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A Tale of Two Philosophies June 15, 2014

Posted by geoff in News.

As I’ve mentioned before on these very pages, I believe that conservative and liberal attitudes are informed by different positions on the Maslow hierarchy of needs chart. That’s the chart that shows that as societies/individuals progress, they move from one set of needs up to the next, gradually working toward self-actualization:


This chart is one I’ve used before, and I am lazy, so I didn’t change the “DNC” label to something more relevant. But suffice to say that I think that conservatives live in Tiers 2 – 4, with special emphasis on the Safety Tier* (Tier 2). Liberals, on the other hand, occupy Tiers 3 – 5, with their emphasis on Tiers 4 & 5 (Esteem and Self-Actualization).

The fact that we occupy different tiers isn’t a problem until the priorities start to conflict. When, say, the emphasis on Self-Actualization or Esteem compromises Safety. Or when concerns over Safety inhibit people’s progression up the ladder. But if I had to choose, I’d say that protecting the lower tiers certainly takes precedence over the higher tiers.

So the question is: are conservatives’ fears that their safety/security/stability is in peril justified? Or are they creating Monsters from the Id?

Well let’s see. The conservative worldview says that evil exists in the world, and that other countries are pretty much out to get what they want, regardless of the consequences to others. The liberal viewpoint is that what we perceive as evil is really just misunderstanding caused by lack of insight and communication, and that everybody being pretty much the same, we ought to be able to resolve our differences through discussion and empathy.

Which world do we live in? I don’t think you have to look any farther than the Islamic rebels in Iraq to decide that. Or Syria. Or Russia. Or China. Or Iran. Or North Korea. All of whom are pursuing aggressive policies designed to force people and/or countries to live as they mandate.

Obama’s “diplomacy first” policy is a prime example of how somebody operating in the upper tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy can compromise the lower tiers. Without a security-minded emphasis in our foreign policy, the lid came off the box, and now the safety and security of millions of people are directly at risk. His naivety is rapidly bringing the security of the US itself into danger.

All of these events were predicted by the conservative worldview. Every single one. But they caught the President completely by surprise.

Our Kumbaya foreign policy is a disaster. We need to take it down a couple of notches, and get back to the basics.

*I think there’s one item missing from Tier 2: that would be freedom. One could argue that freedom isn’t actually required to ascend Maslow’s ladder, that you could climb the entire ladder under some sort of benevolent dictatorship. But from the conservative viewpoint, the Tier 1 and 2 concerns aren’t really fully addressed until you’ve ensured that they can’t be taken away. And that requires a life free of coercion by others and by the State.

Hence guns.


1. Michael - June 15, 2014

The problem we have with the progressive attitude is that they assume that a “higher” tier is also a morally superior tier, a more evolved mindset that justifies their entitlement to superior positions as the philosopher kings of society (i.e., the bureaucrats who write regulations for the rest of us).

Thus, as Ace frequently observes, they are ever inclined not just to disagree with conservatives, but to sneer at them. Cathy and I met these people all the time when we lived in the D.C. area.

They seem not to realize that Maslow’s tiers are just different, and the higher tiers are irrelevant if the lower tiers are not secured.

2. Lippy - June 15, 2014

Well put, both of you.

3. geoff - June 15, 2014

@Michael: Zackly.

4. Cathy - June 15, 2014

This is a great chart. I like how it helps understand human nature and to be able to apply the principles of it in marketing, counseling, management — sheesh! — even in youth ministry, religious curriculum development, or theological discussions.

When I first learned this years ago in business school it was stressed to us that the basic needs MUST be met — or perceived to be met — before the higher ones are pursued. And that is at any given moment. So we apply some guidelines in order to better understand or handle people. Basic reality here. We learn that we won’t pursue great thought or achievements if we are starving to death. It’s tough for students to do well in school when they come to school hungry. We aren’t as capable of helping others through charitable means unless our own basic needs for shelter and food are met. We don’t expect people at a conference to listen to the pitch if we haven’t seen to offering them coffee and donuts, or whatever.

No political or philosophical view can cause ‘some’ of us to ‘occupy’ a different tier. We all have the same tiers — and depending upon any given day or moment we may be pursuing any NEED in anyone of these tiers.

It is possible that the DNC likes to ‘think’ they are pursuing higher tiers. But when they do this, they are stinkin-drunk on arrogance and conceit and not living in the real world. To use the chart — they are probably at the bottom — stuck in an imbalance of their own basic needs with no homeostasis.

I agree with y’all. I just wanted to say it differently.

5. geoff - June 15, 2014

Another one of the ways the conservative/liberal differences manifest themselves is in the provision of Tiers 1 and 2. Liberals are very happy to turn control of those tiers over to government, so they can move up the ladder. Conservatives are loathe to relinquish control of those tiers, because they don’t trust anybody to manage these vital aspects of their lives.

Cathy - June 15, 2014

@Geoff: Zackly. And liberals with so much desire for power over others really keeps them stuck in tier 1 or maybe 2 — but barely. Because for them it’s about raw ‘survival’ and if they don’t have control over us they have nothing.

6. lauraw - June 15, 2014

I think it was a mistake to present these concepts as a pyramidal tiered system in the first place. It creates an imaginary hard ground for phony intellectuals to inhabit. This is illusory, there is no such hard ground. The world changes too quickly.

I would deny them that fantasy, and present these truths as more of a constantly regenerating continuum. Force the observer to accept that fluidity is the only truth, and that he must daily confront the issue of fundamental security as a serious matter.

7. geoff - June 15, 2014

That’s an extremely good point, lw. I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes huge amounts of sense.

8. lauraw - June 16, 2014
9. Cathy - June 16, 2014

Yep. I agree Laura.

This illustration is a tool. I agree that the idea of “higher” or “lower” can be misused. It was illustrated originally as a pyramid to show foundational aspects of human needs — not that some are superior to others philosophically or intellectually. As I said before, we ALL might occupy any tier at any given point. When things get tough, our pursuits and minds will return to our basic needs. Knowing how to use this tool helps us consider the needs and pursuits of OTHERS and whether we are in the same place as they are. It’s very helpful for good communication.

This is yet another example where a good tool is being used to do or illustrate something it is not — like how a screwdriver makes a bad hammer.

10. Maslow and the Parties’ Agendas | Innocent Bystanders - September 20, 2015

[…] talked before about how conservatives and liberals are at different tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. […]

11. Maslow Strikes Again | Innocent Bystanders - May 8, 2020

[…] 6 years ago I wrote a post titled “A Tale of Two Philosophies,” wherein I talked about the Maslowian hierarchy of needs, and the differences between […]

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