Every so often there are those things that you pause, and inspect (sometimes “smell the roses” sometimes “why is the phone bill so high” ;-) and find out things you had not expected.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is known to anyone with an MBA (At least, I ran into it in a required class in the MBA program) and is known to a lot of folks outside of business. ( I think the “self esteem” emphasis in schools comes from it). It’s one of those “basic things” you look at, memorize, regurgitate on the tests, then maybe vaguely remember when some issue comes up 10 years later. Usually some ‘smart remark’ like “Well, he’s clearly not operating at the self actualization level!”
(As I’d learned LONG ago that questioning anything from the book in class did NOT help you with grades, I’d decided to just be, uncritically, a “memorize / regurgitate” machine for “class things”; reserving ‘inspection” and “critical thinking” for that the little bit of “me time” I had every day. So all “critical functions” are turned off when sitting in the students seat. Stupid, I know. But that is the path to success as a student…)
So in comments the issue of ‘ordering needs’ came up, and I “tossed off a remark” of the form “Oh, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, take a look.”
Then I “took a look”. It’s been a couple of decades since I did the “absorb spit up” for the class. Now I bothered to actually look at it. To ask it “What are you saying?” and “Are you saying more than intended? Are there ‘loose ends’ here of interest?”
I think there are.
In particular, I think it may explain a significant “Social Divide” in the world. The one the separates Skeptics from True Believers. Perhaps even the one that causes the Aspe response to be different from the NT response to various “social issues”.
The order is wrong.
In theory, you can only address the next “level up” after you have addressed the needs of the layer below it. You start at the very bottom with things like food, warmth, shelter. Only once those are met can you move to things like self esteem and creativity. Clearly this is what Maslow believes, and as it is widely accepted, it is what many others must believe too.
Yet it does not fit me nor many of the folks I know.
So let’s take just a moment to wander through this list and see if there is a different order that explains “folks like us” a bit more… I’ll start with the top, then swap to the bottom, then fill outward from the middle. (Yes, that’s how my style of analysis works. Ends in, middle out. We’ve already had “broad view” in the paragraphs above… and yes, I often like to “look at the problem backwards” so it’s going to be ‘from the top’ as it was built ‘from the bottom’ originally. Hey, it’s how the machine in my skull works, I’m just the messenger some times ;-)
The Top Tier: Self Actualization
On the very top level we have:
Lack of Prejudice
Acceptance of Facts
Well, right off the bat I’m looking at “Acceptance of Facts” and thinking “The facts just are. -E.M.Smith”. That’s a foundational piece of who I am and how I think. When faced with a life threatening situation that OUGHT to put me down at the lowest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, I’m thinking “Well, I’m screwed, but ‘The facts just are’; so what are you going to do now?”. Yes, I’ve been in such situations.
One is a story I tell ‘for fun’ about being stuck all night in a blizzard. It has it’s funny moments, but the reality is that I was in a car tha could not move in the middle of a blizzard that had shut down the freeway for 100 miles in each direction and where no rescue was going to happen. Fuel nearing the “not driving out if you use it to stay warm any longer” range. A few hours from potentially freezing to death if I didn’t “solve this problem” and “accept the facts”.
So now I’m looking at “problem solving” and thinking: “Wait a minute… I DID ‘problem solve’ when operating at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy. I was cold, hungry, expecting my potential demise…. and Solved The Problem. So for me, “Problem Solving” is clearly also a “basic function”…
So what are those “Most Basic Needs”, per Maslow?
The Bottom: Physiological
OK, “when you gotta go, you gotta go” so taking a dump or stopping your work to “shake hands with you wife’s best friend” is kind of important. Yet we’ve all heard the stories of the “Science Geek” who stood at their lab bench wetting themselves or “dropping a load” rather than stop that moment of discovery. Being so wrapped up in “Problem Solving” and “Creativity” that dealing with things like “I need to stop to excrete” just didn’t click.
I know I’ve had times I’m “working a problem” and wait until it darned near hurts before I’ll make a ‘fastest possible’ run to the bathroom. It’s a need, but not a priority… and it’s level of need varies a lot over time.
