How what seems like a curse makes possible always having something to do, self-forgetfulness, and a new grounding for social life.
Thinkers like Lacan are famous for explaining why desire ultimately cannot complete itself and ever find “final fulfillment” or “completion,” and I completely agree that desire in this life is never satisfied. Dissatisfaction seems built into desire’s very structure, a point which also brings The Weight of Glory to mind by C.S. Lewis, and on the face of it this realization is horrifying. We can never be satisfied. Doesn’t that mean life is a joke? Maybe, but it also might mean we can always have something to do. Isn’t that great?
We seem to think that if we gained what we wanted, we’d find a state where we ceased wanting anything. And indeed, that can happen, but it’s called boredom. Our mistake was believing that a cessation of want and desire was blissful and pleasurable, when really it turns out that there is hardly anything worse (and can cause widespread mental illness, I fear). Boredom isn’t when we find there is nothing to do, but when we cease to see significance in what we could do. It is a loss of meaning and point. This is what it means to be free of desire. Overcoming desire is not a state of satisfaction but insignificance. And we have built much of society on a structure which means to “fulfill desire,” which in one way is good and has worked to generate “The Great Enrichment” discussed by thinkers like Deirdre McCloskey, but this structure relies on “external incentives,” and now we see a need for “internal incentives,” which I align with “intrinsic motivation.” We are at a time in which a Hegelian negation/sublation is needed.
This paper will not restate the argument that “desire cannot be fulfilled” — I think this is covered well enough in Lacan and in the field of psychoanalysis in general. This paper will operate assuming this premise and explore its ramification. For those who do not buy the notion, I would have you turn to others who focus on say Lacan and the field. In this work, I would like to suggests that what is taken as a pessimistic solution that “we cannot get what we want” is precisely why we can keep going and it not be hell.
A critical lesson from economics is that we create the world through systems of motivations more than systems of ideas. We are not changed by what we think but by what motivates us, and if we want to change the world, we must change what moves it. However, it is clear that external incentives can run into trouble (as articulated in the whole “Meta-Crisis conversation”), however powerful and useful they might prove (as “The Great Enrichment” makes clear). At this point, a new world cannot be a matter of “a new external incentive,” but an entirely different kind of incentive. For me, besides the incentives that can arise “between the external and internal” (which for me is more intrinsic anyway), the only other kind is “intrinsic incentives,” and those are the material of “intrinsic motivation.” This is a kind of motivation which is antifragile, noncontingent, and ultimately creative. It’s opposite is boredom, and we today in experiencing boredom need little convincing of the need to try its opposite.
Desire is always a problem, and economics is in the business of managing desires. The work of René Girard is a social theory which also brilliantly expounds on how societies manage “the problem of desire” through religion and sacrifice, and indeed there seems to be a major problem today with the loss of “the scapegoat mechanism” and introduction of nuclear weaponry. A popular solution to “the problem of desire” today, given Girard, is introducing Buddhism to deal with “metaphysical desire,” notably Mahayana Buddhism. We see this in the work of Johnathan Bi and similar notions in Dr. Thomas Hamelryck, and indeed this seems to be a worthy angle of consideration. Though it might be a simplification, I would consider this “a strategy of managing desire,” and here I will be exploring “a strategy of fitting desire.” Both easily help us “negate” desire, which not addressing will leave us in a state of effacement. I will then explore this “fitting strategy” in terms of the social and macro-ramifications.
In my view, we break desire when we make it externally dependent and externally trained, for desire in its very being is not a thing which works when externally focused. Externality kills desire. A strategy for dealing with desire cannot kill desire, in my view for then we lose motivation and action, which means we have to “manage desire.” Again, some thinkers are exploring Buddhism to accomplish this very goal; here, we will focus on “intrinsic motivation,” which I believe is different.
When I say desire is best “fitted” in itself for “intrinsic motivation,” I am not saying desire cannot break or be destroyed, for indeed the prevalence of boredom today unveils this is possible. My point is that when desire works, it entails in itself its own resources to generate significance and meaning (in fact, they can come from nowhere else). That’s the magic of desire, but only when desire is directed on itself; otherwise, desire is more like a curse. It is fire, which both keeps us alive and can burn us alive. Life always risks death until the risk ends.
