What makes people tick, by Chris Rose

by Anthony Painter

It has been clear for some time that class-based models of political behaviour have weakened to the point of uselessness. The question is what to replace them with. Human beings are not just a set of individuals impervious to external influence. In fact, we are deeply influenced in ways that we don’t realise. It turns out that that what drives us is values.

Values are the deep undercurrents of individual motivation. They heavily influence our shopping habits, our choice of partner, our cultural interests, our work, and our politics. We don’t just wake up one day and decide that we are going to hold a certain set of values. It is something which occurs in response to our needs. If we are hungry then our values will gear us towards abating our hunger. If we need the esteem of others then our values will guide us in that direction. And if we need to attain ethical wisdom then that is what we will spend our time doing.

It is these deep values that Chris Rose explains in this powerful and exciting look at what makes humans tick. Maslow was right: we do have a hieracrchy of needs and this book presents the evidence behind the theory. It is built around decades worth of data about values and value shifts in society. The evidence base comes from a guy called Pat Dade who runs a company called Cultural Dynamics. I’ve met Pat on a number occasions and he is one of the most inspirational people I’ve come across in my professional life. This book explains his life’s work. Anyone engaged in politics, business, human association of any kind who hasn’t read this book is missing the full picture. It’s all in here.

To understand the insights it is necessary to understand that all societies break down into three broad value-sets: settlers, prospectors, and pioneers. As Rose explains:

“For Settlers, the deep forces draw people to seek out safety, security, identity and belonging. For Prospectors, it is the yearning for success, the search for esteem of others, and self-esteem, while for Pioneers, the constant drive is for new ideas, the quest for connections waiting to be made, and living a life based on ethics.”

That’s humanity in a paragraph. Our behaviours, opinions, actions are all in some way linked to these sub-conscious value sets and the needs they respond to. Societies change over time as values shift. Individuals shift their value sets over time too. Understanding these value shifts is key to understanding politics, business, religion, culture: society.

Earlier this week I wrote a strident critique of the claims of the Occupy London protestors that they were representative of the 99%. The simply fact is that there is no 99%. As things stand – though it does shift – we have a society that is 41% pioneer, 31% settler and 28% prospector. Portsmouth University political theorist Ed Rooksby shot a tweet in criticism of my argument to the effect that I was frightened of offending the middle-classes. But, of course, it is pioneers who are in those tents outside St Paul’s and they will be pretty middle-class in the main. The protestors will have more of a problem with many other pioneers who, having their own mind, will disagree with them. Prospectors who are probably more interested in shopping and fun unless Occupy becomes more fashionable (think The Only Way Is Essex), and settlers who recoil at disorder will also present a large obstacle. There is no 99% behind any given solution: we have a divided sociey and that’s how it will remain.

But this creates problems for anyone looking to construct political movements and coalitions of all types, not just the protestors. In the post-class politics era (but not, please note, post-class) political motivation and allegiance is more contingent, fluid, and free-flowing.

What Red Tories and traditionalists see as a liberal conspiracy in the creation of our individualistic society is actually a perfectly explicable social development. As our society moved into greater prosperity; as the threat of cataclysmic war receded, then social, economic and political freedom became highly desirable. We give those baby boomers a hard time, but they were the first generation who were able to enjoy social, sexual, political, cultural and economic freedom as the historical context shifted. This wasn’t done to us by a liberal elite. This happened and we need to be aware of what happened and why. We became prospectors and pioneers instead of settlers. Rose quotes the work of Ronald Ingelhart on the rise of post-materialist and secular values approvingly.  We just haven’t yet found an intellectually honest way of understanding it. What makes people tick is one contribution to that.

And these insights explain much of what is happening in the political world currently. Here is Rose on Ingelhart:

“Ingelhart  predicted in 1977 ‘declining rates of elite-directed political mobilisation and rising rates of elite-challenging mass activity among Western publics’ – in other words, declining participation in formal elections, and rising participation in things like campaigns, boycotts and petitions. This is, of course, exactly what has happened, as these are the activities of the Pioneers, with their latest expression found in new powerhouse groups such as www.avaaz.org, www.getup.au, www.moveon.org and www.38degrees.org.uk“.

The rise of the Greens, the Pirate Party’s success in Europe, but also the attraction of the far right to the settler mentality, are all contained within this understanding. The riots can be seen as the violent expression of a particular group within prospectors. Understanding people through their values is key to explaining political behaviour and much else. It also disciplines us to realise how it’s not just clever marketing that achieves political change. It’s also about understanding people through their values and needs. Rose quotes George Lakoff on framing approvingly. Lakoff has been used to hoodwink the left into believing that all it requires is cleverer arguments to win the day. To certain extent, yes, but it must also be aware of the limits it faces – people’s individual values in all their variety.

There is nothing I can say to recommend this book more highly. If you don’t understand its argument you don’t understand modern politics. Buy it, read it, absorb it, and then think about what it means in practice. It will challenge your assumptions and change the way you look at things completely.

Anthony Painter is a writer and critic.