Homeostasis is a fancy word for “not too hot, not too cold”. You dont’ want to freeze, nor roast to death. If threatened with imminent death by freezing, you will address that before being “creative”. (In theory… but what about all those ‘creative’ self rescues?)
Breathing? Yup. I’ve needed to breathe often in my life. It gets your attention. Yet one of my fondest moments is a memory of being about 40 feet down in a lake, buddy breathing (someone else had scuba gear and I’d stop by some times for a bit of air) and just having a great time exploring for a minute or two at a time while deliberately NOT breathing. Clearly there is some “wiggle room” here…
And let me tell you, when you are “out of air and need some quick” as it’s already in the “I can’t stand it any more” range, “problem solving” is definitely running full tilt.
I was once about 30 foot down and my tank was at zero. It had a ‘flow restrictor reserve’ so as you go up, you get more air. Go down, less relative pressure, no air. Well, I’d hung out on the bottom as long as I could sucking every last breath from the tank, then headed up. At about 30 foot, one eardrum was starting to stretch and hurt. It was not “clearing”. OK, I stopped at 30 feet. This gave me about 1/2 minute of air more than I’d had on the bottom… Now, my choices: Go up now, break ear drum, potentially never dive again, have it hurt like hell… or stay where you are and die from drowning or solve the problem. Now in theory, I’m on the lowest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy. It’s all about the physical and I’m stuck between death and pain. He says “no room for problem solving”. I said “only way out is problem solving”. I did all the usual tricks (blow your nose, yawn, thrust jaw forward, etc.). No Joy. OK, last air from the tank, I’ve not got about 30 more seconds before I’m Out Of Luck. I head DOWN.
Why down? I’d figured that I’d tried everything else, the problem was probably that the added pressure inside the ear was keeping the eustachian tube closed and maybe if I brought the whole system back into equilibrium I could reopen the airway to the ear, then ‘bleed it out’ more slowly on the way up. At about 40 foot, it ‘cleared’ ( and I now had MORE air in my ear than before as I’d cleared it via the “hold nose and pressurize method” but with the canal open). I kept blowing a bit of air in/out at about 2 foot intervals all the way up. At about 15 feet I got another breath from the tank (very welcome as I was getting a bit light headed / desperate) but held my pace back to the surface.
The point? I can’t think of anything that would put you more on the bottom of Maslow’s Hieirarchy than “no air and I can choose pain or death”. Yet “problem solving” was what I did. Either I’m a freak or Maslow was wrong. Given the history of folks doing extraordinary things under great personal duress, I think Maslow has missed something with his chart. Maybe it’s covered in some other work, but the chart as taught has got a screw loose at least part of the time or at least for some people.
Are you kidding me? If I’m faced with death from no air, hypothermia, or going for some sex, it’s a toss up? Why am I getting that “Someone has a sex fixation like Freud” feeling? (I think Yung was more correct and lot of Freud’s stuff is just his problems..)
For me, at least, sex is a ‘recreational sport’ that comes somewhere well after “have breathed, have food, I’m healthy and have gone to work.”
We’ve covered this in another thread in comments. The short form is that I resent sleep and try to minimise how much of my life it consumes. I’ve gone about 40 productive hours in a row without sleeping (as a problem needed solving… clue!) and can function on about 4 hours a night indefinitely (though feel better at 6-7). OK, more ambivalent. I must sleep so it’s clearly a priority; yet I can easily “put it off” a fair amount when something more interesting needs be done. It’s more of a “yes it belongs here, but with flexible positioning over time”.
The Middle Tiers: Esteem, Love / Belonging, Safety
Respect of (toward) Others
Respect by Others
Um, the “Respect by Others” ranks more basic and thus more important than “Acceptance of the Facts”?
Most folks would rather have their Ego Stroked and smoke blown up their skirts than look at something and say “The facts say otherwise”?
I say “No Way” based on me… but when I look at the “Climate Scientists” actions I see evidence to support that thesis. So are Skeptics just the folks who rank “Acceptance of the Facts” more important than “Respect by Others”?
