From Prior Posts:
- Setting the framework for a journey into the future, having a sense of what the destination could be: How Might Humanity Survive a Radically Changing World?
- The first steps in understanding the destination: The Goal — Episode I: The Basic Requirements
- The Goal — Episode II: Support for Security Needs
Aspects of Higher Needs in Relation to Sapience
The higher needs are:
- Love and belonging
In the previous posts I focused on basic needs and security because every human being shares essentially the same basic levels of need in these areas. In this post I will speak to the so-called higher needs, which are a little different in that there seems to be less commonality between individuals with respect to the level of need experienced, the importance of fulfilling that need and the cognitive strategies used to do so. These levels in Maslow's hierarchy are more conditioned by personality traits and types. For example, a rugged individualist may not feel much of a need for love and belonging, much less esteem. And they might, instead, seek disconnection from most social networks, even families. Similarly an introverted personality may not have strong needs for esteem. Conversely, a extroverted, gregarious individual may crave esteem from others and go to great lengths to be thought well of.
One thing I believe I have noticed about people is that the constellation of what psychologists call positive personality attributes are often found in clusters in people I have known who have struck me as wiser than average. I must stress that there is no current way to measure sapience per se, but of the more mature people that I have known, those who have seemed to me to be wisest also seem to express the more positive aspects of these higher needs, and in particular, their wisdom provides them with ways to fulfill those needs. I have a strong suspicion that more sapient people not only experience greater levels of these positive-directing needs, but also appreciate their subjective experience of them and appreciate it greatly when they are being fulfilled.
The first two of the higher-level needs, love and esteem, have great relevance to the prosociality of human beings. Most humans generally like being with other human beings, especially those with very similar interests and personal preferences. Humans like to share their inner thoughts with one another, or at least like to feel that they can. Relationships that involve a great level of trust between individuals provide a way for that sharing to take place. This might very well be related to the security needs I last wrote about. An individual needs to feel secure with another individual in order to share intimate thoughts and physical experiences. That milieu is experienced as a loving relationship. But, in order to have the opportunities for developing loving relationships, one needs to be in a group large enough that there are choices available for mates and friends. In other words, one has to be part of a large enough group.
So it is also with esteem. Everyone wants to feel as if they are well thought of. They like to feel that their actions and productive works are held in high regard by the others in their group. This means that there needs to be a group around the individual that can reflect that esteem (assuming it is warranted).
Not only is the esteem of others an important need to be fulfilled, but self-esteem is vital. We get self-esteem when we get feedback from others in the form of being treated with esteem! Of course one can also monitor one's own performance in various endeavors — achieving a new personal best, for example — to provide immediate feedback through self-awareness. But much of our sense of self-esteem is the result of the complex feedback loop established in our social relations. We need the feedback from others to calibrate our own monitoring. We feel good about ourselves and our abilities because others feel good about us and our abilities. I do think that more sapient individuals are not compelled to only work for the esteem of others as their only measure. People with high ego-strength (not neurotic) are often self-directed (related to self-actualization) and do not perform to especially please others as much as they seek to satisfy themselves. Such people enjoy performing well because it pleases others but are not motivated to just please others.
Another observation regarding self-esteem is the apparent transference of measures of performance to the possession of money or wealth, the new measure of success, in modern materially developed societies. High salaries, big cars (or now SUVs), big houses, are all indices of “success” in the modern world. These values seem to be invading the developing world and have been a mainstay in the OECD-type countries for many centuries. Wealth and power underpin the sense of self-esteem because in an over crowded world, where our groups consist of too many individuals such that the level of our intimacies (as described above) are necessarily restricted, e.g. it is hard to know who you can trust when there are so many choices, we fall back on a surrogate — money. This actually plays into our conception of free market philosophy, the market and prestige reinforce one another in the minds of the merely average sapient. The higher sapient individual, who does not only seek to please others just for the sake of reinforcing the sense of esteem, is not particularly impressed by monetary success, nor seeks it for themselves just to impress others. Of course, the downside is that since most others are impressed with monetary success, they fail to recognize the real achievements of the more sapient. The latter are fortunate to have much higher ego-strength to counter what may seem a lack of the esteem of those others.
The main point about having an opportunity to fulfill these two higher level needs is that there be a group structure that provides the variety of possibilities in forming relations and giving others an opportunity to get to know the individual. This is why I argue that community is the key to a future survival existence that is humanistic. We cannot fulfill our needs in the hierarchy unless we pursue doing so as a group. The population size of a tribe or village must be large enough so that there is variety in personalities, talents, skills, and interests. If the group is too small then the viability of surviving, let alone self-actualizing, is at risk. If the group gets too big, a number of other problems arise that are counter to viability in the sense of long-term sustainability (such as the transference of measures of esteem to measures of personal wealth). Remember, we have already determined that sustainability requires a form of dynamic steady-state. There seems to be a “sweet spot” in terms of group sizes where viability is maximized.
