisfaction associated with it. The person feels not just relief from fear, but also a joy from the fulfilment of the anger itself.

However, we would not describe anger as a "human need" and nor is it a "target motivator" that a person would plan to have in their life. If a person lives in a peaceful, civilized society, he might never have cause to feel anger ever in his life. He could have a very happy life, and he would never feel like there was anything missing in his life.

To clarify further, I point out that if a person is attacked, it makes sense for the person to defend himself whether he feels anger or not. Anger is a primitive "frustration response" left over from evolutionary development, in which survival sometimes depended on lashing out instinctively. In most modern kinds of confrontation, perhaps involving weapons, the person will defend himself more effectively if he (or she) remains calm. This issue here is not on how one defends ones' self, but rather on whether it makes sense to intentionally seek out opportunities to invoke the anger motive.

The same is generally true of those other "incompatible" motives as well. They are not a "human need" that must be put into a person's life plan, with the intent of creating outcomes to satisfy them. They give rise to conflict between people, so that the person who acts on such motives may be subject to retaliation. Moreover, they are counterproductive to the vicarious joy that a person can achieve by spreading happiness.

A person may feel an internal conflict sometimes. For example, a person could feel anger at a loved one because of some perceived transgression of that person. Perhaps the angry person also has a bit of a cruel streak, and that clashes with their caring and compassion. In such cases, the person is well advised to apply some self-discipline, and resolve the matter by favoring the cooperation-compatible motives.

Most often people will find that the cooperation-compatible motive yields more satisfaction, so they will prefer to resolve internal conflicts in this manner. Unfortunately, there can be situations arising in the world such as war and oppression, where the pain and fear that people feel overwhelms their natural capacity for caring and compassion. In such cases, people might truly become monsters, but it is a state that people would not choose for themselves at the outset if they could foresee it happening.

The best strategy is to prevent this kind of situation from occurring in the first place, and second best is to de-escalate the conflict if it occurs, so the motivational system of the people can return to its normal state, in which caring and compassion exist.

If there are any people in this world who truly have strong, inborn malevolent motives that outweigh their cooperation-compatible motives, and if it is not a situational abnormality that can be cured, then there is only one place where a civilized society could safely keep them: in a cage. That would be a very sad life indeed, because they would neither be able to satisfy their malevolent motives, nor many of their other motives.

The bottom line: Plan your life around satisfying the cooperation-compatible motives, take action to help others to satisfy those motives too, and do what you can to protect them when they need help. Each person doing that will produce a synergy that brings widespread happiness.


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