Frankly, I don’t care much if someone respects me or not. I know what I’m good at, know where I’ve failed, and if they see where I’ve failed, well, they are a decent observer of the facts; if they denigrate me for things where I’ve done well, then they have a failure to observe the facts and “that’s not me”. So while “Respect by Others” is a “nice to have”, it tells me more about them than it says about me. So I don’t rank it above “accepting the facts” (or in Maslow’s scheme, below… as below is “more important”…)
“Respect of Others” ranks more important than “problem solving” and “morality” and “acceptance of the facts”? What are you thinking, Mr. Maslow? The facts first, the morality first, the problem solving first. THEN, and ONLY THEN, if someone has done those things well, does “Respect of Others” come to them. There is no way I can have “respect for others” at the expense of those three.
Yet the entire world of Religious Fanatics is built in a Maslowesque way… Hmmm…. See the Muslim World for a recent example; the Catholic Church 300 AD to about 1600 AD for an older one.
Then we’re supposed to have “confidence” and “achievement” but without any “acceptance of the facts” and “problem solving” and “morality” and “creativity”? I’m sorry, but that’s just backwards. Confidence and achievement derive FROM those things. They, and self esteem, are derivative functions of those basics. IMHO, this layer is just entirely wrong.
OK, so he’s got “sex” in the list twice. Once as physiological and once with “intimacy” tacked on. First off, I note a fixation on sex. OK, I’ll admit it. I’m not fixated on sex. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a great gift between two people. But it is just not ranking twice in my “needs” with one at the most basic level and the other just two steps up. I go to work first. I solve life’s problems of how do I keep a functioning life and family first. I sleep first. I go to the doctor first (when I’m ill). Look, it’s a great thing and I’m all for it, but would I sell my morality for it? Nope. Neighbor has a lovely wife, but if she ‘came on’ to me, it’s not going to happen. Yes, I have “hang ups” on morality (to use the ’70s jargon).
Yet all those divorce cases and soap operas say Maslow has nailed some large percentage of the folks…
And Maslow’s thesis is that I’ll sell out my morality, ignore the facts, give up my creativity and problem solving, trash my confidence and self esteem along with the respect of others and by others in exchange for frendship? Someone can invite me to The Club and everything else is out the window? Sorry, not for me. It’s called “integrity” and I’d rank it way more important than any friend.
Suck Ups can take that deal, not me. (Which may explain why I’ve never been invited in, to, or into The Club…)
And that “family” one is just precious. OK, I know, lots of Clannish folks out there and “tribe” counts for a lot. But really? “Dysfunctional Family Circus” ring a bell? “We can choose our friends but we can’t choose our Family.”? How about “I can’t wait to move out of this &^#*$ house!!”
My family is very important to me, but there are also some family members I’ve not seen in 25 years and that suits me just fine… them too. Clearly there is a lot of ‘range’ for ‘family’ affinity. If I had to choose my moral compass over my Brother-in-law, then, sorry Charlie, you’re going to jail… Someone in the family wants me to tell them that they can make it starting up a restaurant and I’m going to say “Sure you can!” as I know they desperately want it and will lose respect for me if I don’t agree and all it takes is that I ignore the fact that they are a screw-up with no restaurant experience; and Maslow predicts I’ll say “Sure you can!”? Nope. It’s going to be: Deep Breath. “Sue, you know you can’t cook, have no restaurant experience, and usually try to do more than you can accomplish so end in failure. I can’t see this working for you.”
That is the only way I can keep MY self esteem and my moral compass while helping to properly solve her problem… All of which, per Maslow, are not supposed to be on my radar at that moment…
OK… so we’ve got “morality” in here, too. Exactly how can you have “security of morality” and not have “morality”? I think things are a bit confused here…
Security of Employment is supposed to be more important to me than my moral compass? My self esteem? My respect of others and respect by others? My family and sexual intimacy? My friends?
My God Man, has he never heard of “Hired Gun Contractor”? My employment was anything BUT stable for over a decade. Each month was “hustle a new gig” or no job. I’ve had a hundred times with “no job” (now being one of them). It’s part of the turf. Same thing for Sales folks. You earn what you hustle today. You are worth your last commission. This employment rank is just “way wrong”. Every single whistle blower out there has ditched the job for their moral compass. The number of folks who walk away from a mind numbing job as it doesn’t give them the self esteem, creativity, or problem solving opportunities they want is rather large too.
