The Imp-ire Strikes Back

Yesterday, I talked about the “Imp of the Perverse,” the idea that people regularly – not all the time, but not never – knowingly act against their own self-interest. This is a way of arguing against an overly strict rationalism in our understanding of human behavior. This matters for philanthropy because we too often assume that the beneficiaries of nonprofit services will see what’s given as unequivocally good and use the services that are offered. And then we wonder why projects don’t work, why people don’t take advantage of the resources offered them.

What I like about the Imp of the Perverse is that it allows for an understanding of human nature as flawed without committing one to an essentially conservative position of original sin. Progress is possible, we’re not hamstrung by original sin or a fundamental flaw in our natures, but the action of the Imp in history means that flawed actions happen regularly and for unpredictable reasons. Sometimes people just won’t act in their self-interest, for reasons that are kind of a mystery. Having the expectation that a certain amount of this will take place, rather than being surprised when funded initiatives don’t work out as planned, may lead us to be more modest in our assumptions about the uptake of social programs, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing.


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One Response to “The Imp-ire Strikes Back”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » The Imp in history Says:

    […] written about The Imp of the Perverse, an image to describe the impulse in human nature to choose things […]

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