"Hi John, what makes you say that Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs identifies people who are sick/hungry/whatever as "less human"? I learned about it in uni and the professor explained it to mean that it's hard to be thinking about school work when you're starving, or be productive at your job if you're really tired, etc. I'm just trying to understand your viewpoint on it. Thanks!"
Asked by Anonymous
Right, but what makes us human is not eating. Lots of organisms can eat. What makes us human is making art and thinking the fancy thoughts that university professors think and achieving what Maslow called “self-actualization.” So saying that hungry or sick people cannot access “higher” needs is literally dehumanizing, because it claims the sick do not have access to the full range of human consciousness.
(I mean, Maslow literally put love between friends and family above the “basic needs,” and said that people who are hungry cannot experience love in the pure/true/real/unfettered way that unhungry people can.)
This paternalistic way of imagining need is in my opinion completely wrong. Yes, people who are starving report that it is hard to think about anything other than the desire to eat, but they also continue to write and love and read and have sex and do many things that Maslow associated with higher needs. I don’t think need is a pyramid at all; it’s a complicated web in which one need (like food) can transfigure another need (like love) without either negating the other.
Right, but what makes us human is not eating.
That is fucking DISGUSTING of you to say. Eating disorders are a terrible thing to romanticize. Your phrasing implies that people who eat whenever they’re hungry are animalistic, unable to think about “higher” things such as poetry or art. That mental disorders or illnesses are what make us human. That the depressed see the world more accurately and vividly, and that those who are satisfied with their lives are mindless sheep grazing on the corn.
That isn’t the case and I think you should rethink the way you view things.
Um, no. I think you should re-read the sentence in context, because I don’t understand how you came to that interpretation. Maybe his syntax is confusing, but I think it’s really clear the intended meaning is ‘Eating isn’t what makes us sentient human beings. All animals eat. What makes us human are things like art and love. And it’s insulting to say that because someone is malnourished , they can’t love fully or be a good writer.”
Right. If I might be permitted to drag this back to Maslow’s Hierarchy, it’s been a bit, but I don’t think the argument behind the Hierarchy is that people *can’t* start doing or fulfilling these needs until the “lower” tier is fufilled, but rather more of an order of operations thing.
People do all sorts of things all the time, but if they are starving, they will *tend* to focus on food more than art etc. The argument is not that they are *incapable* of it (that’s clearly not true) but rather that our attention will be focused on basic survival physical needs first, physical safety second, psychological safety next, and then on to art etc.
Or to put it another way, all human beings devote some time to all of the portions of the Hierarchy of needs (again, order of operations), but the “size” of the time devoted to each of those needs will vary with emphasis towards the lower tiers. No matter our circumstances, we will devote some of our time to all portions of it, but if we don’t have to expend large amounts of time and energy on the basics, we have more time and energy for the “upper” portions.
Mind you, even then there’s some problems since some people deliberately sacrifice some aspects of their life for other portions (mystics starving themselves, artists shutting themselves off from the world, etc). I sometimes think Maslow’s pyramid works better on a societal level than the individual. Broadly defined, modern society provides sufficient resources for more people to devote time to art, creativity, psychological happiness, etc..but still.
I don’t disagree with you at all. Not having to worry about things like food and shelter frees up time and energy for other things. It’d be hard to argue that people who have those things covered aren’t happier than people in need.
I take that back. I’ve read a lot of comments on news articles about strikes and living wages that tread disgustingly close to arguing that people are better and happier if they have to struggle to make ends meet. ‘People should have incentives’ is the meme, and it is moral problem if they don’t. The older I get, the more this moral view of society baffles me. Why wouldn’t we want to free up as many people as we can for creative and innovative endeavours? Do people really think money is only way to get people to want to do things? As if thousands of years of human art and invention didn’t happen before we invented the concept of money.
How we educate people is broken. How we distribute resources is broken. How we encourage people to do amazing things is absolutely broken.
Ugh. Pardon me while I wander off to wonder what I’m doing with my life and why in my head amazing things only applies to other people. Surely I have more to give this world than a few witty words on the internet and the most mindless of legal drudgery. But here’s the painful truth - I don’t even believe that enough to TRY.