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.
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