As I’ll elaborate on, if we could obtain what we desired, then our focus would (rationally) be on asking ourselves, “What do we want?” and then seeking that thing. But if desire is directed toward itself to “desire desire,” then desire has what it wants and cannot fail. This is “intrinsic motivation” (the “self-turning wheel” of Nietzsche), and funny enough when we are “intrinsically motivated,” it would seem we are more self-focused, but we actually become less so, because we cease comparing ourselves with our external environments. Furthermore, we are not upset or forced into failure by what is external to us, and it is that failure which often forces us to reflect back on ourselves and become self-aware. I spoke about this with Paul Robson on masculinity, but the point is that as we notice a doorknob when it breaks (to allude to Heidegger), so we notice ourselves when we fail. When we are “intrinsically motivated” though, we cannot break (after all, we have what we want; we’ve succeeded), and so we do not fall back into “self-awareness” so readily. When we are “intrinsically motivated,” we can just “be” and “act” — we don’t need to think about ourselves at all. We become present (and even “a present” to others).
Ultimately, “intrinsic motivation” is possible because desire cannot be fulfilled, only negated/sublated into something like “flow.” Desire ultimately desires to keep us desiring, which is to say active and alive: our mistake has been to approach desire as “getting,” when really desire is about “moving.” For me, this means the classic distinction between “drive and desire” has possibly contributed to our alienating problem.
If desire could be fulfilled, when it found “intrinsic motivation,” it would easily vanish and we would cease to act. Where exactly desire finds its “fitted-ness” must be something which desire plugs into and keeps going. If it found resolution and cessation, we’d basically die or cease to act, and this strikes me as potentially hellish, perhaps worse than never being able to find something to fulfill objects of desire. Thus, the mistake of interpreting the experience of desire as evidence that we need externalities is extremely consequential, for it is ultimately a kind of “death drive.” If the entire social order is erected upon this “death drive,” then we should not be surprised when it proves pathological.
There is no point at which a functioning boat loses the capacity to float on the ocean; as long as all the parts are in order, it could theoretically sail forever. Similarly, as long as our bodies are not broken or disabled, desire is a thing which could theoretically function forever. We have been trained to think of desire as something we solve away with objects, but this would be like thinking we “solve away” the capacity of a boat to float by putting it on water. In a way, we solve the inability of the boat to float, but when the boat is properly fitted with its structure, it actually begins floating (it’s function doesn’t go away but is in fact enacted). Likewise, when we fit desire with something it wants, it enacts its function of motivating us: we have made a terrible mistake of thinking that the function of desire is to gain something and then go away. Not at all: the point of desire is to motivate. The point of a boat isn’t to find water but to sail on it; likewise, the point of desire isn’t to have us act to find things we desire but to have us act. Getting people to act is the problem which desire solves, without which people would perish (which suggests the horrible irony of wanting to “fulfill desire” versus “fit desire,” though of course it depends on what we mean by these terms).
There are distinctions culturally between “drives” and “desires” (which are different from Lacan’s thinking, please note), where drives (or “needs”) like hunger and sex are distinct from say the desire for a new car. I don’t deny there is truth to this distinction, but I actually think desire itself is a drive and that the distinction too much identifies desire with “the objects of desire,” as if objects create desire and put desire into us (that without these objects, we basically wouldn’t have desire). I think this is a mistake, and I think we see children driven and desiring just in being themselves. Desire is what drives us: we seek food because we desire not to feel hunger, as we desire sex because we desire not to fill alone. For me, the distinction between “drives” and “desires” arises when we prioritize the objects of desire in our definition, but I wonder if this is to treat “the subject/object divide” as too real. I cannot think of a single drive that doesn’t entail a desire in it, and I also cannot think of desire as something that doesn’t drive us: for a distinction to arise between these two (which seems more blurred in phenomenological experience), I must take seriously external objects and treat them as somehow distinct from subjects. For if I don’t, then “desire” and “drive” are more like “desire/drive.”
