The Motivation Crisis

[Looking back at some books published in the early 1990s, I note that their vision of the future, some 25+ years later, has become reality. I have come across this article of mine, published by me in May 2014 (four years ago). Nothing has changed since. To the contrary, news are reminding us that what I said then, it has become, even more, well-defined now.]


Something has been happening beneath the surface. Something is wrong.

Like a great many people, I watch the news on a daily basis. And, as an ex patriot, I tend to watch Italian news. Over the last few years of viewing I have developed a concern: there are more and more reported suicides in Italy. The victims are usually either (male) businessmen or unemployed. While this post has these people in mind, I am particularly interested in the reasons behind these suicides. In order to understand the matter at hand we need to consider two words which are central to the dilemma: apathy and motivation. But we can return to that later.

I believe that there is a similar suicidal trend in France but I don’t know if Spain and Greece also face their despair in the same way as Italy. The same can be said of the UK. Suicides here are kept very much under the lid. The socially depoliticised mass media companies and the police are reluctant to rock the boat with information that might bring down public morale. Of course this is not true of the spectacular – such as riots and bombings – but these things serve a very different purpose. Riots and bombings are unusual and they are therefore considered newsworthy – and the news of these things is easy to manipulate to a political end. It is food for a culture oversaturated with violence. But suicides are different. Suicide is not spectacular. Suicide is becoming ordinary. Homicides too. Murders are quiet frequent in London but are for the most part relegated to a few lines, hidden in local newspapers. This sort of violence is no longer so powerful – no longer so visceral – because it has become mundane.

The only people talking publically – and seriously – about suicide are the support networks that exist to combat its insurgency. For instance, staggering figures on the annual number of suicides are published and frequently updated by the Samaritans. Their reports show that, in England alone, 4509 individuals committed suicide in 2011. The 35-plus suicides reported in Italy for the month of January 2014 seem to be just a drop in the ocean. But what brings these people to take their lives?

Most of the victims were failing entrepreneurs – people whose businesses could not survive; whose bills and taxes rose and whose investments turned into nothing. These suicides are of course tied to two of the largest social problems faced by the country. For many Italians, there is little trust in the concept of starting over and almost no trust at all in the system and the corrupt institutions by which it is administrated. But simply, it seems that people have given up hope. There is no willpower because no one expects anything to change.

Apathy is a reduction in behaviour, due to lack of motivation. It differs from depression in that the individual feels no discomfort. He or she is apathetic to his condition. Depression, often correlates with anxiety and causes a negative mood and lack of pleasure (anhedonia), which can escalate until one has the desire to die. Of course the two are linked but depression is not the root cause. Depression is allowed to develop by a culture of apathy – one in which there is an utter lack of motivation.

Motivation is the expression of the reasons that induce a person to perform or tending to perform toward a particular action. From a psychological point of view it can be defined as the set of dynamic factors with a given origin that drive the behaviour of an individual to a given destination; according to this view, every action taken without motivation is likely to fail. Motivation has two essential functions: to both activateand direct specific behaviours. In the first case, reference is made to the energy component of the activation of motivation. In the second case refers to the directional component of orientation.

And what if apathy is accentuated and motivation is taken away?

Conspiracy theorists would probably call it a success on the part of any government involved. Masses of people: all too busy paying the bills, covering their mortgages, financing their cars and mobile phones, tired from the commute, always wrapped up in time consuming but ultimately pointless social media activities and utterly dazed by heavily regulated and largely senseless media and entertainment broadcasts. And maybe the conspiracy theorists have something right there: after all, every government has something to gain by controlling its people.

Conspiracy theorists might well mention HAARP. They might argue that our governments are cautious: that it is not enough to keep the populous busy; that they could subdue us by releasing chemical trails into our skies.

Sadly this is a fact – and no one is doing anything about it.

Since the 1950s, technology has given us everything that we actually need and more. Intelligent cars, intelligent home appliances, mobile phones, wireless connectivity and tablets that link us to our friends and colleagues, global positioning systems, the ability to watch movies and television programs at any time and without much in the way of limitations, endless games and television productions, the internet, its rapid expansion, its ability to link everything to everything else and much, much more.

How on earth did our parents and grandparents survive in the 50s and 60s?

There were no mobile phones and no internet. People were considered to be lucky if they had two, maybe even three television channels – all black and white and available for only a few hours at a time. Washing machines and dish washers were very rare and most cars didn’t have a clock or central locking or even air conditioning. How could they cope with their daily lives? They must have all been really stressed out with nothing much to distract them!

As it happens, it was just the opposite.

All of a sudden we have everything and even more is always around the corner. And of course the governments want to make sure that we all keep busy – very busy. They have everything to gain from a distracted public: an underclass of drones who only have time to work and drink and watch the television – and – of course – pay their taxes.

In technical terms: we have lost effective communication. That, in turn, translates into low self-efficacy and self-esteem, ending in the destabilisation and eventual deconstruction of motivation. Our television is 24/7. Our news is 24/7. Our shops are 24/7. We are becoming 24/7. Everything is in competition for our attention. There is so much to do that everything must be scheduled.  Everything must have its slot: our commute, our work, our play. Our freedom has become almost entirely mediatised. Leisure time has replaced free time because almost every leisure activity is far from free. The truth is that we have less time in which to enjoy ourselves than our parents did – and that doesn’t make sense!

Our attention has been thoroughly divided. We are unable to fully react to the vast quantity of data with which we are bombarded and so we all fall deeper and deeper into a highly addictive sort of apathy. As there is not enough time in our daily lives, we choose not to question events and instead react to the cleverly encoded demands of our leaders. And no ­– I don’t mean the politicians. For the most part they are as duped as we are. Our leaders are not the politicians. They are the owners of the systems themselves and they are not individuals. There is no particular enemy. Instead there are only broken systems. Political systems. Economic systems. Cultural systems. The world is becoming nothing but systems. All of which can be and are constantly manipulated by those who wish to advance their own stranglehold on the rest of the world. It is a new kind of imperialism. Nothing more. And it is served by apathy. Decades of apathy have made controllable flocks of sheep out of us all.

Apathy is chemical. It is a cocktail of powerful drugs that has been used to keep the population under control. And those in despair are rendered unable to react, unable to reach a logical solution to their crises. Despite previous successes in life and work, these people are taking their lives away. Death presents a possibility: an escape. Not everyone would word it like that – but it is true all the same.

Apathy functions between three realms of human behaviour: emotion, conation and intellect. To move a step further we could look at adaptive apathy which can also be referred as selective or relative apathy. It provides us with perhaps the best example of its use by dominant systems of control. Relative apathy is manifest in the fact that an innocent, typically considerate and caring person can be passionate about watching and supporting a football team, but have no passion to say or do or feel anything about the violence that is inflicted on children and women in their own neighbourhood.

So what is the answer?

There isn’t an answer.

Not yet. But we could work on it. We could keep trying. We could keep all of this in mind. We could keep trying to find ways to become motivated.

Motivation does not come in the form of a pill – it really is not that easy –  but a kick in the backside is often enough.

So perhaps that is what we need.

At any rate – we would do well to remember that conation and intellect were given to us at birth. And if we allow our culture to switch these off, well, we deserve what we get.