I am currently reading The Consolation of Philosophy [goodreads.com] by Boethius. And listening along to the Tolkien Professor’s [tolkienprofessor.com] Mythgard Academy podcast [mythgard.org] of their discussion.
In book two of Consolation, there is a discussion of what drives humans:
Some believe the highest good is being rich without want, so they toil to gain an abundance of wealth. Others think the good is winning the best reputation, so they seek the respect of their fellow citizens by obtaining honors. There are those who locate the highest good in the highest power. They want either to be rulers themselves or to ally themselves with those who are. To others the good seems to be the greatest fame, so they rush to spread their glorious name abroad by works of war or peace. But the largest portion measure the fruit of the good by sensual pleasure and joy. They suppose the happiest man abandons himself to pleasure. There are also those who confuse ends and means, like those who desire riches for the sake of power and pleasures, or who seek power for the sake of money or fame.Boethius, from The Consolation of Philosophy, book 2, prose 2
This reminded me of something that a history teacher once said to me, and my whole class. I’m wondering now if they go the idea from Boethius, they never explained where it came from, and I think we were all too shocked to ask for more details. No doubt this is paraphrasing, as it was decades ago, and maybe it’s been refined over many retellings, but this is the essence of what they said:
Money, power, prestige and sex, are the four drive of the human race. Once basic needs are met, it is the desire to possess these four things that has shaped history.History teacher who shall remain anonymous
If you have hung out with me for any significant length of time over the last three decades or so you have hear that, over coffee or beer or stronger. It has suck with me, I wonder if anyone else in the class remembers it?
Boethius actually lists five drives: wealth, reputation, power, fame and sensual pleasure, but it’s close enough. Reputation is as much of a function of the others as a goal itself. I wonder if my teacher had ever read Consolation?
Can you boil history down to money, power, prestige and sex? Probably not. But there are a lot of incidents in history, large and small, that are driven by these things. Wars over natural resources often boil down to money. Hunger for power has driven many a king, emperor or chancellor to conquest. Prestige? That’s a bit harder. But sex driving “history” is as old as the Trojan War.
There was actually a corollary to the four drives. It’s probably offensive, and it’s definitely sexist, and I debated even adding it here, since the internet never forgets and people will assume the worst about you. But for most of human history sexism was the default, and while no doubt this is a Reductio ad absurdum, it puts an interesting spin on the whole statement. Anyway, the corollary, added later by another friend is:
If you are a man; money, power and prestige are how you get sex. If you are a woman; sex is how you get money, power and prestige.
I told you it was sexist.