Driven by consumer culture
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.