in Driving forces, Future, Strategy perspective

Maslow turned upside down?

Sometimes I feel like we all live in an upside down world. When preparing a lecture I suddenly saw something that could illustrate this. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have been important for how social scientists and others have been looking at our society. If things really are upside down, why not try to turn the hierarchy of needs upside down as well and see what’s happening? (No, I do not have any deeper knowledge about the ideas behind the hierarchy or its current status in psychology…)
Somehow it sounds right to me that more and more people actually see the world this way. Mostly young people I believe, but it have been spreading for some time. Here we can refer to e g Anthony Giddens discussion about modernity…

Even if I saw this mostly as a fun experiment, it really made me think about how modern western societies are organized. They are built to support the lower levels of the Maslow hierarchy of needs (not the upside down version) which are believed to be the basic needs of the citizens.

Can it be so that the basic needs logic of the modern citizen in the western world have changed when the whole society have moved up the hierarchy?

I wonder if one of the major problems we have in our society today is that the largest group of the population have the needs of the two top levels of Maslow’s hierarchy? I am not saying that there doesn’t exist needs belonging to the lower levels as well, but the reasons for that may include that the democratic system fails to support the now basic needs of self-esteem and actualization? Instead the society’s most active, energetic and competent people search fulfillments of these needs elsewhere and most commonly in different activist groups or in spiritual or religious communities. Communities which in some cases are in harmony with the rest of the society, but sometimes in conflict with it. Regardless of which they are separate communities defining new visions, values and norms in parallel to the visions, values and norms which the democratic systems promote.

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  1. Maslow sets a framework that was really innovative at the time; but that has aged a lot :
    – The needs hierarchy is directly copied from North American/US culture (try it with Japanese or Indians…)
    – The idea that satisfying a ‘lower level’ need is the key to next level is wrong: you’d rather die than beg (some actually do) or you blow yourself up ‘for the cause’;
    – What comes first is ‘sense’ [like in ‘to make sense’]; you can simplify the pyramid in 3 levels (from the bottom up): survival, linking & sense; and sense propels the other levels: if what I live doesn’t make sense for me, I’ll let myself die; on the contrary, a human being can survive almost anything as long as they can give it meaning…
    – By the way, the (5) senses are what we make sense with…and they give us a sense of direction: a new born child feels/smells their mother, orients towards her & experiments ‘it’s good’ (assigns a positive meaning).
    – So, yes, I suggest we put Maslow’s pyramid on its tip!

  2. I believe there are only two types of living organisms or complex adaptive systems at work in the world. I type them by their potentials, or where they are going and where they have been. There is type one the organism of need, as demonstrated by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Your Maslow’s hierarchy of wants, or in other words, the potential of want demonstrates type two.

    We in the USA are of the type two varieties. In fact most of us don’t seem to know anymore what we actually need to survive. Our wants power this economy while our reality moves between the need to conform and our wanting to diversify.

  3. Interesting thoughts! The other day I had a discussion about the free will, and maybe that has something to do with it. We are talking about degrees of free will. Now we are reaching to another level of free will on a systemic (statistical?) level. En emergent free will for the (connected) humanity as a whole??

  4. Sometimes I think that we try to socialize everything, but do we need food because we are socialized? In the same time the presented model is amazing, showing how actually the system try to be or become.

  5. This is the absolute first time I’ve seen the Hierarchy turned upside down. As a Professional Counselor using The Hierarchy of Needs as the basis for much of the work I do, I look forward to disucssing this with colleagues and some of my more fully actualized clients! Thanks.