Theory of Scare : A Unified Approach to Human Behavior



By Mr. Thannarong Viboonsunti


Statement of the problem : One of Rudyard Kipling's most well known quotation is "West is West and East is East, and never the twain shall meet". Written in 1889, this statement remains true today in the information age. From the Wisdom of Buddhism and most of eastern religions in general, there is no absorption of the best ideas of the East into the West even after more than 1 00 years of contact. As a result, not only the west, but the whole world is facing serious depletion of resources and severe environmental problems now and in the future. This is because the West's consumption is the end, while in the East it is the means. Secondly, man is trainable by himself to be wealthy and to be selfless, though by man's nature he loves his own self-interest the most. There are no words such as 'money is barren', 'usury' or even 'just price' in Buddhism. But it has some common rules of life of 'severity' and 'diligence' as in Calvinism laid down more than 2500 years ago. For example, in this world accomplish­ments for layman (ditthadha-mmikatha), are from:

  • utthana-sampada (plenitude of diligence)

  • arakkha-sampada (plenitude of preserving resources)

  • kalayana-mittata (keeping the company of good people)

  • samajivita (spending according to his purse)

To be selfless, a man has to have 'wisdom' (panna) and keeping the company of good people is a first step toward right understanding of Noble Eightfold Path. He has to move up the ladder from layman to hermit in samata (realization of calm), and then to vipassana (realization of reality) levels of development of man.

In the United States alone, human capital investment is promoted only to increase productivity in economic terms. As G. S. Becker1 conceded spending on education alone in the U.S. is 7-1/2 of GDP [spending on related education such as on-the-job and other training, but not on health]. But no words are mentioned about training them to be selfless. As a result, they become the slaves of their own creation-money. In term of environment, if the nature is saved, it is only for man2. The West envisages that it is man's ward; it is man's world. Therefore, man cannot find 'peace' of mind or state of no war throughout history. The cost of conflicts, wars and cost of fear [spending on religion and ritual] is very high indeed.

Max Weber3 even wrongly explained that eastern religion rejected the world.

"Indian religiosity is the cradle of those religious ethics which have abnegated the world, theoretically, practically, and to the greatest extent. It is also in India that the 'technique' which corresponds to such abnegation has been most highly developed. Monkhood, as well as the typical ascetic and contemplative manipulations, were not only first but also most consistently developed in India. And it was perhaps from India that this rationalization set out on its historical way throughout the world at large".

If Buddhism was a religion that abnegated the world, Lord Buddha himself would not have preached for 45 years. As a Perfect One he had no more self-fulfillment desire and even the latent tendency of conceit (mananusaya) was eradicated. Still he was in the midst of society to preach his dhamma (reality) for the benefit of mankind. Indian religions might seem to abnegate the world because the 'technique' he mentioned is to block, defilement coming through six doors of perception by meditation in 'samata' (realization of calm), Lord Buddha continued to use vipassana (realization of reality) 'technique'.

T. W. Rhys Davids of England's Pali Text Society in 1881 and his later writers contradicted the meaning of no self in Buddhism4. They noted there are two selves: The Great Self and the Little Self because they confused 'self in relative term of layman and samata, and self in absolute (vipassana) term. In Theravada Buddhism there is only self in relative term, but not in absolute one. Moreover, the conception that the Middle Way to nirvana is the' annihilation' of the self is also a serious mistake. There is no self to be annihilated. We see that the conception of self is only an illusion of layman. At a stream-winner stage of development the illusion of self in man is eradicated. On the other hand there is no evidence that any standard economics textbook of the West has given some thought to limited human want.5 On the contrary, most of the writings of the present - day relating to economics have sought affluent society or leisure class though with some negative ideas about it [Galbraith6 and Veblen].7

Many economists and social scientists have protested against the positive economics over normative one8. They wondered if mere imitation of scientific approach to make economics more positive or even to claim it as the queen of social sciences was really enough. Human behavior is determined by value and from the very beginning of the era of civilization economics flowed from then the lips of the philosophers such as Aristotle. It continued through the medieval scholastics i.e. the idea of Just price' and 'usury'. Even A. Smith who is considered to be the writer of the first economics text was a moral philosopher. In 1963 Schumacher9 reversed the trend by writing Buddhist Economics (Small is Beautiful) but it is not comprehensive enough. It took Maynard Keynes 10 in 1936 less than 10 years to respond to the Great Depression in 1929 because Classical School 11 [1776] failed to explain the phenomenon.

