Thursday, April 15, 2004

Hierarchy of Needs

During a recent conversation about political opinions, the topic of "mixed" political opinions came up -- meaning, those people who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative or vice versa. Now, I'm sure most of you here will already know that I believe being liberal both socially and fiscally is the best way to change the world for the better; however, if given the limited choice, is it better to be socially liberal or fiscally liberal? I have experience with both types of people, and I've given the subject a bit of thought over the years, and I've come to the conclusion that, on the whole and all else being equal (and assuming this will still only apply to a some people, not all people), I think it's better to be socially conservative and fiscally liberal.

Perhaps this will come as a surprise to a great many people (or, perhaps not). Certainly, a lot of the issues that are most near and dear to my heart would fall under the "social" label (liberal views, of course). It's not that I think these issues are "less" important (most of the time) -- and taken on an individual basis, there might be a lot of times I'd think the opposite was true. There are always exceptions.

OK, well, maybe for me there are a few issues that I feel are, while extremely important, simply not as important. The environment, animal rights, and gay marriage are three such issues that come to mind. Yes, yes, extremely important, I know. I really do. But I don't think they are as important as certain fiscal issues such as fair welfare benefits, affordable healthcare, affordable childcare, a living wage, to name a few. Given the choice between supporting a candidate who was pushing for more restrictions on corporate pollution (and/or for legalizing gay marriage) but in favor of the welfare "deform" of the type that Clinton & Gore enacted (or worse, stronger "reform") and the candidate who was pushing for a living wage, affordable healthcare, and affordable (quality) childcare but in favor of lessening restrictions on corporate pollution (or against gay marriage), I'd vote for the latter in a minute. (Given a 3rd choice -- one who was both pro-environment and/or in favor of gay marriage AND in favor of the financial issues I mentioned ... yeah, that'd be ideal, but I'm not talking about "ideal" here.) Again, it's not that I think the environment, animal rights, or gay marriage are unimportant. Nothing could be further from the truth. OK, truth be told, the environment and animal rights are not "my" issues -- I'm strongly in favor these issues, and strongly support those who work on these issues, but they're not issues that are of utmost importance to me, personally. As for gay marriage -- well, yes, that's a big issue for me -- I find it to be among one of the most important issues of the time. But, it's just something that, to me, I find to be something that isn't as basic and necessary as other issues. Which brings me to the Hierarchy of Needs.

A lot of my reasoning for this belief comes from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory. Being a Sociology major, it's one of those things that comes up a lot, although I also had to study it in business school. (Ironically, one of the women in the discussion said her own father is a strong believer in Maslow's theory, and uses that to justify his own beliefs, which happen to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Frankly, that doesn't make a lot of sense to me -- I'm not saying it's wrong, per se, but it just doesn't mesh with my interpretation of the theory.)

For those who are not familiar with the Hierarchy of Needs theory -- or for those who haven't thought about it since that Soc 101 (or Psych 101) class way back when -- Maslow essentially believed that, as human beings, we have certain needs which must be met. There are various levels of needs, and until the needs at one level are met, we cannot even try to meet the higher needs. A quick look at what the various needs are:

  • Physiological Needs

    These are biological needs. They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones would come first in the person's search for satisfaction.

  • Safety Needs

    When all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer controlling thoughts and behaviors, the needs for security can become active. Adults have little awareness of their security needs except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting). Children often display the signs of insecurity and the need to be safe.

  • Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness

    When the needs for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of needs for love, affection and belongingness can emerge. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging.

  • Needs for Esteem

    When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others. Humans have a need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, and respect from others. When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.

  • Needs for Self-Actualization

    When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person's need to be and do that which the person was "born to do." "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write." These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness. The person feels on edge, tense, lacking something, in short, restless. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. It is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization.

Like the Hierarchy of Needs, I feel that there are certain issues which must be addressed and rectified before we can seriously work (to the full benefit of everyone) on other issues. Fighting for most social causes is incredibly important -- indeed, necessary. But when our most basic needs, both as individuals and as a society are not being met first, we can't really accomplish those other important issues.

There's another reason for my opinion -- also based on the Hierarchy of Needs. The fact is, if we want to enact social change in our society, we can't do it alone. We need others to be fighting that fight with us.

In the website I linked to above, the author included this statement in the "self-actualization" need:
It is usually middle-class to upper-class students who take up environmental causes, join the Peace Corps, go off to a monastery, etc.
For the most part, I believe this to be true. Now, we all know there are exceptions, some very great exceptions, as a matter of fact. But, for the most part, I find this to be true. The person who is sleeping on the street is going to be, first and foremost, concerned about finding shelter and food -- they're not going to be fighting for animal rights. My housemates have a great postcard hanging around the house which is a pretty good example. It shows a young woman, about "college" aged, holding a sign saying, "Thank you for not wearing fur." Next to her is a homeless man sitting on the street, obviously shivering, saying, "You're welcome." The single mother working 14 hours a day to feed herself and her kids is, in most cases, not going to be attending the March for Women's Lives -- she's going to be working (not to mention, unless she happens to live in D.C., she probably couldn't afford to go, anyway). Boycotting Walmart is certainly a worthy cause (for a number of reasons: sweatshops, labor abuses, it's refusal to carry the morning after pill, etc.), but let's face it, Walmart is cheap and it takes a certain amount of privilege to buy the same product in another store for a bit (or a lot) more money -- or even to find the time to search through thrift stores to find that necessary item.

Before we, as a society, can fulfill our needs for love and belonging, for esteem, for self-actualization, we must first fulfill our societal needs for the most basic needs.

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