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A brilliant observer more than a scientist, Abraham H. Maslow nevertheless offered a feasible hierarchy in describing human existence. A typical scientific approach might include experimental and control groups of randomly selected individuals where the experimental group would be assessed analytically to sort out their needs relative to a control group. If this seems impossible, it may be that it is, in fact. On the other hand, simple descriptive statistics are quite adequate to describe a cohort of people of any specific origin. Here there is still some difficulty. There might be needs not on the list, and in any event people understand words and interpret them differently.

Given these drawbacks, it is certainly true that almost any hungry woman with child will at some point seek sustenance ahead of security. Who would not? Similar logic applies to most of us, though we differ markedly in aspirations. For example, who would seek self-actualization if they do not know what it is? But even then is not self-actualization behind the need most of us feel for freedom in self expression? It was thinking like this that led Maslow to his hierarchy of needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy did not specifically include dominance or aggression as such that figure so prominently in the Authoritarian Personality, AP, which most of us express to some degree or other. The extreme APs and sociopaths seem to understand all this better than the rest of us, for they take advantage of our need for security to rob us of our higher needs and aspirations. Before expanding on that, Maslow’s hierarchy needs some exposition in terms of what we already know about the AP:

Level One: Physiological

Hunger, thirst, fresh air, and sex. Simple biological functions sustain our bodies: oxygen, food, water, and sleep. These most basic of needs are usually obtained by labor on the part of each individual. This level is indeed the base upon which all higher needs arise. This need has been there for at least two or three billion years of geologic time, ever since life evolved. For most of that time, sustenance was the only thing that mattered.

Level Two: Security

This level is mostly the degree of certainty with which we enjoy meeting our Level One needs. In jungle and savanna times it led to war and it still does. Nothing is more important than preserving Level One. Nature took care of this one by means of aggression; aggressive people survived the jungle and savanna better than those who were not. But those tendencies predate the arrival of humanity for they are evident in all creatures that exhibit danger avoidance–animal life in other words.

Level Three: Belonging

This need to belong includes the desire for friends, a romantic partner, children, and ultimately, a sense of community in the workplace, socials, churches, and picnics.

Nature enters here also. Humanity has a strong herding and parenting instinct which combine in a need to belong. People with this need, survived in the jungle savanna better than those who did not have it. The responsible genes came into being in response to the aggressive genes that thrived on violence.

Maslow told of the importance of these needs being met in the social arena. In one expression mental disease, with or without violent behavior, may arise if an individual feels unloved or outcast. People humiliated become alienated and terrorists.

Level Four: Esteem

This need may comprise two subcategories. The individual, Maslow noted, first seeks to gain the respect and admiration of others through achievements, before seeking that respect within himself. Gaining respect and admiration of others is akin to hierarchy in the AP. When we don’t have them we work for them.

Maslow described these first four needs as deficit needs, D-needs, because they motivate the individual to do something because of a deficit. In each case, the level of sustenance must fall below a certain level before the need is felt.

Level Five: Self-actualization

The last and final level, self-actualization, is not a D need. Rather, it is a being need. It can never be satisfied. In fact, the more it receives in terms of satisfaction, the stronger it becomes.

A self-actualized person takes on a set of characteristics. These include being reality-centered, sincere and problem-centered. They focus on finding solutions to obstacles and have a different perception of means and ends from most of us. They feel the means are more important than the end. They have a need for privacy, are independent in thoughts and action. They derive guidance from their own experiences, and they resist culturalization, or can be identified as non-conformists. They hold democratic values concerning ethnic variety and often have close, intimate personal relationships, and have an acceptance of self and others which allows them to poke fun at themselves. Self-actualized people are spontaneous and often live simply with freshness and curiosity. They often hold creative positions.

Self-actualized persons have more peak experiences than most people. They feel part of something bigger, more infinite, better. The self-actualized person is quite rare however. Maslow once estimated only about two percent of the population can be characterized as having reached this level on the hierarchy of needs. Our experience is similar.

From the above, one might expect people to consciously strive to move up the hierarchy of needs and many do. Yet there are exceptions; artists and poets for example sometimes live under quite primitive conditions. Others exist in the self-actualized mode even when deprived of lower needs. For example, Trachtenberg and Frank lived under extremely deprived conditions in concentration camps, yet made great discoveries in the process.

Maslow explained that these people put self-actualization above physiological needs. A creative need, such as self-actualization, may in fact become a driving force because of the lacking felt in other needs.

Peace will come to the extent humanity can practice self-actualization.


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