Maybe all of us are “different”…. Or maybe it’s a wide range and some folks ARE down here, desperate to flip burgers to feed the family and unwilling to ask if there is a better place to flip burgers. But clearly for me, and my kind, this is just ‘way wrong’ leveling.
Then again, for “Climate Scientists” looking for funding… maybe it is a fit. ;-)
Security of Body, Family, Health. To me they are “all of a kind”. I don’t really have much control over the Health one, though. We all get old and die. We all get infections and many die from them. And we each are dealt a different genetic hand to play. So yeah, health is important; but not much practical I can do about it so I don’t rank it much in day to day life. I avoid nasty stuff when reasonable, but that’s about it. Substantially every person who works in health care or teaching accepts they are going to the ‘daily germ exchange’ and does so. Cops and Firefighters put their health dramatically at risk every day (as do professional soldiers) as “part of the job” and part of feeling that they are earning the Respect by Others. Clearly this, too, has a wide range.
I will die first to save my immediate family. I will let my health go to save my life and my immediate family. There is some “ordering” needed here.
Resources? Property? I’m supposed to care more about my junk and my home than about “acceptance of the facts” and “problem solving” and “self esteem” and even more than friends and family?
How many times have you seen the TV interview of a flood or fire and the person is saying “It was just a house, we all got out alive and that’s all that really matters”. Ranking property down here at a basic need level is just lame. Property comes from the other needs. It’s a residual, not a basic.
My Needs or “Smith’s Hierarchy of Needs”
For me, the basic level is pretty close. I’d take out “sex”. Maybe I’m more like a Monk. Folks who find it optional and can go a long time ignoring it. Nice ‘gift among friends’ but hardly a driver of basic survival.
But to that level I’d also add “Accepting the Facts” and “Problem Solving”. They are just essential to having all the others happen. If you can’t solve the problem of how to get water, you are not going to have any water. I’ll skip drinking all in my canteen if I’ve ‘problem solved’ that I need to stretch it out a couple of days in the desert or that my kid is going to need it more than me as we hike out.
I’ve added the term “Survival” to the basic description as I think that captures the flavor a bit better. I’ve also ranked these roughly in the order of time importance. I can ‘hold my breath long enough to solve the problem’ (and have…) but first off you must simply accept the facts as they are. If you can’t see “what just is” you can’t get to the right problem solution to get you to the breathable air…
Once you are breathing, you can go a day or two without water, but only hours if the temperature is wrong. If you are not drinking, there’s nothing to pee… so it’s a ‘derivative need’. Sleep is a 40 hour need (probably about the same as water sometimes, but with a harder onset IMHO) and food? I can go weeks to months without food. It’s “not a priority” until a lot of other things have been met. Heck, I could even see putting it one more level up most of the time. I’m also pretty sure you are not going to be real worried about where your next meal is coming from when someone is sawing off an arm or attacking your kids, so I’ve promoted that “security” aspect to this basic level of need. (Though I put it after sleep, as it’s pretty clear that when you ‘hit the sleep wall’ you sleep, even if it puts you physically at risk of attack. Ask any soldier.) Does it belong ahead of ‘water’ and ‘sleep’ a lot of the time? Probably, but these things really need to be shown with a band or range on them.
The Bottom: Physiological / Survival
Acceptance of Facts
Security of body
Security of Family
I’ve added Morality to this level. How can one have friendship without having some kind of moral compass? How can you have a functional family or even sexual intimacy without that moral grounding? If I’m all lies and deception, who would be my friend? Who would stay in my home? So I see morality as either early in this level, or shortly after food in the other. There are many folks who will not eat animals for moral reasons…
I keep Family ahead of Morality as we are born into a family against our will, so for some period of time “family matters” and we’re still building our moral compass.
Personally, I can’t separate “sex” from “sexual intimacy”. Maybe for some folks is just a matter of plumbing, about as interesting as taking a dump. For me, “sexual” and “intimacy” are blended. So we’ve one listing for sex. I’ve moved Family to the top as I’ll do things for my family I’d not do for friends who’d caused me as much grief ;-) and as I don’t see how you can have sexual intimacy with someone without passing through friendship first, it is last on the list.