“Drive” is traditionally associated with motivations that are generally biological, which is to say that because I have a stomach I get hungry, etc. “Desire” is thought of as a motivation that is more environmentally generated, which is to say that I want an apple because I see the apple or know apples exist in the world. But if there is a mistake in overly-dividing “subject and object,” there might be a mistake in similarly dividing “desire” and “drive,” and indeed I think this has lead us into thinking that desire can only be addressed by gaining the object of desire or learning to practice our ways out of desiring, which I associate with the Buddhist angles (though I might be wrong about that). If we try gaining the objects of desire, we are always frustrated when desire returns, which means we ultimately end up either pathological or depressed. But if we try “overcoming desire,” then we might lose action and motivation, which might hurt the flourishing of individuals and the society at large. However, if we start thinking of “desire as a drive,” then our entire framework can change in how we approach “the problem of desire.”
Critically, Lacan’s thinking on “drive and desire” are very different from what is culturally understood by the terms, for Lacan sees us as “driven” precisely by the impossibility of desire to gain what it desires (“the objet a”). I align far more with Lacan, but I almost wonder if my suggestion that “desire is a drive” might be different. I’m not sure, but Lacan seems to suggest that the subject is structured by the drive which results from the inevitable failures of desire. Indeed, I agree this is how the subject can be structured, and indeed seems to be so structured naturally (and perhaps there was a “historic period” in which this structuring was necessary, to make a Hegelian point), but my point is that there is another way. Instead of being driven by desire’s failure to gain its object, I am suggesting that the subject be structured by desire “fittings itself into itself.” Desire as such “negates” objects from its consideration and thus “sublates” itself into “a thing-in-itself,” which means it seeks and gains in the same act and “(be)coming.”
A move from “drive arising out of desire’s failure” to “desire/drive” is a move from “wanting a boat” to “being a boat,” which is a move from being driven by a desire to gain to being a drive/desire already unfolding. The failures of desire which drive us are a result of not seeing desire as what is driving us; we are confusing desire with objects themselves when it is only “toward” objects and using them for itself (a point which brings to mind section 360 in The Gay Science on Nietzsche’s incredible distinction between “Will” and “purpose”). We need “a thing-in-itself,” as Kant discussed, but his mistake was perhaps locating that “thing-in-itself” in objects (as critiqued by Hegel); really, it can be found in the desire which desires itself. No, desire isn’t necessarily “a thing-in-itself,” but if it rightly conditions itself, it can be. We should have desire desire to be “the thing-in-itself,” which would be for us to be “ourself-for-ourself.” This is “intrinsic motivation.” This is not gaining “the thing-in-itself” but (be)coming it. We cannot cross the noumena, but we can desire it.
What we call “desire” is simply the feeling of motivation “in” action (as in enacted and in the midst of action, a point which brings Blondel to mind). I don’t deny that external objects can create desires, but I don’t think they create desire itself. We desire, inherently. The problem is that we naturally attach desires to external objects, at which point a robust distinction between “drives” and “desires” seems necessary. But this distinction for me comes later and isn’t what we see in children: they want to eat just as much as they want to create forts out of blankets.
Children to me seem to “desire/drive,” per se, and I also do not see their subjectivity constituted primarily by a failure of gaining what they desire. I see this in adults all the time, yes, but I believe that structure of subjectivity comes after socialization, which indeed trains us to associate desire with objects of desire. This thus moves what we desire to something outside of ourselves, and at this point a robust distinction between “desire” and “drive” becomes rational, which then arranges the possibility of us being driven by the failures of our desires. But this is where for me I don’t see Lacan as wrong but mostly describing the subjects of adults; Lacan is where children in Western society naturally end up, but I don’t believe it is where children start. Children are far more “intrinsically motivated” (thus the wisdom of Nietzsche to make a child last in his metamorphosis), which is to say they operate according to “desire/drive” more than “desire and drive.”
