Friday, January 03, 2020

Manufacturing Motives: Linking Action to Desire

This is the podcast about value. Because it is a podcast about value, you should expect that I can say something about the value of listening to this podcast.

Let me give it a try.

In order for me to get you to choose to listen to this podcast, I have to provide you with a motive to listen to it. How do I do that?

Well, there are two ways I can do that.

Here is the first way.

You have a set of desires. Now, I am using the word “desire” in a very broad sense. It includes all sorts of likes, wants, preferences, interests, and the like. When I speak about desires, I am including things that would more accurately be called aversions. I am assuming that you have an aversion to pain. You might have a desire to live on Mars or an aversion to spiders, or an aversion to living on Mars and happen to like spiders.

Desires are the source of motivation. Take your aversion to pain as an example – your desire that you not be in pain. This aversion to pain can give you a motive not to put your hand on a hot stove. If somebody were to ask you, “Why did you not take that pie out of the oven with your bare hands?” it is perfectly sensible to answer, “Because it will hurt!” The aversion to pain gives you a motive to find a pot holder to use when you remove the pie. A desire to live on Mars might motivate you to study Martian geology, or to research ways to grow food on Mars. Your interest in spiders might motivate you to get a pet spider. Your interest in that classmate might motivate you to ask her if she would be interested in studying for the exam together.

So, one way to get you to listen to this podcast is to create some sort of link between your listening to this podcast and something that you desire.

I could, for example, arrange to inflict on you a severe electrical shock if you fail to listen to the podcast. The combination of your aversion to pain, and the belief that you can avoid the pain of an electrical shock by listening to my podcast, means that you have a motive to listen to my podcast.

I regret to report that I have not found a cost-effective way to hit you with a painful electrical shock if you do not listen to my podcast, so I am going to have to find some other method.

I could pay you. One nice thing about money is that a great many of the things that most people desire they can get if they have enough money. This means that most people have a motive to do things that result in their receiving some money. Your desire for something that you can get if you have money, plus the fact that you can get the money if you listen to this podcast, means that you have a motive to listen to this podcast.
But, I am not going to pay you to listen to this podcast. I’m selfish that way.

There are two other ways that I can get you to listen to this podcast. I can make something that you enjoy doing, or I can make it useful, or I can try to do both at the same time.

To make this podcast something you want to listen to, I can work to make sure that the sound quality is good. I can try to speak clearly so that my words are easy to understand and speak in a tone that does not cause listeners to fall asleep. I can add a joke here and there for entertainment value. With any luck, they might even be good jokes – but that might be beyond my ability.

Perhaps you are like me. You simply have an interest in what it is for something to be good or bad, in which case I need to provide you with content that will help you to answer some questions you may have on that subject.
In all cases, I motivate you to listen to this podcast by identifying something that you desire and incorporating it in this podcast to the best of my ability.

To make this podcast useful, I would need to make it something that you can use given something you desire outside of this podcast. Perhaps you are having trouble falling asleep and this podcast provides a useful cure for your insomnia. Technically, I would not count that person as somebody who “listens to the podcast,” but that does not change the fact that this is one way this podcast can be useful. It is not the way I want it to be useful, but it could be useful in just that way.

Or, perhaps I could encode the next winning lottery number into my podcast. Then, anybody who believed that they had a reasonable chance to figure out the code has a motive to listen to the podcast. Again, given that money is useful in the fulfillment of many desires, and listening to the podcast would provide one with a reasonable chance of getting some money, one has a motive to listen to the podcast.

In all seriousness, I hope that you will find this podcast useful in helping to get a better understanding of the nature of value – the difference between what is good and what is bad – as a useful start in contributing to making a community that is better than it would have otherwise been. I hope that I have already showed you some of that in the material we have covered so far.

I have tried to cover one of the ways in which I can create a podcast that has value. It would be a podcast that is such as to fulfill the desires of others.

The podcast can fulfill those desires directly – by being entertaining, pleasing, and providing information that the listeners are interested in for its own sake. The podcast can fulfill those desires indirectly by providing listeners with information that they can use to acquire more of that which is good and avoid more of that which is bad.

This is a very small scratch on what is a very large surface. What I have covered so far should give rise to a large set of new questions. For example, I have said that something is good if it is such as to fulfill certain desires, either directly (is pleasing) or indirectly (is useful). Does this mean that everybody is selfish – seeking only the fulfillment of their own desires? We will cover this issue in more detail in a future episode, but the short answer is “no”. Almost everybody has at least some altruistic desires. They genuinely want what is best for their friends and for their family, and they are genuinely distressed at people being maimed, killed, abused, or exploited and are strongly motivated to prevent these things from happening. A selfish person is not a person that does what he desires. A selfish person is a person who only desires a better life for himself, and does not care whether others suffer or die so long as he gains wealth and power.

Let’s set those questions aside for now. We have some unfinished business. I said that there are two ways I can build value into this podcast. I have discussed one of those two ways – by making it such as to fulfill the desires you already have. The other way would be to give you new desires that would be served by this podcast. I will discuss that option next.

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