Decoding Humanity: A Short Story of Individual Motivations, Groups, and Societies, presents a short, simplified story that explains organized group life in terms of more basic human motivations. It gives simplified descriptions of how basic human drivers lie behind diverse group phenomena, including the modern economy, democracy, political posturing, patriotism, state-sponsored welfare, public respect for scientists, and mimcry, to name a few. The link between basic human motivations and group outcomes is, in a large part, what early economists like Adam Smith were interested in. It has also been taken up by modern economists under the guise of ‘behavioural economics’, which is best seen as a combination of classical economics and other human sciences like history, cognitive pyschology, neuroscience, and anthropology. Decoding Humanity aims to provide readers with an all-encompassing view of group behaviour that combines the wisdom of economics with the realm of the heart.

Decoding Humanity: A Short Story of Individual Motivations, Groups and Societies, is edited by Gigi Foster – Senior Lecturer and Undergraduate Coordinator at the Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales.

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Further information on the book can be found on the Cambridge University Press website.

Excerpts from the book:

 ”Greed is everywhere, determining the actions of people at the top and bottom of society. Greedy decisions by those at the top, combined with the greed of those who wish to be at the top, have created much of the social history we have witnessed over the past several thousand years. Greed in the modern world leads to most of the wealth creation on which our economics rely, and its excesses are checked by the reciprocity and shared ideals within the more stable social groups such as the nation state. But how can something so seemingly abstract as ‘shared ideals’ be powerful enough to counter our fundamental greed? Because of love.”


“Love and greed both heavily color many of our actions, and there is no easy way to determine which one is stronger. If I had to choose, I would say that in the short run love is the most powerful, in that most socially-relevant short-term decisions are labeled as idealistic and any clear group-related choice between greed and love would be won by love. There are not many who lay down their lives for their greed, but quite a few who die for love.”


“It is the tendency of the brain to come up with and/or believe ludicrous stories that make us feel good about ourselves that leads to the greatest difficulty in interpreting social reality. When people habitually lie to themselves….how are we supposed to know what motivates them in any particular situation, or what emotions are ‘really’ behind a group phenomenon? One first step in peeling away the lies we create around us is to reflect on the use of lies.”