If children want a fort, they don’t get frustrated by their inability to have one, but instead throw some blankets over chairs and decide that “this is a fort.” For adults, this isn’t a fort, but for children the phenomenon falls under the definition (they believe Derrida is right that definitions cannot be authoritative). They create in this act the possibility of seeing “blankets over chairs” as a fort, and if we say, “They’re wrong,” we are likely making this judgment in comparing the object of “chairs covered in blankets” with the object of a military base that we have seen on TV. We are thus creating a distance between us here and “the object of a fort” there on TV, which means we are creating for ourselves a situation of desire being frustrated (and if we actually went to the base on TV, we can always imagine a bigger and better base somewhere). Children show us that the situation isn’t necessarily one of frustration, though we of course experience the situation as necessarily such (otherwise, we wouldn’t submit ourselves to the frustration). In a sense, we could say that we choose for ourselves the meaning of Kant’s noumena, and where adults tend to see the noumena as what they cannot cross, children decide they cannot cross the noumena because they are it. And that changes everything: chairs with blankets can be forts.
Where children use their creativity to make what they have what they want (desire/drive), we often use creativity to make what we have not what we imagine. We are thus why our desire is frustrated and we are driven by that frustration; we are choosing how our subjectivity is structured. The children, on the other hand, are structuring their subjectivity as something which is able to create what it wants in what it has. They wanted a fort, and they decided chairs covered in a blanket are a fort. They used desire to drive them to create, while we use desire to drive us to long.
“Intrinsic motivation” is “drive/desire,” while “external motivation” is “drive and desire,” and we see in children the first while we see in adults (after socialization) more of the former. Obviously there is no human who is purely one or the other, and in fact a problem with children is precisely that they aren’t fully socialized and fail to appreciate that creativity doesn’t transform materiality itself. “Drive/desire” which isn’t socialized can be chaos and dangerous, but then also “drive and desire” can lead to boredom and what Lacan describes. What we need is “socialized drive/desire,” which for me means “a society which incubates intrinsic motivation” — which is “A Community of Absolute Knowing,” as discussed throughout O.G. Rose and Belonging Again, possibly our greatest challenge.
Children can desire and enact that desire in the same act: they create what they want, and so their subjects are not constructed by failures but by the creative act of making what they desire. In this way, they neither fail or succeed really, just make (which entails a kind of “success,” but not a success the same as reaching a goal, which Nietzsche was right to note can be dangerous). Yes, children will use the external world, but the external world is the material of their intrinsic motivations versus the cause and source of their motivations. In children, “drive and desire” are negated/sublated into “drive/desire,” and if this kind of motivation generates creativity and Deirdre McCloskey is correct, then it is this kind of motivation which caused “The Great Enrichment,” not “extrinsic motivation.” If our world wants to be richer then, replacing “desire and drive” with “desire/drive,” which can help us all be more “child-like” (than “childish/adults”), is paramount. (We could associate adults with “space” and children with “timing,” by the way, to allude to the work of Javier Rivera.)
We must be socialized to understand we are limited precisely so that we can be “open” to others (Hegel’s “being-other”) without at the same time losing our sense of creativity possibility. Once we cease to believe we can be creative, then we cannot create what we desire, and thus “desire/drive” must be “desire and drive.” At this point, we must indeed structure subjectivity as Lacan describes it, but we see in children an alternative option. Perhaps this is why Jesus said we must be like children?
It makes sense that we have the drive to eat, because without food we’d never have energy. The drive to eat isn’t arbitrary then, but linked to a reality of Physics from which we learn that we require energy to live. Perhaps sex is a drive tied to the Biological reality that humans tend to die in utter isolation, and furthermore they require others to develop language and intellectually develop. In both of these examples, we can see where drive arises from something based in facticity, and I would basically argue that “the drive of desire” (drive/desire) arises from the perhaps Chemical or Physical facticity that we require desire to move and function. Desire seems like “the chemical reaction” that makes things work, the start of “a chain reaction” that gets things going. Desire seems like energy, but energy seems more fundamental than chemistry, and it’s hard for me to imagine desire occurring if we had no food, hence why I want to associate food with Physics and desire with Chemistry, while sex is more emergent than both of these as Biology. Hard to say, but I am tempted to associate food with Physics, sex with Biology, and drive/desire with Chemistry, but I’m not sure (and please note Biology is made of Chemistry and Physics, as Chemistry is made of Physics, so there is overlap). However, the point is that if we take seriously “The Vector Theory” of Alexander Elung and Alexander Bard, we can say that each human “need” and “drive” arises as a result of a Vector which composes the human being.
