Friday, October 22, 2010

Human Desire

Over the past week, Nancy, the musuem's Educator and Ray, our Distance Learning Developer have been hard at work defining a list of personalities that were active in what is now western New York during our study period, 1650 - 1850. They will have 15 or that we will begin researching their activities in detail to see how personal desires motovated them.

While they are digging into the musuem's archives and library to find people, I have been studying the concept of Human Desire. The exhibition will combine people and desires to develop conclusions on how human desires, such as greed forged the western New York we know today.

The concept of greed, acquiring more of some material posession that one could ever use or need, is something we all can relate to. Greed is always what the other person has. "You are greedy" Seldon will the healthy personality refer to them selves as being greedy. Greedy is not so much a desire but label given to those who have an unrelented pursuit of economic gain beyond what their society considers healthy.

Is greed good or bad? Only society can answer that question because societial norms regulate behavior. Maybe a little greed is good in some societies. In others, such as the Native American there was no ownership of land or property and being described as a greedy had a low threshold.

If we accept the premis that human nature in its essential qualities the same among all men then what specifically prompts some to pursue then what is it in people that motivate them to seek material posessions in excess of sociatial norms?

This leads to the age old sociological question, "Is man basically evil and his actions contrilled by his society's norms or is man basically good and it is society that corrupts and governs devient actions?

These are issues that we will use in defining our personalities who affected the early development of our region.

In addition to greed we will be looking at other behaviors, self preservation, control over others, fear of failure, and the like.

The exhibition will not only be a study into our region's past but a study of the sociology and norms of the times that regulated behaviors. What was considered greedy in 1650 may not be what is considered greedy in 1850. So we may be aiming at a moving target.


  1. This should be a fun, introspective and possibly controversial exhibit. At the top of the list of controversial motivators is "greed" and the question of whether or not an individual or group can ever have too much. If we are to believe Michael Douglas's character Gordon Gekko from the hit movie Wall Street, "greed is good" because of the improvements it fosters. Nevertheless, Native Americans might argue that the white man's "improvements" are as undesirable as his insatiable want for land. That also said, stating that someone is driven by greed alone is not so simple. Behind greed itself, there are a myriad of other motivators that cause us to be greedy. Self-preservation and the preservation of our beliefs being chief among them. Can a religion go too far to extend its influence? How many souls are enough? How much can a man fairly be expected to endure in the name of the Church or God? Can a person's acquisition of property and wealth through risk, speculation and personal vision cause one to become catagorically "greedy" in the eyes of his benificiaries? How far can one's personal desires for political, religious and normative freedoms press him into the abyss and dangers of wild animals, wilderness and savages? How long can one's attachment to community values, traditions, and spirituality keep him from recognizing the writing on the wall, and as a result, selling out those time-honored ways in the name of personal welfare? Is the white man greedy because he wants land to grow on as an individaul or a nation? Or conversely, are the Native Americans "greedy" as Thomas Morris would have them believe during the negotiations surrounding the Treaty of Big Tree (Geneseo, 1797) because, in Morris's words, they were holding onto way more land than they could ever use? The questions we are faced with are complex and the viewer's answers will be as subjective and varied as they may have been a hundred or two hundred years ago. Through each one of our chosen historical actors, we will not only be inviting the viewer to make personal assessments and judgments of our character's actions and motives, but also illustrating to them the fluid nature of norms and expectations as well as outlining the influential nature that discontents have on how we, as a society, are allowed to not only behave, but also how we are acceptably allowed to either celebrate our successes or admit our shortcomings. Hopefully, what we will be left with is a better understanding of the ways in which individuals navigate the conflictory expectations that society, communities and families may place on them. The Question we are left with becomes: How far are individuals willing to - or should they - go to meet personal or communal expectations? This exhibit should certainly go a long way in giving the viewer not only a feel for contemporary expectations faced by our characters, but should also allow the present day viewer to ponder why we do the things that we do and whether or not they are for the right reasons. **Let us know what you think**

  2. More questions to ponder...
    - Why is it that it is always the "other" person is greedy?
    - Is there some advantage to the advancement of mankind in the sociological phenomena thet the stronger take from the weaker.
    - What would be the future of society if everbody acted in deference to others.
    - Need for love and need for freedom are strong motivators. At wht point do they become excessive and dysfunctional.
    Just some thoughts on a Friday afternoon.

  3. Ray and I have been having an on-going conversation about what motivates people to seek to acquire land, power, wealth OR minister to (or control) people in the area of faith.
    Here is our list of motivators:
    Freedom from the influence of government, religion, civilization

    Seeking economic self-reliance

    Leaving an imprint on prosperity

    Seeking a new start or new beginnings

    Having control over others - political or religious

    Seeking personal success

    Seeking professional opportunities

    Seeking survival and maintaining self-determination

    Following tradition

    Maintaining community welfare

    Seeking the spiritual

    Serving political loyalties

    Seeking community acceptance

    Do readers have other thoughts to add to our list?
    And ponder these questions as well -
    If one identifies primarily as an individual or conversely if one identifies first and foremost as a member of a group - How does that affect the motivations that rise to the top?
    How does the person's perspective of time, short term or long term, affect the motivations and choices that become primary?

  4. James Cameron's film "Avatar" (2009) offers an entertaining perspective of what it might be like for modern settlers to follow in the footsteps of traders and speculators as they seek out new frontiers for much the same reasons as those who came to the the Genesee region of western New York. Foremost among their obstacles, just as they were in Oliver Phelps's day, are the indigenous peoples that preceded them by thousands of years. Anyone interested in a more contemporary view of the similar ethics involved in the disposession of Native lands should check this film out - if you haven't already. Although disposession occurred without direct military action in Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham's day, the Six Nations were already aware of the military capabilities of the young United States as a result of Maj. Gen. John Sullivan's 1779 campaign against the Iroquois during the American Revolution. Therefore, though force was not necessary during the process of dispossesion in western New York, its very real possibility was likely never far from the minds of the Seneca people. Let me know what you think.