April 25, 2009

Finally, to be honest, it is a desire for prestige or recognition

Home About Larval Subjects March 31, 2009
Other Political Pet Peeves– Accumulation as Our Prime Motive Posted by larvalsubjects under Politics [9] Comments

As an academic, my motive for writing articles, books, and innovating in the classroom has nothing to do with the financial benefits I receive from these activities. I’ll never forget the shock and surprise in my father’s voice when I told him that I don’t get paid at all for the articles I write or the conferences where I present, and that the royalties I receive for my book are a pittance. Having observed me working tirelessly doing this sort of research and writing, often driving myself to the point of exhaustion and illness, he simply couldn’t understand what motivated me.

The motive here lies outside of economic incentives. On the one hand it is simply an obsession with certain problems and questions. On the other hand it is a desire to understand the lunacy of this universe we live in. Finally, to be honest, it is a desire for prestige or recognition. These motives, I think, are far more intoxicating than wealth. Indeed, it seems to me that wealth only becomes an intoxicating motive when one experiences their work as otherwise lacking satisfaction.

I do not think this sort of motivation for innovation is restricted to the domain of academia. Most research scientists are paid very little for the work they do. In this respect, they are deeply exploited by the system of capital that expropriates their intellectual labor– a labor that properly belongs to the common, not to any corporation, by virtue of only being possible based on the common –without giving them much in the way of compensation for that labor at all. Growing up I recall my horror and outrage at discovering how my father’s pharmaceutical company would get private patent rights to new drugs and procedures that were the result of publicly funded research. No, like the academic, the research scientist is by and large motivated by a burning desire to solve certain puzzles, to figure out how that DNA works, to create that new technology like a child building a fort just because he or she can, and by the desire for prestige. The case is similar with artists, musicians, novelists, etc.

larvalsubjects Says: March 31, 2009 at 9:41 pm All of that aside (and I have problems with Dawkins as well that I won’t get into here), the sleight of hand with the particular ideology I outline in this post lies in conflating self-preservation with the thesis that people are primarily motivated by profit incentives. Profit incentives are one way in which beings such as ourselves can be motivated. In other words, there are a variety of forms this drive to survive can be met.

My thesis would be that the money incentive is not the only way nor even historically the most predominant way in which this drive has been met and that the myth of the hard working capitalist “savage” is just that, a myth not reflective of other forms of “economy”, how they are organized, and what has motivated human bodies within these forms of economy. Here I think my observations about upsetting coworkers is particularly salient with respect to incentivization. There we find a motive that is entirely non-economic in nature but which is nonetheless extremely compelling to those within its grip.

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