This guy Abraham Maslow in his theory ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ argues that one has to fulfil the basic stuff like physiological needs (hunger, sex etc.), security needs (bodily, financial etc.) and social needs (friendship, family etc) first, before gaining the ability to fulfil the higher category of esteem needs (achievement, respect by/for others) and self-actualisation needs (morality, creativity, lack of prejudice etc.). Though it has its exceptions and drawbacks, Maslow’s theory is a simple and powerful tool. It seems this theory has unrealised applicability in context of the relatively new conception of Human Development.
I have often seen people criticize the poor for their lack of morality, poor business acumen, lack of social cohesion, rampant social prejudice, their general lack of ability and what not.
Yes I have seen tribals in far off haats “foolishly” selling off their forest pickings for absolutely unjust petty amounts. But we need to viscerally understand that one needs to first be bodily satisfied and secure, to think of waiting and selling the produce at a better price or thinking of a better way to process it or sell it at a better market. You need resources and social contacts to do so. We often hurry and rationalise that they do not want their own development and that they do not aspire for any greater achievement due to their conscious fault. Maslow would say that their short sightedness is structural and their physiological and security needs at the moment, and in their life and culture in general, are so great that they are completely alien to the need to build new contacts and conserve resources for greater achievement and actualisation.
One is reminded here of John Lennon lyrically praising the Working Class Hero:
‘When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years,
Then they expect you to pick a career.
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear.’
The question of personally standing up for the morally correct position would more often than not, not rise, until the person has had a recent meal, in her secure home, with her family and has a certain level of respect in her immediate social environment. Maslow argues that one is positively motivated towards higher goals only when such basic needs are satisfied, until that is done, it is only negative motivation to fill up the gap. Also, It is only after all this basic stuff is achieved that one may expect entrepreneurial creativity or “good” voting behaviour. As Marx would argue, it is the material/economic infrastructure which determines the political/social superstructure.
Yes there are all kinds of people in all kinds of places but you cannot expect great levels of morality and collective action in places of abject hunger, ignorance and want of resources. The morally degraded democratic politics of give and take, is because of the structured short sightedness of the poor who need to be first secured with food, shelter and social security to subsequently realise their higher needs of democratic self-rule and self-actualisation. We need to internalize that there is a clear hierarchy of needs and need to stop judging them from our moral/creative standards that we have built up in our secure and privileged backgrounds.
The foremost solution is provided by the Right to Food. And as regards the Social and Esteem Needs, a feminist perspective is pertinent and the biggest support system can be found with the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) which, through its Self Help Groups (SHGs), is bringing in the all essential ‘weak ties’ (akin to our own social networking) for the rural women breaking their over-dependence on regressive aspects familial ties and fulfilling the social needs of half of our population in one go.
Only when everyone is personally, bodily and socially secure can you expect moral behaviour and creative thinking to unleash a truly democratic society and a thriving innovative economy. This Maslow guy may have given us a clue or two more than he thought he had.