Driven by con­sumer cul­ture

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - EDITORIAL - Tom Hawco St. John’s

As a species, hu­mans are nat­u­rally hard­wired to sur­vive. We are in a con­stant state of com­pe­ti­tion. That’s our na­ture.

Be­ing “at one” with oth­ers is an in­tel­lec­tual con­struct that goes against the evo­lu­tion­ary grain. We get along with oth­ers as long as they don’t in­ter­fere with our as­pi­ra­tions for safety, se­cu­rity and sur­vival.

The renowned psy­chol­o­gist Abra­ham Maslow fa­mously out­lined these life re­quire­ments in what he termed the “hi­er­ar­chy of needs.” For the sake of sim­plic­ity they may be cat­e­go­rized as “de­fi­ciency” needs (e.g. food, cloth­ing, shel­ter, de­sire to be­long and sur­vive) and “growth” needs (e.g. reach our po­ten­tial, be cre­ative, de­velop spir­i­tual aware­ness). He ar­gued that if the ba­sic de­fi­ciency req­ui­sites are not met we can­not ad­vance and de­velop those in the higher realm.

Ar­guably, much of the so­cial dis­trust, prej­u­dice and hate in ev­i­dence to­day stems from dif­fi­cul­ties we have as­cend­ing the steps of this model. To ful­fil these re­quire­ments we join po­lit­i­cal par­ties, fol­low enig­matic pop­ulists, adopt par­tic­u­lar ide­olo­gies and of­ten look for scape­goats to ex­plain our lack of suc­cess.

We get along with peo­ple as long as they are not do­ing much bet­ter than we are; as long as they are not a threat.

We can gain in­sight about our per­cep­tion of im­mi­grants through Maslow’s model. If our Johnny is un­em­ployed and young Jimmy down the road is pros­per­ing, we can be­come re­sent­ful. Sub­sti­tute Ali or Pe­dro for Jimmy and our vex­a­tion be­comes ma­lig­nant. Too many im­mi­grants tak­ing our jobs is the fa­mil­iar out­cry. If there are too many pros­per­ing Co­hens or Wongs, we re­sent their en­tire race. They be­come tar­gets of cu­mu­la­tive jeal­ousy and racism fol­lowed by the req­ui­site calls for the threat to be con­tained. Too much com­pe­ti­tion in the lower part of Maslow’s par­a­digm.

Yet many of the ob­jects of our for­eigner scorn have their own bat­tles to fight. Com­ing to a new coun­try places many at a great dis­ad­van­tage. There are lan­guage, ed­u­ca­tional and cul­tural dif­fer­ences. They of­ten end up in ghet­tos (es­pe­cially in Europe) with low­pay­ing or no jobs. And even when they suc­ceed they still ex­pe­ri­ence soul-jar­ring prej­u­dice.

Hav­ing trou­ble enough in the lower ech­e­lon of Maslow’s hi­er­ar­chy, they be­come frus­trated, re­sent­ful and an­gry. Some turn to ter­ror­ism or sym­pa­thize with those that do. Their sur­vival and se­cu­rity needs face steep chal­lenges.

Sys­temic re­sent­ful­ness is of­ten the re­sult as new ar­rivals com­pete among them­selves and with those in the dom­i­nant cul­ture.

To add to the predica­ment, the mark­ers in our lower ech­e­lon needs keep chang­ing and ex­pand­ing, largely due to mar­ket driven trendi­ness.

The need for food, cloth­ing and shel­ter were once eas­ily un­der­stood com­modi­ties. Now, how­ever, food in­cludes a myr­iad of nu­tri­tion­ally in­con­sis­tent gro­ceries, a plethora of fast food and up­scale din­ing. Cloth­ing must be fash­ion­able, brand stamped, var­ied and plen­ti­ful. Shel­ter must have the lat­est ac­cou­trements from smart ap­pli­ances, air in­ter­ven­ers and gran­ite coun­ter­tops.

Con­sumer cul­ture, not ne­ces­sity, now de­ter­mines how we feel about our ba­sic needs be­ing met. It, there­fore, be­comes more dif­fi­cult to ”self-ac­tu­al­ize” (the term Maslow used for the high­est state of mind). Like the great white shark and the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, we must now keep mov­ing for­ward or die.

Most of us live within this self-im­posed il­lu­sion. We work, com­pete, get stressed, pump our chests, fall ill and be­fore we know it, life is over. If we have enough toys and ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions we are con­sid­ered suc­cess­ful. If not, we are fail­ures. Most get nowhere near self-ac­tu­al­iza­tion.

Maslow, not to men­tion Je­sus or the Bud­dha, would not be im­pressed.

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