Sixteen Tons….and whatya get?


by Inquisitive Raven


June 3, 2006

St Peter, doncha call me ’cause I can’t go,

I owe my soul to the company store.

Merle Travis, Sixteen Tons

Before I trained to be an engineer, I was a social worker. We talked a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs because we were trying to enrich the lives of older people in crisis; get them past the crisis and back on track. Along with getting them “back to normal,” we tried to find ways to engage them in some sort of activity to express themselves.

I wrote a comment on another article this week about how the Republicans were actually forcing people down the levels of the Hierarchy of Needs, which resulted in Americans asking for less and less and worrying more and more about basic needs like food, energy, jobs and relationships…

Here’s a quick primer on the Hierarchy of Needs (HofN). You can find much more in the Wikipedia, of course.

The HofN is represented as a pyramid with layers with the first layer being Physiological Needs. These needs are the very basic needs of human being: the need to breathe, the need for water, the need to eat, the need for sleep, etc. Everything else will be abandoned to take care of these needs. Think of what you would do if you couldn’t feed yourself. The inability to meet these needs can result in mental changes and physical symptoms.

After the bodily needs are met, Safety Needs emerge. If you can take care of you most basic bodily needs, then humans look to consolidate and protect what they have. This includes security of employment, physical safety, protection of resources, protection of health resources, etc.

The third level up represents the Social Needs. After the human physical needs and the protection of the resources that secure those needs, we turn to the needs of the social animal. Here’s where you get the outreach and need to be in loving relationships, work in community, and work together.

Esteem Needs can be represented as the result of the outreach: the recognition and support from the community back for the work the human contributes to the society.

I’m going to group the top layers of the pyramid together: these are the Being Needs that are best represented by the human need to excel, transcend, be creative and _expression of the inmost self. By grouping these together, I don’t want to miss the Spiritual Needs, but I think they can be grouped with Being Needs for the purpose of my point…which I am taking a long time to get to, I KNOW!

Here’s my point.The farther down the pyramid we can be driven, by insecurity, illness, lack of _expression, etc, the less human we become. We will do ANYTHING to feed ourselves and our families. After that, we will do anything to keep that resource safe.

To me, this explains why people vote against their self interest at one level of the pyramid to protect the next layer.

It explains to me why the abortion rate goes up under the Republican administrations. The feeling of security and having social needs met are much more supportive to a woman who is pondering whether to take the pregnancy to term; she is more likely to have the child if she feels financially and medically secure.

By piling debt on the class of society with fewer resources, the Republicans actually drive the needs to a lower and lower level where people will do whatever it takes (fill in the blanks here) to feed themselves and feel secure. Even vote for a Republican. Who can vote for a Democrat that wants to take you to the higher level of needs when you haven’t got the basic levels secure?

When we talk about issues, we need to link it to the most basic level of human needs.

We can’t talk about freedom of speech if that freedom puts employment security at risk because human will fall back to the financial security need before the higher level of the need for _expression. I think that is where people say things like, “I don’t care if they want to listen in to my phone calls, I have nothing to hide.” They give up the higher need of _expression for the feeling of security. Listen to this: “We fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” That’s a perfect example that says to me that we are willing to sacrifice other peoples’ lives to hold on to what I have, whether it be my life, my job, gasoline, whatever.

What do the Iraqis care about the lofty goal of democracy, when they only have electricity for two hours a day?

The reason that Democrats sound so complicated is not that we are talking above their heads intellectually, but we talk above their level of needs. We need to consolidate the basic needs before we can go to the next level.

See how strange this sounds:

  • We are willing to give up the lives of innocents in Iraq for our own need to feel safe and secure.
  • We are willing to give up our children’s future financial security for our own need to feel secure.
  • We are willing to accept political corruption as long as there are no more attacks on New York.
  • We are willing to give up our life-giving climate to get back and forth to work now.When you listen to political discourse, do so through the Maslow lens for a day or two. Then ask yourself, how to best win the hearts and minds?


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