The reason I described this is to suggest why desire isn’t externally created but instead necessary given the problem of needing to get things to act. Now, since humans have Minds, it will not suffice for our drives to be simply Biological or Chemical, but rather we will also need a Mental drive/desire, and that is where imagination comes into play (Mind is a more emergent Vector than Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, and so Mind needs a drive/desire distinction from what Biology requires in sexuality). Where we operate according to “drive and desire,” we fall into using the imagination to create Lacan’s triad (The Real, Symbolic, and the Imaginary), but where we operate according to “drive/desire” (“intrinsic motivation”), then all of these categories converge. Reality is what we imagine, all of which is symbolic of us and our Will. For others to interact with what we create is for them to enter into “our symbolic order,” which means the Symbolic is symbolic of what we have made and what we think. If we make a fort out of blankets, it really is a fort, because forts are what we imagine, and if someone goes inside the fort, they accept the symbolic order I have created. In “the creative act,” Lacan’s triad all comes together, whereas when “the failure of desire causes drive,” then it is the failure of the Imagined not to be Real (a failure caused by the Real) which then generates a Symbolic order in which we can all live together with that failure. What drives the triad is division and concealing that division, whereas for children the triad is all there, in “the fort.” The subject of children is created more than frustrated.
Now, again, we somehow must move into adulthood and socialization as children so that we can be “child-like” versus “child-ish,” and so facing Lacan is very necessary, but I stress that the emergence of the subject found in Lacan isn’t all that we can hope for — there is “child-likeness” beyond it, a state of “socialized intrinsic motivation.” Perhaps the main goal of O.G. Rose is helping us approach how this might be possible on a widescale, and I cannot help but see “The Final Absolute Choice” as an act of “child-likeness” which brings together Lacan’s triad similar to what occurs when children “create a fort.”
The function of desire is not to gain something external but to propel us internally. Desire is a gift, we could say, that makes it possible for us to propel ourselves forever. Since desire can never be fulfilled, if we desire it on ourselves, we will always have something to do and can be “perpetual movers.” Desire arguably is motivation, for it is hard for me to imagine being motivated to do something without desire being involved. What about when I am motivated to do something I don’t want to do? Well, if we utterly didn’t want to do it, we wouldn’t, so if we do something “we don’t want to do,” then there must be some degree of desire involved (a point which brings Augustine to mind on how there is “no such thing as a bad intention”; likewise, there is no such thing as “a desireless motivation”). If indeed desire is motivation, then desire is necessary for us to act, and thus it follows that it would exist so that we could stay alive. The trick is to keep acting, and this requires desire to not confuse itself with external objects. The point of desire is to keep desiring. It is the ground of its own being, Heidegger’s “Being” versus another “being.”
Desire is always a problem, but desire is also its own solution, which ironically is why it is such a problem: its solution is meta, and “thinking meta” is not natural of us. It is far more natural for us to direct desire toward external objects which seem to be what desire exists to gain, but this is the confuse material which desire can use with being its source. The external world does not create desire; desire is intrinsic, because desire is its drive. Unfortunately, since it seems natural for us to believe “externalities create desires,” it becomes natural for us to define apart “drive” and “desire,” at which point it becomes unnatural to think that desire can be its own drive. But if this is possible, then everything can change.
Economics is a study of incentives, and society is arguably made in the image and likeness of its economics more than anything else. Government plays a big role, yes, but when we understand the economy as a profound system of information exchange and coordination (as argued by Hayek, Mises, and others), then we see the economy as the emergent coordination of millions of people who do not know one another. It’s miraculous, but there is a “meta-dimension” which organizes the economy, mainly our philosophical and abstract notions of what constitutes desire and how we fulfill it. The current paradigm of Global Capitalism is one of “extrinsic motivation” and “extrinsic incentives,” and this indeed seem to have a necessary role in the socioeconomic order: please do not interpret me as saying we should make a point erase these. Not all: my point is that we should cultivate “intrinsic motivation” amidst them. “The Great Enrichment” which Dr. McCloskey discusses verifies the power of “extrinsic motivators,” and so banning them would be foolish. Rather, the point is that we are reaching a historic period (after “The Death of God”) where “intrinsic motivation” needs to be added to the equation.
