Endowment Effect and Wrenching Toughness

In behavioral economics, the ‘endowment effect’ states that individuals ascribe higher value to the objects they possess than to the objects they could secure. If this is true, then we are ‘loss averse’ creatures that prefer to keep what we have and are more disheartened by the loss of our possessions than by the gain of some other, perhaps more valuable item.

In the eyes of the philosopher, the assumption underlying the endowment effect is that fear of loss trumps the pursuit of the Good. This, as I argued in my last post, is why we need to have contests in which

  • our fears of losing what we value highly (or, depending on the stakes, most highly) is pitted against a defensible conception of the Good, i.e., what we reasonably take to be most worth securing, defending, honoring, realizing, or upholding.

It should matter to us that we can be tough in the face of fear for the sake of what is higher, more estimable, more worthwhile. What should matter is that we can be Masters of our lives rather than Slaves of our passions.

Too often have I observed individuals who ‘play it safe,’ wanting a ‘sure thing,’ requiring ‘guarantees,’ and, in turn, retreating when things get hard, cowering under pressure, doubling back in weakness, turning around in blindness, or stubbornly staying in place. When the first real test comes and their lives are held in the balance, they immediately fold out of fear and, yes, out of a desire to retain what they have.

The more basic thought, even, is that we human beings have learned to value more what we know (even though it may be deficient) or believe we know than what we don’t know despite this unknown potentially being pregnant with the disclosure of a more vibrant reality.

Will we retreat or will we rise up?

Toughness, toughness, toughness!–this is what teaches us to stand firm rather than backing down from; to face up to rather than looking away from; to press on instead of shrinking away from. Because our tendency, our predilection, our deeply rooted habit is to succumb to fear and to secure the familiar, our ferocity must be felt in rejecting this, daring to raise the stakes higher and take a risk.

But why? Why? Why? Because flourishing life, really, is at stake, and only our tough selves can wrench us into this. Else, we die with regret.