Monday, 14 September 2009


Thousands of protesters swamped Washington during the weekend to voice their discontent over Obama's fiscal spending and his plan to revamp the health system. It is fascinating how such a sizeable number of Americans are so strongly anti-welfare and anti-socialist.

I must admit I've naturally belonged to that camp since young. My anti-socialist sentiments weren't borne originally out of a desire to attack people who looked like freeloaders to me. Rather, all the way since I was a little kid, I've always preferred it when people didn't intervene in my life, even with good and honest motives to care for me. Just leave me to my own devices and let me create my own livelihood. I don't want to owe anyone anything in the process.

It draws me to a piece of research on needs, motives, incentives and goals in controlled psychological processing.

"Goals will affect a person's behaviour differently, depending on what kind of need is the source of that goal (Deci & Ryan, 1991). If, for instance, two people in a music class are asked to create a composition, they each have the same goal. The motive they are seeking to satisfy will alter the nature of the goal that is selected and pursued. The first person (Britney) may set the goal of pleasing others, whereas the second person (Missy) may focus on creating an interesting piece of work. Missy's goal is in the service of a motive to derive intrinsic joy in an artistic process, whereas Britney's is in the service of a motive to be liked. Goals in the service of autonomy, competence, and social integration needs leads to greater creativity, higher cognitive flexibilty, greater depth of information processing, and more effective coping with failure (Deci, 1992). When one's goals are not marked by autonomy of choice, such as when one is given a discrete task to perform by an authority or when a goal is selected based on an obligation, performance suffers."

The welfare state seems earmarked by heavy taxation, obligations to society (enforced by authority) and intervention by bureaucracy to me. Amongst all the other philosophical and economical reasons for the inefficiency of socialist and welfare policy, this looks like a psychological basis that accounts for each individual's drop in performance leading to the sluggishness of the whole in sum.

This is not to say that we should not care for people. It's just that the idea of the ideology of a state based on almost completely focusing its resources toward providing insurance of protection for the weak seems a bit misguided to me. I suppose that's why I often hold the highest regard for - and likewise come down harshest on - the individual to be socially intelligent and responsible. Even small and seemingly insignificant things like the responsibility to not give sympathy-seekers any sympathy, or to be self-sufficient in defining one's purpose in life. Because in the end, if only each person could just do the right thing he/she had to do (which does include philantropy and giving to the poor if you have wealth to give insofar as that is seen as a cause worthwhile pursuing as an individual), we wouldn't have to rely so submissively on some higher authority for our needs.

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