Last year, I went to a community meeting in my neighborhood. The goal of this gathering was for local politicians to gauge the concerns of residents. To accomplish this, a chart was posted on the wall listing the following categories:
Lack of employment
Every person was given three stickers and instructed to place one next to each of their concerns. Overwhelmingly, public safety was rated as most important. The problem is: I live in the State of Rhode Island, which has consistently had one of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation. The fact that children are starving did not register on their radars.
The Hierarchy of Needs
To understand this, we can explore the work of humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. Perhaps his most famous concept is the hierarchy of needs. Human beings have ‘instinctoid’ needs that are arranged hierarchically in terms of their potency:
- Physiological needs refer to the processes necessary for the survival of human beings and other animals. When these needs are not met, they will dominate the psychic life of the individual. To advance to the next stage in the hierarchy, physiological needs must be at least satisfactorily met.
- Safety needs refer to desire for order, structure, and security. The goal is to reduce the amount of uncertainty in one’s life. To advance to the next stage in the hierarchy, safety needs must be at least satisfactorily met.
- Love/Belonging needs refers to the needs for family, friends, and a romantic relationship. The failure to satisfy these needs results in alienation. To advance to the next stage in the hierarchy, love/belonging needs must be at least satisfactorily met.
- Esteem needs refers to the need for prestige and acceptance. In other words, human life requires symbolic meaning in the form of respect for others and by others. To advance to the next stage in the hierarchy, esteem needs must be at least satisfactorily met.
- Self-actualization refers to the need to tap into your innate potential and essence. Thus, he contends that “every musician must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What humans can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature.” (Maslow, 1987, p.22).
“They Got Money For Wars But Cant Feed the Poor” – Tupac Shakur
Applying this to the matter at hand, the lack of employment opportunities causes poverty. When a person is poor, they lack food and water, and are unable to satisfy their physiological needs. Focusing primarily on public safety subverts the hierarchy of needs because policing is a secondary concern to fulfilling our biological drives. It is not a coincidence that prisons are full of people who were poor. Instead of focusing on crime and policing, we should focus on distributions of wealth.
The national obsession with funding war instead of helping the poor demonstrates just how much the hierarchy of needs has been reversed. I close with the words of fellow blogger Christine Valentor who points out the utter disregard for basic humanity:
“if the government were not spending a bazillion-gazillion dollars on WAR (and other foolish things) there would be no question nor problem with money set aside to help the needy!! When they want money for WAR it somehow magically appears, yet when it is needed for food, shelter, education, health care etc. — it suddenly becomes a problem.“