Self-actualization is sometimes associated with this idea of ego-strength and self esteem building. The latter, thus, makes it very much a social endeavor. But the strength of ones sense of self (and liking ones self) would seem to be the emergence of a solitary cognitive experience out of the otherwise social framework. In other words, our capacity to pursue our own unique interests, and understand that that is exactly what we are doing, is an individualistic mental phenomenon built on top of the prosociality aspects of the other higher levels in the hierarchy. One can develop ones own sense of self through pursuing ones unique interests, using ones unique set of skills, knowledge, and passions. But this can only be done on the basis of having a society to support one. The painter needs a successful society that produces enough necessities that allow the painter to practice his art. And he needs people to see his products. He might not be what we would call, today, a professional artist, since he would need to go pick vegetables just like everyone else. But in the right social mix, with the right system of support from the bottom of the hierarchy (biological) upward, he can practice and improve and evolve his sense of art. That is what we are shooting for.
I used an artist as an example of self-actualization, but I don't mean that self-actualization is about becoming artistic per se. There are many different manifestations of self-actualization among those who have been lucky enough to reach this level in the hierarchy. Self-actualization is about a quest to know ones self better and to attain a higher level of performance in whatever pursuit one wishes to take. It is about having the opportunity (time and energy) to do so. Someone who is responsible for tending the garden and who seeks better results, more stable harvests, or to try new varieties, etc. is undergoing self-actualization while engaged in their primary work. This is what we mean by being an ‘artisan’. One need not treat self-actualization like a hobby; find time to do something different from day-to-day living. It is a way of being in and a part of the world and the society.
If one feels hurried, harried, rushed, pressured, etc. then one cannot be self-actualizing even when doing what they nominally love most to do. Our modern world puts undue emphasis on speed (hence our need for more powerful machines and fuels). We are ruled by the clock, not just as a way to tell the time of day, but as a dictator of our schedule — a schedule designed to rush us to the next stage of economic growth. Take away the demand for growth of numbers and physical wealth, and you take away the pressure that drains the opportunities for self-actualization. No artist, or artisan, or thoughtful person ever achieved excellent performance by being in a hurry. In a more sapient society, one where the basics are covered through proper systems management, one where there are an optimal number of other sufficiently sapient individuals to achieve security, love, and esteem, no individual need feel pressed for time. Art, music, literature, poetry, and high quality material artifacts result from a group of people who are able to exist in a state of self-actualization.
It Will Take a Village
Hillary Clinton got this right: It Takes a Village. She may have had several other aspects in mind, in light of how things seem to be going in our modern (and dysfunctional) world, but the phrase is incredibly apt. The long-term sustainability of future humans will depend on our prosociality as much as on our fulfilling our biological needs. Survivalists and rugged individualists who insist on leading lone wolf lives will struggle for survival. The village of sapient beings, who maximally express that prosociality, will learn to adapt and thrive in whatever world evolves.
To be clear, I am not talking about some form of commune where everyone lives in dormitories. Everyone needs their own space at times. And their own possessions within reason. I am talking about a society that has more commons than personal property, however, simply because it is the commons that will be the source of fulfilling the basic needs. I am talking about a society in which people do share in responsibilities, but also differentiate themselves with some forms of specialization.
There have been many such villages throughout history. We know that the model works or else we wouldn't be here to talk about it. Of course, throughout history village life was not always what we might call idyllic. Remember the world was filling up throughout history. There were always some people who were always moving and invading and trying to find some competitive advantage. As I have written elsewhere average sapience probably declined as a result of agriculture and permanent settlements, which puts selective emphasis on tactical (protection or competition) and logistical management rather than strategic (long-term and prosocial) thinking. But permanent settlements and agriculture did improve the support for basic and security needs over time. The basic problem was that due to the belief in continued growth these historical villages, towns, etc. put undue pressure on the surrounding environments, the sources of natural resources.
Add back the necessary level of sapience so that there is no belief in, or sentiment toward, continual physical growth and the permaculture village model stands as a potentially viable one.
Understand that the idea of a village does not imply year-round occupancy of a single physical location, necessarily. It will very much depend on climate conditions. But the semi-nomadic tribe model may also be appropriate in some cases. What is important is that some form of permaculture development provide a base for ensuring basic (especially food and water) needs. Many villages have had dual location occupancies, as in spring and summer versus fall and winter places. Under those circumstances, of course, there will be a need to control a much larger territory than the single occupancy model I have described previously.
