• There are three types of people in the world, those who don't know what's happening, those who wonder what's happening and those on the streets that make things happen.

The might of human nature

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on January 7, 2013

The world “is the result of forces inherent in human nature.” And, human nature , as Thucydides pointed out, is motivated by fear (phobos), self-interest (kerdos), and honor (doxa). “To improve the world,” writes Morgenthau,”one must work with these forces, not against them.”…..After all, good intentions have little to do with positive outcomes.

Robert D Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography

I find this thought of realism very interesting indeed. Good intentions have little to do with positive outcomes. Several times I have felt frustrated when my attempts at helping another person out of depression failed. I am sure a lot of us have experienced instances when our good intentions have served no purpose other than turning us into villains in the eyes of others.

And how powerful are fear, self-interest and honor! They truly define human nature and I believe that change in anyone and everyone can be brought about by employing these three forces in varying and manipulative ways. A great learning indeed.

Needlesss to say, the book is brilliant.

As always, comments welcomed.

17 Responses to “The might of human nature”

  1. I wonder what is meant by “honour”? I understand the drivers Fear and Self-Interest, but need to read up some more on what he means by honour. Keep this thoughtful posts coming. My brain needs some exercise after the holidays. ;>)

    • Raunak said

      maybe its the same honor that drives people into becoming martyrs or suicide bombers. Or the honor that forces a father to kill his daughter when she marries out of tribe or community.

  2. Raunak, as always it was amazing to go through your post.It was my real pleasure to go through your blog after a long time.Well, your philosophy here is great as well as inspiring.Happy blogging!!!

  3. Great post Raunak!
    I think behavior motivated by fear will always have a negative outcome. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually it will lead to a bad outcome. At least that’s been my experience.
    Good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes, true, but they do lead to a greater character – they provide a means of self-approval. Self-approval is imperative for healthy self-esteem. If we don’t approve of our own choices, if we never push ourselves to do the harder, more noble thing, we can never self-approve. When we are motivated by good and pure intentions, regardless of the outcome, we win. It’s not the results that matter but the journey of spiritual growth. It also demonstrates faith in the larger picture.
    If we employ avoidance, fear and self-interest, we’ll never self-approve or grow spiritually.

    Maybe I’m more focused on personal, spiritual growth, than outcomes? At the end of the day, I’d feel more at peace if I knew my choices were prompted by a desire to do what’s good and right, regardless of the outcome.

    • Raunak said

      Lisa, this is ones of the dilemmas leaders face when making big decisions. For example, was it right to attack and free Iraq from Saddam even though I knew that the resulting chaos due to collapse of government will result in millions of deaths. Do I have the right to impose my moral values upon other countries without thinking of the consequences of my actions?

      Another example, child labor is abhorred by all. But in many situations in poor countries, children work so that they can get food. Would you stop a factory that uses child labor without considering whether shutting the factory will make the child go hungry?

      I am soon going to share more insights from the book.They are pretty exciting.

      • There are so many complex implications with doing the “right” thing, at least as it pertains to governing. It’s one thing to consider choices that impact only you, it’s quite another when you think about nations. I look forward to more insights.

  4. roshni15 said

    “Good intentions have little to do with positive outcomes.” This reminds me of another oft-repeated quote: the smallest good deed is greater than the grandest good intention. Maybe that’s where the difference lies – we intend well, but someone else does the smallest thing and is more successful than we are – food for thought?!

    P.S: Good to see you blogging again – your posts are always very interesting to read. Do keep sharing. 🙂

    • Raunak said

      Hi Roshni! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more with you. We need to realize that the universe is a collection of infinitesimally small things…and hence every small deed goes a long way in ensuring universal good.

  5. Hello.

    Is this a philosophical book? Can you say more about it? Curious… thanks!

    • Raunak said

      Hi! Its a book in which Kaplan presents a case of how Geography has had an impact of world conflicts and wars. How the climatic conditions of a place, its topography etc effect its history.
      Finally it goes on to predict the future of a few countries by looking at past trends and relating them to the geography.

      Its a subject that I have often wondered about and was thrilled to come across a deep research in the same. Loving it!

  6. I feel, like John Childress, that honour is the odd one out here.
    I don’t know what it means to Robert D Kaplan, buit I can tell you what Doxa meant to Thucydides: It meant appearance or popular opinion – reputation – which is not the same thing as honour at all.

    This is an extremely big deal in Mediterranean cultures to this day. Italians call it “figura”. Everything they do is planned to make a “bella figura” – a good impression – and if they fail, they made a “brutta figura” (bad impression) or even a “figura di merda” (shit impression). Modern Greeks talk about doxa in exactly the same way.
    If you tell an Italian they have just made a brutta figura they will shrivel visibly before your eyes, and stop at nothing to restore their reputation. I am told you can stop a Greek in his tracks by making a similar observation.

    This mentality is something particular about Mediterranean cultures, as I said, and for a North European like me, who considers substance everything and appearance a very low second to that, it is hard to understand and impossible to accept.

    Attributing human behaviours in other cultures is plain wrong.

    I certainly agree that fear and self interest are major motivators. But you can get into semantics even here.

    Imagine someone who does voluntary work in an orphanage. If you want to, you can reduce even that to being self-interested behaviour. That person wants to feel good about himself. He wants to be adored by kids, He wants to be loved by people who need him so much they’ll never reject him. He wants to be admired by others.
    You see? Does that mean his intentions are not good?
    You can play with words and language all you like. You can make anything true, if you like twisting words about the way people do when they translate Greek philosophers!!!

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