26 February 2006

Maslow, Wolfe Tone & Mesopotamia

In 1943, Abraham Maslow introduced his “hierarchy of needs” theory in a paper entitled A Theory of Human Motivation. His theory contended that as humans meet 'basic needs', they seek to satisfy successively 'higher needs' that occupy a set hierarchy.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the four lower levels are grouped together as deficiency needs associated with physiological needs, while the top level is termed growth needs associated with psychological needs. While our deficiency needs must be met, our being needs are continually shaping our behaviour. The basic concept is that the higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus once all the needs that are lower down in the pyramid are mainly or entirely satisfied. Growth forces create upward movement in the hierarchy, whereas regressive forces push prepotent needs further down the hierarchy. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs)

It might well be good to go back to the very simple basics of understanding what motivates people. First and foremost people want food and shelter from the elements, soon thereafter they aspire for the safety of they and their kin. It could be that you could learn a lot about politics just by an understanding of Maslow’s “Hierarchy”.

It has oft been said that the study of history is so very important so that we, as a society, aren’t forever making the same mistakes over and over again.

Theobald Wolfe Tone lived a short life from 1763 to 1798. He published an article in 1791 entitled “An argument on behalf the Catholics in Ireland” He himself was a Trinity Graduate and a Protestant. Yet, most of everything with regard to the “Give Ireland back to the Irish” and the “26+6” movements eventually trace back to Mr. Wolfe Tone.

A few days before he slit his own throat with a penknife after being sentenced to death he made the following comment:

"From my earliest youth I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain as the curse of the Irish nation, and felt convinced, that while it lasted, this country would never be free or happy. In consequence, I determined to apply all the powers which my individual efforts could move, in order to separate the two countries. That Ireland was not able, of herself, to throw off the yoke, I knew. I therefore sought for aid wherever it was to be found… Under the flag of the French Republic I originally engaged with a view to save and liberate my own country. For that purpose I have encountered the chances of war amongst strangers: for that purpose I have repeatedly braved the terrors of the ocean, covered as I knew it to be with the triumphant fleets of that Power which it was my glory and my duty to oppose. I have sacrificed all my views in life; I have courted poverty; I have left a beloved wife unprotected, and children which I adored, fatherless. After such sacrifices, in a cause which I have always considered as the cause of justice and freedom - it is no great effort at this day to add the sacrifice of my life." Theobald Wolfe Tone, 1798

What can we learn from this? Well, perhaps a couple of things. First off, as Stephen Biddle’s current article in Foreign Affairs rightly points out that the situation in Iraq is one of a communal civil war. (The article is not yet available online but feel free to read Paul Pillar’s current article, from the same issue in Foreign Affairs, highlights below.) Just like in Ireland, the situation in Iraq, and most of the greater Middle East, dates back generations. By merely changing a few of Mr. Tone’s names and places in the above quote it could be easily applied to the situation in today’s Middle East. Although, it would probably lend itself most aptly to Hamas leaders.

Which brings us to the Maslow. Why did the IRA garner local support for years? Why did Sein Fein get elected in Ireland? Why did Hamas get elected in Palastine? It all comes back to Maslow. People want food, shelter safety and a sense of belonging to a greater society. These form the basis of the pyramid. Without these basic needs being fulfilled by one form of government the people, in the very basic form of democratic speech, will rebel until they find the leadership that can provide them with what they think will help them provide those basic needs. Once those basic needs are met then the governing body either evolves or is replaced. It either continues it bloody ways which got it into power (and usually causes it to fail) or it evolves to a more peaceful form of government.

In the case of Ireland it has taken over 200 years. It has gone through many setbacks along the way and it may continue to do so. Other, long forgotten nations, have not been as fortunate. Sometimes what has been forgotten in US society, given our melting pot of ancestry, is those rich and diverse histories amongst our own ancient nationalitites. No problem in the middle east is going to be solved in but few years. The “troubles” in Ireland are the but the latest, hopefully closed, chapter in that ongoing story.

Perhaps, we should all try to understand that the last time the Middle East enjoyed the top of the Maslow pyramid was back during the time of the spice roads. That’s the route that the famous roads that Marco Polo followed to reach the riches of China… actually a dynasty who’s roots start with a Mongol invasion that eventually saw the greatest land takeover in the history of the world, which controlled more land that Alexander or even the Roman Empire at it’s height. At that time the people of the Middle East where on the top of Maslow’s pyramid.

I’m digressing but it serves the same point. The history of the Middle East has had many actors on the stage. In 1920 the Birtish took control of present day Iraq from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire as retribution for being on the wrong side in WWI. In 1922 the famous Michael Collins began drafting the constitution of the Irish Free State which eventually lead to the partition of Ireland and lasted until 1937. By 1932, the British had ended their mandate in Iraq. And then WWII happened. Then the world recovery from the decimation of the war. By the late 1960’s the Irish where in violent revolt called the “Troubles” By the late 1960’s the Middle East, after having gone through a tremendous number of bloody coups in most countries settled in to relative calm under the leadership of mostly brutal dictators.

Let's remember that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. It all totally depends on who wins and who writes the history books.

As times have changed so has the position of the common man on the pyramid.

If you don’t have food or shelter for your children you will do whatever it takes to get it for them. If that includes supporting a group of people who preach violence then so be it as it is a means to an end. Once those basics needs are met then there is a desire for safetly. This doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, as with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, you get what you wish for. But generally, the more brutal a governing body ot it’s own citizenery the more quickly it disappears.

Unless of course, there is a much longer societal history. The British Empire and all of the competing colonialist countries destroyed ancestral borders and ways of doing things. They set up artificial boundries, "lines on maps", as it where, that we continue to pay the price for today. The brutality of Afrika does not make the US media very often. Yet, those bloody purges can happen in the Middle East. The primary difference is that we are much more keenly aware of the middle east because our society relies on theirs for oil to continue to drive our economy.

So, what should we do? Well, maybe we should start by trying to understand that no solution is going to be solved in a soundbite. The histories or the world are broad and deep. There is not going to be a short term fix. The British left quite a mess in the 1920-1950’s. It is up to our generation to fix the problem so that our great grandchildren do not face the same problems. Today, there are men and woman who feel life Wolfe Tone. They will slit their own throat. By and large this is no more than 2% of any society. More than likely, if we permit ourselves to understand that there is no quick fix and that the fix we come up with today will have to evolve as the situation evolves, then we can leave a better place for our progeny. Afterall, we are the ones who can contemplate this from our position at the top of the pyramid. Hopefully, our children can look back and know that we made our decisions for altruistic reasons and not out of pure lust for wealth.

...and maybe we can learn from the lessons in Ireland of what works and what doesn't in dealing with rebellion.

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