Currently, it is arguably bad if people cease being consumers and materialistic, because the entire economy will come to a screeching halt. We can talk all day about the trouble with materialism, but then at the same time we can stress the need for growth and consumption — a strange paradox. Furthermore, we see people who don’t desire bored and not being productive, so any talk of “being free of desire” somehow can seem problematic and pathological. We can observe how a loss of desire corresponds with a collapse of motivation, and since our only notion of desire is “desiring something,” than we find ourselves unable to escape consumerism and materialism, despite how much we might critique. We are driving a car while mocking the engine.
However, if it is possible for desire to be its own source of motivation when turned on itself (“a meta-move,” per se), then it is not the case that the loss of desire for external goods would be the loss of motivation nor necessarily a decline in productivity (in fact, consumption may decrease while productivity increases, which is a positive in two ways). Arguably, there’s a far higher likelihood there will actually be productivity where there is “intrinsic motivation” than where there is “external motivation,” because “intrinsic motivation” usually entails a far deeper and more intimate analysis of the value actually being created. When we are “extrinsically motivated,” we are easily doing something we don’t want to do and just “trying to get through the day,” which suggests that whatever production is generated is easily not “the best of all possible productivity” (though I don’t want to claim it has none at all). This brings to mind the work of David Graeber and the economics of “zombie companies,” both data points which suggest that “our productivity is not as productive as it could be.” Where “intrinsic motivation” was present, I believe there would be a higher probability that our productivity was better and of a higher quality. “Intrinsic motivation” correlates strongly with creativity, and I believe creativity is the main driver of growth, as argued throughout O.G. Rose. Furthermore, widespread “intrinsic motivation” seems to be the only way for us to avoid “widespread despair” as automation and AI spread and take jobs. Currently, automation seems like a nightmare, but if we were “intrinsically motivated,” then AI might be a blessing: it would free us up to do more of what we actually want to do. In this way, we can see where the nature of our motivation changes the meaning of out future. How we are motivated determines in what we can hope.
There might be cultural bias that makes us associate “self-created motivation” with “fake motivation,” for we tend to think spatially (as Javier Rivera notes), and where there is no “subject/object divide, we can struggle to think there is anything real at all. It can seem absurd of us to discuss desire as if we can have a goal of “desiring to desire,” and in fact that might strike us as a rationalization of complacency and laziness. After all, what if I am “intrinsically motivated” to watch Netflix? Indeed, perhaps that’s a possibility, but please note that “Netflix addiction” is a problem now, so the fact that such might occur due to “intrinsic motivation” doesn’t strike me as necessarily a hit against the model. At the same, I tend to observe that “the intrinsically motivated” tend to consume differently than people who are only “extrinsically motivated,” for children will play a videogame and then want to make one for themselves. The motivation of children is often in service of creation, whereas consumption that is the goal, in that consumption, seems far more problematic. Without “intrinsic motivation,” it seems far more difficult for consumption to prove inspiring.
