Abraham Maslow, the initiator of ‘humanistic psychology’, has been described as being “concerned with questions such as, “Why don’t more people self-actualize if their basic needs are met?” and basically why don’t people try to reach their full potential.”
“To over simplify the matter somewhat it is as if Freud supplied to us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half. Perhaps this health psychology will give us more possibility for controlling and improving our lives and for making ourselves better people. Perhaps this will be more fruitful than asking “how to get unsick”. (A. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being,)
In a sense Maslow follows in the footsteps of J.J. Rousseau.
“Although, in this state [civil society], he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man” (J.J. Rousseau, The Social Contract)
In more than one sense.
Both consider that society presents its members with almost endless opportunities for self em-betterment, both wonder how come so few make good use of those opportunities and both have been accused of things they have never done.
Rousseau has been falsely accused of being the father of the ‘Noble Sauvage’ – and the quote above proves his complete innocence, ‘stupid and unimaginative animals’ can be mistaken for ‘noble savages’ only by those ‘abused’ by their ‘new condition’ – while Maslow’s detractors – who have failed to scientifically validate all aspects of ‘the hierarchy of needs’ – are questioning the scientific nature of Maslow’s ideas instead of reconsidering their own positions. (The truth being that Maslow had stated upfront that “I yield to the temptation to present it (his notion of a ‘Psychology of Health’, which includes the concept of ‘self-actualization’) publicly even before it is checked and confirmed, and before it can be called reliable scientific knowledge“)
Unfortunately it is rather obvious that while Maslow has successfully detailed what it takes for an individual to ‘ripen’ into the situation of being able to ‘reconsider its own self’, he failed to reach as far as Rousseau was able to. While the latter deplored the fact that ‘the abuses of his new condition often degrade him below that which he left’ the first blindly entertained the notion that self-actualization is necessarily a positive process.
I’ll use only two examples to illustrate my theory, even if by doing so I’m presenting myself as a target for the ‘science-nazi’.
First take a glance at those who founded/were involved in running LTCM. All of them had very respectable careers behind them at that moment. Why did they feel the need to get involved in such a risky business? For those of you unfamiliar with the financial world LTCM was a hedge fund which had to be bailed out in 1998 after losing $4.6 billion, a huge amount of money for those times.
Then tell me what drove Bernard Madoff, an already very successful ‘operator’ in the financial market to transform the wealth management branch of his company into a huge Ponzi scheme that eventually lost some $18 billion of actual money ($65 billion if the fabricated gains are added to the total)? Not to mention the fact that he involved his family into the daily operation of his company, leading to his brother being sentenced to 10 years in prison and one of his sons committing suicide… – the other one died of lymphoma a few years after Madoff had been incarcerated.
Could it be that this ‘self-actualization’ business depends on two things, the character of the individual involved and the kind of interaction that exists between him and the community of which he is a member? Meaning that if the ties are weak the character of the individual becomes the dominant factor?
And since nobody’s perfect…
I’ll end up saying that it’s not the governments that have a ‘recurring problem’ but the peoples themselves. By definition governments come and go, it’s the peoples that stay behind and must suffer the consequences of ‘self-actualizations’ went wrong.