Q: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!
Right, but it’s not eating that makes us human. 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.
It also does terrible things to the way we think about poor people. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs literally cannot comprehend someone who’s struggling to feed themselves reading a book for pleasure, or seeing a movie, or having friends, or doing anything to make their life pleasant and bearable aside from trying to get more food to eat.
This is the mindset that believes that poor people don’t deserve those things until they have enough to eat. That, just because you’re poor, you don’t get to be human. That if you were really “responsible,” you’d save every nickel and dime and spare second for food and shelter even if that makes your life an unbearable hell of misery.
In short, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is straight up evil.
Q:How are people capable of hurting others simply because of a difference in ideologies despite all the biological mechanisms (i.e. mirror neurons) that help us relate to others? Has our present society affected our capacity to empathize? Also, in general which is more influential on the human mind: empathy or hatred/violence?
These are very difficult questions to answer, but our minds are built for more than just empathy, and hatred and violence are also born out of structures that are meant for strengthening social bonds and creating healthy communities.
We evolved in small groups, kinda like little human herds, and these herds functioned best when there were tight connections within the herd. That means human brains are built to value in-group empathy over out-of-group empathy. It also means that we’re built to respect and follow authority figures if they are consistent in our lives. The herd needs structure and support, and that comes at a cost when interacting with other herds, especially when there was competition for resources that could mean the difference between your child living or dying.
Hatred is generally born in fear, fear of disruption of something someone cares about, whether that’s the purity of their country, their loyalty to a certain group of people, or a belief that the world is great as it is and it is being corrupted by others.
So the real question is, what is stronger, empathy or fear? Unfortunately, fear is, which is why we have to fight it not only in ourselves, but in the world,. We do this by making the world a more stable place where there is less to be afraid of. Also by turning off 24 hour news channels.
#fear is the mind killer, fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration#
It’s also worth noting that empathy can do plenty of evil as well: if empathy basically means that emotions are catching, it doesn’t discriminate between the good and the bad. People in a mob will do things any individual alone would never do. Just as much as you can be sad because your someone else is sad, you can be panicked because your someone else is panicked, or violently angry because someone else is violently angry.
Also, it gets way easier to do terrible things when you don’t think they people are you’re doing them to are, in fact, people. Empathy is powerful, but not insurmountable.
The last night of Desert Bus for Hope. Zeta shift forever! Go watch it: desertbus.org
This is the second piece I made for the Desert Bus for Hope Craft-Along, Gandalf’s famous words from the Fellowship of the Ring. It goes up for auction (silent auction) at 10PM tonight (PST) at http://desertbus.org/silent-auction/102 Description below.
This piece shows one of the most famous lines from the Fellowship of the Ring done in a fraktur hand, with the space to the right containing the full quotation (“You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire […]”) done in a more informal hand, alternating between English and Quenya (and black and blue ink). Additionally, the Y on the left doubles as the certh (dwarfish rune) for G, which Gandalf used as his personal sigil.
Transliterated, the Quenya reads: “Úval lerta langa! Nanyë núro Muina Náro, turno i nárë Anaro. I mornar úva asëa len, Nárë Utumno. Á pelë Huinenna.” Credit to Erunno Alcarinollo at quenya101.com for the translation.