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Incentivized to Action

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Maybe understanding the reasons why people do things isn’t all that difficult. Maybe we’re not as complicated as we claim to be? Do our motivations say less about who we are and more about what we stand to gain? Can we ever act without that simple question, “What’s in it for me” being at the heart of all we do? In the end, all things boil down to this simple state of affairs: what do we stand to gain in doing what we do?

To consider the incentives for action is to seek answers to this question. We do not act without incentives; though, in some cases, hidden or delayed incentives may mask our true intentions. Does one donate blood only for the good of other people? At some level that blood donor senses an incentive to give: maybe pride or maybe just a free cookie- no matter what its a personal perk that drives intention.

Of course these incentives are far from simple. Great sacrifices often accompany our actions and a simplified observation that incentives run all decisions paints a very dire, cynical image of the world. Do we limit our perspectives of society by thinking in such terms? Perhaps a better model recognizes incentives as powerful triggers and mirrors. Incentives both drive future action and mirror what makes us work.

The binary of “carrot versus stick” is often used to consider programs to drive action. Prod with the stick in the form of taxes, punishment or denied pleasure. On the other hand, the carrot here is a reward or gift for action. One who wants a group of people to stop smoking might make insurance more expensive or provide free counseling. The choice remains with leadership and depends on a philosophy of motivation. What makes people change? Is it fear of punishment or desire for reward?

Slippery Words

September 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Political skill revolves around a slippery use of language. When “civilian casualties” becomes “collateral damage” we double dilute our meaning by turning the death of innocent human beings into vague, fuzzy notions. What is collateral or citizens for that matter? The blood on the pavement is horror realized and the only way to come to terms with its existence is to muddle and hide. For those tasked with maintaining order or whose actions lead to such situations, a distortion of language might be less about the audience and more the interior of the speaker.

How do evildoers come to terms with what they do? Is evil a quality of being able to disregard disgusting acts? Kant’s categorical imperative can be simplified to ask, “If everyone else does what I do, can society function?” It expands the actions of one to the group as a whole. Doing so reveals how certain things that occur on a small-scale can only occur without damage at the small-scale. If we all disregard the speed limit the roads will be chaos, but a few speeders can be tolerated.

Likewise a manipulation of language can only occur on the small-scale. When leaders distort language there must be figures who correct them. Not all will be capable of this action and those who cannot are likely to fall victim to the distortion. The strength of society lies in those who refuse to be manipulated and utilize critical thinking to respond to what occurs. One can think but action is required. Extending beyond the ivory tower is the real act of heroism. Your papers may be published and thousands may re-tweet, like and favor but all is naught is nothing is done.

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