Anyway, we might be biased to assume that a goal must be for something external to us, and indeed it can be far easier to tell others about a goal that we socially agree is valuable versus try to justify an “intrinsic motivation” that only we can really understand (suggesting that society tends to motivate us to be extrinsic). And indeed, “intrinsic motivation” entails using the external environment, but the difference is that the external environment is not treated as a source for desire. That is where we get into trouble, for such would have us operate according to a “subject/object divide” which places us in the realm of “desire and drive.” This is where “intrinsic motivation” can be lost and we fall into Lacan’s triad, and yet if we associate “real goals” with ones that operate in this divide, we will associate “being real” with operating according to Lacan. And thus what Lacan describes will be the only “real” option available to us…
Moving on and inspired by Timothy Keller, the topic of “self-forgetting” comes up often in O.G. Rose, and I am of the opinion that a new political order can be considered erected upon “self-forgetting” (versus “self-centered” or “selfless”). To truly forget ourselves though, focus on objects external to us is a real threat, because we can fail to gain those objects and then reflect on ourselves as failing to gain them. Furthermore, we are regularly aware of where we stand in relation to those objects, which is to say if we are close to getting them, if we are far away, and so on. The “subject/object” divide becomes very real to us, and so also is very real our awareness of where we stand relative to objects. And if they are the source of our desire and thus our motivation, we must be: we have little possibility of action and motivation without undergoing and causing “self-awareness.” Sure, we might fall out of “self-awareness” every now and then, but the “meta-structure” organizing our life is one which has us constantly assessing ourselves in relation to objects and things outside of ourselves, making “self-forgetfulness” hard to gain (and “the hell of self-relating negativity” hard to avoid).
It would seem to me that the only sustainable possibility of “self-forgetfulness” requires “intrinsic motivation,” and so a society that wants one without the other might be impossible. “Self-forgetting” is when we simply stop thinking about ourselves, and in this way our “self” is simply something we use (like our thumb) without thinking about it. We become “pure action,” in a sense, and this brings to mind Nietzsche’s “self-turning wheel.” In this state, free of the “object/subject-divide,” we become our goal, which is to say we our are “object(ive),” per se. As such, we cannot think of ourselves in relation to objects or goals we do not have, and thus are freed of a prime source of self-awareness. In this way, we can see how “A State of Self-Forgetfulness” will be a culture which incubates “intrinsic motivation” instead of “extrinsic motivation.”
Failure makes us reflect back on ourself (as I discussed with Paul Robson), whereas “intrinsic motivation” is a state in which we cannot fail because we are accomplishing our goal in acting, which ironically can make it seem like we are not succeeding at anything. The revelation of boredom is that after we achieve a goal we have nothing left, whereas in “intrinsic motivation” we make that state our default of having “nothing to do,” and in so doing this we negate/sublate it into a state in which we have “nothing to do.” We have no goal to achieve, for we are achieving it, and so a state of nothing becomes a state in which action occurs. “Intrinsic motivation” is when we need nothing, and thus it is when we are free of objects that we are most motivated. Objects tempt us with something to do instead of acting in and with nothing.
The sight of food can make me hungry, as the sight of a car can make me desire it, but it would be a mistake to say that therefore food causes hunger, as it would be a mistake to say that desire is always caused by objects I see. Girard notes that desire is mimetic, and indeed this seems to be the case once desire seeks something external of it. But must desire seek objects? No, no more than hunger must make me eat food that doesn’t belong to me. Desire indeed uses external objects, but it is not the case that desire must be caused by externalities. Desire is its own cause, for desire is a drive which we require to act (as we can find reason to believe if we watch the behavior of children, which is to say Lacan may have been adult-centric, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for his thinking can be all the more useful to adult thanks to this focus). Though it might sound strange to discuss “desire which creates itself,” it would not be so strange if we talked about having “motivation for ourselves.” In this way, I’m not sure if it is useful to discuss “motivation” and “desire” as if they are separate, for phenomenologically I can identify little difference.
Children are a revelation of the possibility of “intrinsic motivation,” which is to say we operate according to “desire/drive” versus “desire and drive,” the later of which makes us vulnerable to Lacan’s triad in problematic ways. Now, this must ultimately be worked to “socialize intrinsic motivation,” which is incredible difficult. How might the social order look if this was accomplished? What would the nature be of the socioeconomic order? Well, this is where Belonging Again hopes to venture and explore.
Girard is right about desire being a problem, but to erase desire would be to erase motivation, and this would be the end of our socioeconomic order, I fear — addressing Girard by escaping desire is addressing the problems of Belonging Again with isolation. This is not the way I think that is best, but instead we must learn to direct desire toward the right end, mainly itself, thus negating/sublating desire into a drive. How might desire always desire? Well, by being its own end, which means it somehow sees value in itself. Okay, but how? By cultivating our capacity to make and choose value in ourselves, which is when we can desire for desire to “flow.”