What Motivates People?
There are three levels to the motivations of people.
The evolved individual biological urge
All our ancestors have done something. They have reproduced and raised their offspring in an environment which allowed them to in turn reproduce.
The desire to reproduce and propagate ones own DNA is the primary biological urge. Although it isn’t quite that simple.
One needs to not only reproduce, but:
- reproduce with someone else with desirable DNA.
- belong to a tribe or community that can support your offspring (until they in turn can reproduce).
This is why purely looking at humans as self serving is faulty. Humans have evolved to depend on a community to survive, especially when raising children which are a burden on that community while they are young.
Reproducing and community are both essential ingredients for successful reproduction (in an evolutionary sense) for humans and as such they are equally motivated for both these goals.
The evolved group biological urge
All our ancestors have also predominantly belonged to groups that have survived.
Humans working together are stronger than humans working alone. The more closely knit a group, the stronger they are. Thus communal tribes and communal traits have flourished, even to the degree that people will sacrifice themselves even without passing on their DNA for the good of the group.
Protecting our community is a strong evolved urge.
The cultural urges
Homo Sapiens were the ultimate winners within the Human genus in that they eventually wiped out other human species such as the neanderthals.
Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind suggests that this was enabled by Homo Sapiens ability to invent myth and culture. This in turn enabled numbers greater than that of a neanderthal tribe to work together. Without common myths neanderthals could not cooperate in numbers of greater than around 100 people. This is because their tribes could only operate by personal relationship (and thus trust) between all members, but we can only have personal relationships with so many people.
A modern day example of a myth would be a nation which is a concept in the minds of the people that live in that nation that allow them to work together and trust strangers.
For monkeys and neanderthals it is sufficient to purely look at the evovled biological individual and group urges. These urges are still paramount to human motivation in the modern world, but it is important to note that we have developed cultural motivations which are entirely separate from them. For example, an individual wanting to become a celebrate priest despite that this means they won’t reproduce. Indeed, religion can align people to work together without any bloodshed, so cultural programming can be beneficial (and of course can have drawbacks).