Maslow’s Hierarchy, Fear, and Highlander

“Honor? I’ve got seven kingdoms to rule! One king, seven kingdoms! Do you think honor keeps them in line? Do you think it’s honor that’s keeping the peace? It’s fear! Fear and blood!” – Game of Thrones

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I don’t ask for much.  I just want to die as I came into this world – screaming and covered in someone else’s blood.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow had one of the two ideas that cemented him in the public consciousness, sort of like a Johnny Depp of years’ past, but with more showers than Johnny usually takes.

This idea (the other idea was, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”) became known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  For obvious reasons it isn’t known as Wilder’s Hierarchy, though . . . that’s coming soon, I hear, maybe even by the end of the post! (Foreshadowing!)

Maslow’s Hierarchy is often shown as a pyramid, because Maslow only intended for his psychological work to be used for ancient Egyptians, since that greatly reduced his malpractice insurance.  Also, his patients could not sue, being dead and all.  Upon further reflection and remembering that mummies could come back from the dead if they were played onscreen by really hot people, Maslow changed his mind (and his insurance carrier) and decided that Maslow’s Hierarchy was universally applicable, even onto inanimate objects, like bankers and rocks.

I kid.  Everyone knows that rocks have feelings.

Anyhow, Maslow’s Hierarchy was really his way to describe how and why people act the way they do, and asking them is just too darn hard.  Maslow’s Hierarchy became really popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s and was used to explain absolutely everything in public education from why kids hate split pea soup to why they are attempting to knife the teacher.   But what is the pyramid?

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeedsBy FireflySixtySeven – Own work using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36551248

At the base of the pyramid are the physiological needs – things like breathing, food, water, shelter from the cold, cold winter of your parent’s disappointment.  These were the needs that Maslow felt you couldn’t get past unless they were met.  You’re not exactly thinking about writing poetry when you’re drowning, so Maslow said you were stuck down here.  Interestingly, Maslow felt that sex belonged here, too, despite all of the bad poetry written by involuntarily celibate 15 year olds . . .

Moving right along, Maslow said if you were fed, warm, and could breathe after sex, you could worry about security needs.  Me?  I worry about staying awake.  Maslow might be the only person who locked the door to his bedroom after sex.  For the record – Maslow brought up sex first.

But, these security needs weren’t just having a loaded carbine when your Zombie Grandma (LINK) shows up at your bedside.  These security needs also include (according to Wikipedia®):

  • financial security,
  • health, and,
  • “safety net” against health problems.

If these sound familiar, this appears (to me) to be the level where almost every political argument is waged.  You don’t hear any politicians saying that they’ll get you all the air you can breathe, but they do sure fight for the “government will take care of me” vote.

weirdal

I imagine Al is normally pretty well adjusted.  But TSA?  Yeah.  They take it out of everyone.

The next step up is social belonging.  For those of you born after 1995, this is like being on Facebook®, but with actual people.  It includes the usual suspects from your Facebook™ feed – family, friends, co-workers, people you go to church with, except rarely will anyone quote Firefly© and William Shatner won’t show up on your “Doorstep” feed (LINK).  One reason I think people feel a bit more hollow today than twenty years ago is that so many depend upon Facebook© for their social relationships – it’s like a friendship if you stripped out all of the parts that make a friendship real – the person you can share with, the person that you can call in the middle of the night for help when you need it the most.

Since when do I worry more about my 401k than my family?  Since Maslow said so?  Hmmmmm.  We might be seeing some cracks in this philosophy.

Next on the list is esteem. This means people accept you and value you.  You provide worth to those around you.  You’re a ninja in a room full of evil kittens (unweaned, eyes closed, but still REALLY EVIL).  And you have those throwing star things.  And two samurai swords.

See what happens when someone harshes your esteem:

Esteem is awesome.  It’s excellent!  I love it when people worship the stuff I do.  I also love it when people hold me accountable for the things I don’t do.  It means that what I do matters.  And if it doesn’t matter?  You don’t get real esteem.

I think this is where the current world begins to diverge farther and farther from the social reality.  I love soldiers.  95% of them are awesome!  But not every single one is a hero.  Many are awful people.  Again, I generally see the uniform, and I sense pride.  But to claim that all are heroes means that none are heroes.  All have the same esteem, so they all have none.