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8 Responses to “What makes people tick, by Chris Rose”

  1. swatantra says:

    So was Pavlov right. People are being conditiond to acquire things they don’t actually need … just beause other people have them. Itswell known thats how kids marketing works. selling useless electronic toys, sweets, and clothes.
    ‘Create the need’ thats what advertisers are doing, thats what supermarkets are doin, dictaing peoples tastes.
    Generally Pioneers have the ‘idle time’ to devote to protests demos and riots, whilst the settlers are busy trying to earn a living and nor generally bothered or simply not up to complaining effectively.
    Cleverer arguments don’t usually win the day. Nobody likes smart alecs; people like people that are competant and can deliver on time reliable and trustworthy.
    Itsalso ‘studebts that have ‘idle time’ thats why ‘the workers’ often leave it to them to voice protest. but a good combination of workers students and the burgeoisee is unbeatable.

  2. aragon says:

    It’s the economy stupid !

    And no Ed Miliband doesn’t get it, not by a long chalk. Current politicians are in thrall of the finance industry, and don’t have the imagination to see the big picture.

    The 1% are the people asset stripping society so no matter how many Mondeo men or Worcestershire women, other advertising categories, Pioneers etc, Chris Rose identifies: you are still in the 99% disadvantaged by the current economic system.

    The current economic system is currently in crisis and future crisis will be come more frequent and increasingly devastating.

    The 1% are involved in a destructive financialization of society, and society as a whole cannot sustain this model. It fails to meet societies most basic of needs (food and warmth).

    The people who don’t understand modern politics are those who don’t understand the destructive rent seeking nature of financialization.

    Greater prosperity as we circle the drain !

    Some people don’t appear to live in the real world. The prosperity 1979-2008 was a giant Ponzi scheme, partially fueled by North Sea Oil and Gas.

    Thatchers experiment with lassiez-faire capitalism, monetary theory and neo-liberalism will end in a increasing frequent series of financial crisis from whom only the super rich are safe.

    I don’t wish to expand further right now.

  3. You are being too literalistic. The claim ‘We are the 99%’ is not an empirical one! It is a claim on the general interest. The other main criticism of the #Occupy movement is that it has no clear line, to which its participants reply that they are all different people with different views and are a pluralist movement. I can assure you there are ‘Settlers’, ‘Prospectors’, and ‘Pioneers’ camped outside St Pauls and in Wall Street. They may not win popular support, but to approach them psephologically is to entirely miss the point.

  4. aragon says:

    Having read this:


    I am reminded of a scene in the West Wing, to misquote:

    A french leader: ‘There goes my people I must find out where they are going, so I can lead them.’

    If you don’t know where you are going why are you in Politics.

    I already have an ideology, values and and direction, I don’t see any value in Rose and Dades’ analysis. Only the lost need a map to find themselves.

  5. Lindsay Dade says:

    Unless and until there is empirical data no-one can say with confidence who Occupy LSX ‘are’. Cultural Dynamics has contacted both admin and press representatives for the movement to see whether it might invite participants to take a multiple choice questionnaire which will reveal their values orientation. No reply so far, but they have been pretty busy this week and we do hope they’ll get in contact. One of the many interesting things values research reveals is that people undertake similar behaviour for different reasons. This may be happening at Occupy LSX (and OccupyFS), but without data we are stuck in a fog of opinion, ‘impression’ and specualtion.

  6. aragon says:

    From the Torygraph:

    A personal view by William Leith


    “A generation ago, the average middle-class family had one breadwinner. Now they have two. But they’re poorer. Why? Food, clothes, and appliances are cheaper. Yes, but mortgages are much, much bigger than they used to be. The middle class is hugely in debt. In a typical family, both parents must work to pay the interest on those debts. If interest rates – or petrol prices, or heating costs, or stealth taxes – go up much more, they’re finished. Bankruptcy looms. The middle class is under threat like never before.”


    “On the other hand, the middle class is getting poorer – by the day. Some are losing their jobs, abusing their spouses, going off the rails.

    And loss of income, of security, of a sense of identity and belonging, is destablising what long seemed to be this most respectable of classes.”

    @Lindsay Dade.

    As can been seen from the personal view above, the current certainties in society are been threatened by the current economic model.

    Unless you are part of the financial elite, you are threatened by the status quo. Your model does not appear to bring anything to the party, so fundamental is the crisis.

  7. Lindsay Dade says:

    Could I suggest that Aragon reads the book, or simply visits http://www.cultdyn.co.uk, before dismissing 30 years of research out of hand as not bringing ‘anything to the party’?

  8. Sharon says:

    Excellent that you have an ideology and values, aragon. We all do.

    For those of us who are working in the difficult field of changemaking (of ANY kind), however, understanding the motivation and psyche of people who hold different values to us, how to frame messages so that they resonate, how to communicate effectively – is invaluable. I’ve been involved in such work since 1993, and as such I have been on a perpetual quest to hunt down what is common sense and effective – and this work is at the pinnacle of what is useful.

    The assumptions made about the nature of leadership are also debatable.

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