I’ve moved the “rump” of the prior top tier here. It is now just creativity and spontaneity. They are important to further accomplishments (not derivative of them) so must precede achievement, confidence, and self esteem. Basically, any damn fool can make an ass of himself being “creative” and “spontaneous”. Only later do they learn to harness it to achieve and gain confidence. So we learn to ‘self actualize’ then learn how badly we can screw things up without enough “acceptance of the facts” and “problem solving” and “moral compass”; then, and only then, do we advance to achievement, confidence, and respect. Watch any actor progress from “3rd grade play” to “college improv” to “Oscars”…
Self Evaluation and Esteem
If I’ve managed to keep basic physical needs met, have solved the problems of life and with a good grip on reality, with a family, friends, and life partner, then some derivative things flow from that. First off, I’m probably feeling pretty good about myself. Second, I’ll likely find some folks who I also admire for their decent grasp of reality.
I’ve ordered these this way, as I think: first you achieve, then you gain confidence, from that flows self esteem. Then, and only then, are you able to reasonably decide someone else is deserving of your respect as you can measure how well they have done, how strong is their moral compass, and what foundation supports their soul. Once you are doing that, Lack of Prejudice is an essential consequence. “Acceptance of the Facts” and “Respect of Others” forces you to confront the silly biases that society has shoved into your face from whatever cause. It takes self confidence to decide against the biases of your society.
Respect of (toward) Others
Lack of Prejudice
Safety of Stuff Security
As I’ve no idea what makes “safety of morality” distinct from “morality” I’ve simply removed it. You either have your moral compass, or you do not. With family and self security promoted to a basic need, we now have a ‘rump’ of “stuff safety”.
As a “stuff security” rank, it’s just not that important. I can always “get more stuff” for most of the items. If I’ve done all the prior levels well, stuff will arrive as a derivative function.
IMHO, “health” is just another resource you have. It gets “spent” as needed getting through life. Important, yes, but not incredibly so. Many folks have ‘made the Faustian Bargain’ and worked in coal mines, as a soldier, firefighter, chemical plant worker, nuclear reactor crew, etc. It’s a ‘wasting asset’ anyway, so might as well spend it, but wisely… I could see maybe moving it up one level for folks who don’t have the “macho guy thing” pounded into their sense of self, though…
Similarly, Respect by Others is a derivative function. I have no control over it at all. It is simply a residual of a life lived well and honestly. It is, frankly, not a need at all. If it comes, it is a gift. If it does not come, I know who I am and what I have done in my life. I know what respect to pay myself.
Frankly, I spend little to no time worried about the “security” of any of these things. I note their presence or absence, and I work as time permits to get more of them, but the are a derivative of life, not the center of it.
I’m not real sure what makes a ‘resource’ distinct from a ‘property’ but I’m presuming it’s something like ‘property’ being real estate and bonds while a resource is more of a ‘hunting range, doctors license, or club membership’. Things that can bring home the bacon, but are less of a ‘thing’. I rank health at the top, as I’d rather have it than all the rest. Employment (by self or by others) brings the resources and property (though there is a wealth feedback loop there). And as we’ve already discussed, Respect by Others is purely derivative.
Security of external things:
Respect by Others
So that’s “Smith’s Hierarchy of Needs”. That matches “me” much more than Maslow’s list. Perhaps the difference is reflective of what makes an Aspe the way we are, that “focus on the facts and problem solving”. Perhaps it is just what gives soldiers, test pilots, firefighters, police and astronauts “The Right Stuff”. Perhaps it is what makes a skeptic different from someone willing to “hide the decline”.
I think there is plenty of room here for individual interpretations, and individual variation.
For me, the major insight is that many of the rocks tossed at me over the years come from the fact that I do not fit Maslow’s order; yet folks expected me to. Various “persuasion” and “influencing” efforts that failed, and ended with folks looking at me with that “What’s wrong with you?” look… As I’ve said, “I don’t intimidate worth a damn” to which I’d add “Everyone has a price and can be bought, but mine is way over market” ;-)
So take a look at both hierarchies. Think about it. Do you match one more than the other? Do you have your own ordering? Does the question of “what does it mean?” speak to you?
Finally, I’d only add that: IF most of the world actually does match Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we are in deep doo and things will not end well for the world… IMHO, of course.