Another interesting note (well, it was interesting to me) is that one of the leading causes of depression among men over 40 is . . . loss of esteem, usually job-related.  When I say depression, I mean (shhh) suicide.  Which if you believed Maslow, this would just send you to your friends, and not all the way to square zero.

At the top of the pyramid?  Self-actualization.  It’s like if Wolverine® could do math.  Oh, wait, that’s Tony Stark.  Self-actualization was Maslow’s fantasy of how it felt to be Albert Einstein walking around everyday, but without the autism.  This means you’re living your full potential without restraint.  It must be how Jeff Bezos feels everyday now that he’s all pumped up on testosterone and has those big guns (arms) and big guns (actual rocket ships).  Heck, it’s likely he even has large artillery somewhere.

The rich aren’t like you and me – they have cannon.  (With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Later in life, apparently after watching the TV show Kung-Fu or maybe seeing Led Zeppelin on stage, Maslow added a capstone:

highlander

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE.  Remember how Connor McCloud of the Clan McCloud could do and be everything after he chopped all the heads off of all of those people in Highlander? (SPOILER ALERT FROM 1985)  Yeah.  Apparently this was what Maslow envisioned when he added this to his pyramid.

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I’ve been snarking at poor old Maslow this whole time, primarily because he looks like a well-meaning hippy from today’s standards.  And I’m not sure he deserves it, but, really, it sure is fun.  Ironically, my comments are tame compared to the criticisms of his fellow academicians:

  • Ethnocentric – individualistic versus communal.   Soviet Union fell, dude.
  • Peacetime Vs. Wartime – war combines the two bottom parts of the pyramid so that security takes on the same level of importance as eating. Which, except for a few hundred years in a few small places on Earth?
  • I Could Have Done It Better – Well, sure! What part of the pyramid are you on?  Sissy.

Okay, can I criticize it better than those idiots?

Absolutely.

Maslow entirely neglected the concept of time.  If hunger has been gnawing at me for weeks, it’s a very different story than if I’m worried about being hungry tomorrow.  Hunger forever gnaws at the soul.  (Not the sole – who eats feet?)

Likewise, a brave man will jump on that grenade for you in combat, whereas one who has been sitting at the bottom of a trench for a week might just want to see you gone because you snore or eat your own toenails.

The concept of time is crucial.

And, on further reflection?  Most of our motivation comes not from a clear and shining purpose – it comes from fear.  And fear is time-dependent.  The longer it goes, the more it nips at your soul.  And those we rightly call heroes are those that overcome that fear, both in the short-term and during the long game.  We used to call that character.

So, I make the following Modest Proposal:

Let’s call this . . . the Wilder Hierarchy of Fear™ – (represented by a blob, not a pyramid) starting with –

  • First Fear:   Fear of not having Pez®.  And not breathing.  And not having food.  And freezing to death.  This fear will make you do stupid things, especially in the short term.  Longer term (a week or so) it might even grow into a debilitating fear.
  • Second Fear: Family Survival.  Fear of losing your family.  Many times it will overcome the First Fear, unless you really, really like Pez® more than one of your children.
  • Third Fear: Bloodline Survival.  You like your kids.  You want them to have more kids.  Why?  It’s good.  Especially if you read this blog, because your IQ is totes above 125.  And we need more of you!  Fears of financial failure fall in here.
  • Fourth Fear: Fear of Shame.  You have people you work with.  People who look up to you.  People who admire you.  You don’t want to appear weak or incompetent or dishonorable to them – in many ways, that’s worse than death, because it puts a blight on the family name.
  • Fifth Fear: Fear of Lack of Achievement.  Me?  I have to wonder how much more I could have done if it weren’t for the Pez®.  Stupid Pez™.
  • Sixth Fear: Fear You Aren’t a Marvel® Superhero.  Name says it all.  WHY DON’T I HAVE ADAMANTIUM CLAWS???

Noting that the First through Fourth Fears are driven by a desire to save your family and your community is pretty easy.  And maybe, maybe, I should change it to a pyramid.  Why?

The Bangles!

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom - How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.

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