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.

Monday, April 12, 2004

New Study Shows College Textbook Prices Are Too High

Yeah, I know, anyone who has been in college already knows the scam the college textbook publishing industry has been pulling on students over the years. But, the studies have to be done anyway, because there are always those who won't believe a thing until there's been a study done on it. So, fine, study away, confirm what we already know. What amazes me is that there are still people out there who will try and defend their actions.

The results of the study conducted by the California Student Public Interest Research Group, Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group and the OSPIRG Foundation show that students will spend an average of $898 per year on textbooks in 2003-04, approximately 20 percent of the average tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges nationwide and over 33% more than the average amount spent on textbooks in 1997.

This drastic increase is mostly attributed to the new "bonus features" that publishers include with the textbooks -- like CD ROMS. Problem is, there is rarely an option to buy the textbook without the "bonus features," and, as the study shows, most professors never even use these "bonus features" (Sixty-five percent of faculty "rarely" or "never" use the bundled materials in their courses. "In the one instance that a textbook was available both bundled and unbundled (only the textbook), the bundled version was more than twice as expensive as the unbundled version of the same textbook." So, most students are paying about twice as much for things they will never use.

The other problem the study found was the publishing companies constantly putting out new editions (on average, every 3 years) making older, cheaper, used textbooks obsolete and unavailable. Now, certainly, there are certain topics that require constant updates and revisions. No one wants to use a genetics textbook or a computer programming textbook published 10 years ago. But when you're talking about Calculus, English Lit, 18th Century British History, etc., the new editions are rarely justified -- certainly not every 3 years. In fact, the study found that 76 percent of faculty report that the new editions they use are justified "never" to "half the time" and 40 percent of faculty report that the new editions are "rarely" to "never" justified.
"Calculus hasn't changed much since Isaac Newton. The question needs to be asked -- do we really need a new edition every few years?" said U.S. Rep. David Wu, an Oregon Democrat who was the first lawmaker to ask for the investigation last fall.
Of course, those in the publishing industry have a different opinion.
Pat Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers and a former congresswoman, said the report was one-sided and flawed.

Textbook publishers say the students' recommendations, which include a five-year minimum before the release of a new edition, fail to take the need for updates into account.

"Imagine a government textbook that had Bill Clinton as president. Or an accounting textbook that didn't include Enron. Or a biology textbook that didn't have cloning or stem cell research. The world changes so fast," said Jessica Dee Rohm, spokeswoman for Thomson Learning, the Stamford, Conn.-based textbook giant.

Publishers say that even if the subject is calculus or art history, and by nature doesn't change as radically as genetics, the revised editions are always different.

"We have a revision diary that's hundreds of pages long for that book -- we invested $300,000 of research to change it," said Rohm, referring to the Calculus 101 book that Connolly held up at a news conference in Portland on Wednesday.
Now, as I said, I do think there are some subject areas where new editions of textbooks are far more justified. Hell, if there's been some new research in Calculus, fine, put out a new edition. But, really, that's going to happen how often? Certainly not every 3 years, and certainly not so much that other solutions can't be used -- like including new information in a supplement instead of producing a new textbook edition (a solution 87% of faculty members surveyed supported).

Anyone who has been a student knows that most times the new editions are simply old books with chapters rearranged, or questions at the end of chapters changed. No new information. And sure, there are ways to get around the buying of a new edition -- like buying a used older edition and getting the problems assigned for homework from someone who has the new edition. But is this something we should be expecting students to have to do? I think not.