The West has not assimilated any Eastern wisdom at all. Moreover, as human beings we respond to the same impulse from our own fear instinct. What makes us different from each other in behavior is the process of socialization. The serious problem at present is that we tend to apply the Western theory especially in social sciences to the East. The frame of reference of the West is not the same as that of the East: They are many such factors as production, sectors of economy, public finance, foreign trade, households, savings and investment, and dynamic influences. B. Higgins has aptly depicted it in his Economic Development. 12

The foreign technical assistance 'expert' that remains long enough in the field typically goes through three stages.

  • "Everything here is different from what we use at home; that is terrible, we must change everything."

  • "Why should we force on these happy people the frictions and neuroses of our Western society?"

  • "To develop or not to develop is not one for the West to answer."

J.H. Boeke's 'dualistic economy' of the East is of special interest. He indicated that the Eastern societies, in contrast to the Western ones are social, not economic. They give more value to their commodities because of prestige, not price. He continued that one of the main characteristics of Eastern economy is 'limited needs.'13

Review of Literatwe : Adam Smith is considered to be the first writer of Economics book with his book "An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" [1776]. He considers only self-interest that leads to security, not what is behind it. He writes:

"Every individual... neither intends to promote the general interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. He intends only his security, his own gain".14

After Adam Smith, most of the texts on economics have emphasized production, distribution, and consumption in positive terms. Only some of them give more understanding of the problems of normative elements. For example, Schumacher15 has indicated that it is the changes in the western philosophy in the last three/four centuries regarding man's attitude to nature i.e. desire to conquer it are more important. And the Western society as already a consumerism­oriented society. At a higher stage of capitalism distribution has become a serious problem leading to inequality and inequity in the works of Industrial Revolution.16 W.W Rostow17 has depicted the highest stage of capitalism in... the Age of High Mass-Consumption where consumers can pursue the goal of consumption beyond their basic need. There is no limit to growth.

Hobbles18 and Rousseau,19 on the other hand, give better understanding of the nature of man, which is the basic of all human behaviours. Hobbles has conceded that man is naturally aggressive, avaricious, proud, selfish, and afraid. [Theravada (old school), Buddhism seems to share the same view with him but with vivid solutions both at worldly and supra level]. But Rousseau asserted that man is the way he is because he is a product of society.20 Mary Midgley gave21 more interdisciplinary approach to human behavior from ethnology point of view. He has so suggested any linkage to economics nor does he say that it is connected with religion in anyway.

Hypothesis : Scare instinct is the main drive of human behavior.

Assumptions : Particularly in social sciences, there is a 'tyranny of words'. When many names are unknowingly being used for the same thing, or the same word is being used for different phenomena, scare instinct can be fear instinct or instinctual drive of aggression. Personally, scare is used here to imitate the word 'scarcity' in the origin of economics. In order to determine human behavior man's feared instinct is investigated here. Man's moral nature is the outcome of the nature of man genetically. In Theravada Buddhism, main human instinct is fear (others are reproduction, eating and sleeping). Though an economist always gives a law's meaning as 'law of nature', the word 'theory' is defined here in a milder form that further examination is wide open. In Buddhism, there are three categories of defilement. First, it is attachment where greed, avarice, want, desire, and craving dominate human behaviour. The second category consists in aversion, anger, aggressiveness, fright, scare, fear which man would like to get rid of at the first instance. The last one is ignorance or non-awareness of reality (dhamma) which is the root of all defilement. For economics it is a study of production, distribution, and consumption.

Method : It is theoretical qualitative interdisciplinary investigation into human behavior. Secondary sources of Theravada Buddhism will be the evidence and main theme of this investigation. Western ideas will be displayed and more light would be shed on human nature which has the same root: fear. How economics solves only some of man's fear will be discussed. But Theravada Buddhism, on the other hand, gives more explanation, if not all. Besides an inquiry into the causes of wealth gives way to the peace of mind. The difference between economics and religion lies only in different solutions and it more or 1ess runs through the long history of mankind.

Conclusions : It is hoped that these findings will shed more light on the application of Buddhism in economics main stream [a protest for the east against the current economics]. As a result, sustainable development is possible. Moreover, man is trainable within his own ability to get rid of fear instinct. To seek peace is easier both because there will be few conflicts and wars on limited resources in the next millennium and each individual can find way to niroana, which will take him long to learn. It is from secular to samata and then to vipassana stages of human development.



Author :  Acharya Thannarong Viboonsunti is Professor of Economics at Chiang Mai University, Thailand and is actively involved in campaign for nonviolence.

Article Source : Anuvibha Reporter ( Special Issue : Dec. 2000 )
Ahimsa, Peacemaking, Conflict Prevention and Management Proceedings and Presentations
Fourth International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action ( IV ICPNA )
New Delhi : Nov. 10-14, 1999


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