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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Self-Determination Theory

From a libertarian perspective, there is probably few psychosocial theories more promising than self-determination theory

Self-determination theory (SDT) posits that all human beings share a basic and universal psycho- logical need for autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1985a, 2000, 2002, 2008). In this framework, autonomy is defined as a subjective experience, characterized by feeling free and by endorsing one’s actions. In particular, the experience of autonomy is characterized by feeling free of interpersonal coercion. In accord with SDT, when people feel more autonomous, they experience greater psychological and physical well-being, they are happier and healthier. However, to the degree that satisfaction of the need for autonomy is thwarted, research findings indicate that people suffer both psychological and physically.
 In this particular paper, the authors point out that this theory helps explain the fact that when humans feel coerced, they tend to act in a less civilized manner. In other words, the more government tries to control people, the less civilized they behave. A few implications:

1) An uncivilized act gives rise to control, which gives rise to more uncivilized acts, which gives rise to more control, etc.

2) The control of people inherent in socialism makes people less civilized.

 Of course, much of this is a matter of perception. If people don't feel controlled, they continue to behave in a civilized manner. But if one does feel like one's life is being controlled -- no matter what is doing the controlling, whether it be internal to the person or external to the person -- the response is to violently rebel. For those familiar with the existentialists' view of rebellion, this should sound familiar. 

In many ways, much of what this paper says is no surprise to your typical libertarian. It merely confirms what libertarians have intuited. However, it is good to have a specific theory explaining those intuitions. Government actions, according to this theory, are a positive harm precisely because government actions are necessarily coercive. There are no doubt other implications for a variety of human interactions and  especially management practices within organizations.


Leftcom in the Endtimes said...

And how does stupifying wage-labor fit into your schema? Do you think baristas, call center drones, and factory line workers get much "self-determination"?

Troy Camplin said...

First, it's not my schema. I am simply noting that this theory is out there, and that it makes sense.

Second, it applies to all situations in which people feel like their lives are not self-determined. There are people who feel their lives are self-determined no matter how oppressive the government is. There are others who feel their self-determination is lost with the slightest rule or regulation. There are those who believe government is oppressive; there are those who find various jobs oppressive.

Third, just because you find being a barista, etc. stupefying, that does not mean all -- or even most -- do. I personally feel that way, but I'm also not so arrogant as to assume that everyone does or should feel exactly the same way as I do about such jobs.

The point is that this psychological theory in fact fits in quite well with subjective value theory. The person's subjective evaluation of the level of their own lack of self-determination is what matters. If a person feels completely self-determined even under Leninism, Stalinism, fascism, Maoism, Naziism, Castroism, or any other kind of socialist system, they are not going to rebel. At the same time, we should expect more people in general to feel oppressed by such hierarchical regimes and, thus, we should expect to see more rebellion -- both covert and overt. The same is true in a business in which the employees feel that way.

So, whether the people feel that they are not all that self-determined because of the stupefying conditions created by socialism, welfare statism, bureaucracies, or firms, it doesn't matter. The point is that they, subjectively, feel under-self-determined. One should thus want to make it easier for people to get out of their situations in which they feel this way. There is more mobility in free markets than under socialism, because with free markets, there are a variety of bosses, while under socialism, there is one boss -- who you can never escape, and who treats you as a cog in the wheel of the machine. When people feel that way, no matter who is in charge of the machine, you may expect them to rage against it.

Troy Camplin said...
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