Future villages (tribes) will need to work out what model of living will work best for them under the climate conditions they find themselves in. A little forethought in choosing locations (assuming options are open) might provide the opportunity to find a single location. Seasonal transfers of a whole village are time and resource consuming, not to mention the need to support two entirely functional and comfortable camps. I would opt for the single location model, but you can't exclude that there might be a workable semi-nomadic model as well.
What is important is that the number of people be sufficient to achieve the above objectives, for the above stated reasons. What is also important is that the quality of life be sufficiently high to allow the fulfillment of the higher levels of need as described. Two hundred subsistence farmers/hunter-gatherers barely surviving is not what we would want to achieve#.
Sapient Village Life
In 2010 I wrote an education-oriented blog about “The Core of a Sapient Society”, in which I mused about what I called the University of Noesis (school of knowledge). The idea I was trying to express is that the “soul” of any society is its repository of knowledge and seat of learning, in our modern world the role supposedly filled by universities and colleges. I also expressed the desire that such universities would not only teach knowledge but also wisdom (see this piece from 2008, “What is Knowledge: The Noetic Hierarchy” for a description of the difference between what we normally think of as knowledge and wisdom). I think that idea is alive and well in the sapient village of the future. The core of the village life must revolve around the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the group. Moreover, as I will discuss in the next blog in this series, that knowledge must include the most important knowledge that humanity has accumulated to date. I will save the description of what “the most important knowledge” would be for the next post, but for the moment many of you will realize that it involves the systems approach to living, which means what we call permaculture.
Village life will center around preserving wisdom/knowledge of how to live in balance with the environment and whatever that entails. A library (containing suitable media), a schooling facility and teachers (mostly the grandparents), and the main form of village governance and administration will be seated in this institution. At the heart of that institution we will find the most sapient, mature, members of the society, the wise elders. This is exactly how humans have managed their village/tribal lives for most of time. And, indeed it is still practiced in most parts of the less-developed world (including rural areas of even developed countries). Because I am imagining a village of sapient beings, living, learning, maturing, experiencing with sapient minds, I am imagining the focus of values around wisdom. More highly sapient individuals also recognize wisdom being expressed by others when they see it, even if they are younger and do not yet possess the same level of tacit knowledge as the elders. Wisdom had been venerated for most of human history (and prehistory) before the emphasis turned to the tactical/logistical necessities of agriculture (non-permaculture based) and especially since the advent of the industrial age with its even greater dependence of those levels of management. Wisdom will once again take the center stage of village life and vitality. The elders will guide, the younger will perform and learn to become wise in their own right.
All other viability flows from wise decisions and the use of systems knowledge to manage a sustainable permanent culture (perma-culture). The future is likely to be full of extremes not seen by many of past or current humans. It will take all of the wisdom and practical knowledge future humans can muster to become and remain fit for self-actualizing survival (thriving). There will undoubtedly be good and bad years, soft and hard times, joys and calamities, just as there are now. The range of variability may be more extreme. It will thus require even greater intelligence and sapience to navigate through such an environment. But even so, the goal remains that, on average, all people should find the possibility to achieve self-actualization. People who do achieve such are actually more resilient in hard times and adaptable to unpredicted changes just because they have achieved all of the levels of need fulfillment, and know that it can be done. In hard times they can work more effectively toward achieving the goal again.
In the distant future I imagine multiple villages thriving in various locations. By necessity they will need to be widely separated. But that doesn't mean they won't be able to be in communication or even have some form of trade or exchanges. What will be important is that there is a concerted recognition of the need to not have competition between these various groups. Any competition tendency will lead to re-ignition of the growth sentiment which would destroy the steady-state conditions. We would be back to the cancerous model of human societies. Only highly sapient people will be able to remember the lessons of the present (their past) and avoid such a situation; yet another reason why the selection criteria for who goes on the journey must be primarily based on level of sapience. One day long from now variability will again characterize the human genome much as it does now. This is the natural progression in population evolution after a bottleneck. But through the bottleneck (the passage) humans must focus on sending those with a more restricted variability when it comes to mental capacities in order to assure higher quality in those facilities for future generations.
Thus, the Destination is Seen
This is the destination. I have tried to describe important aspects of a future society based on what we know of human needs and fulfillment, that is, to become fully human. I have also asserted that to be successful those future humans will need to be much more sapient on average than the current population. There is a strong inference that higher sapience and the capacity to achieve self-actualization are deeply related. Thus both successful survival (higher fitness) and achieving a higher level of humanization depend on greater emphasis on wisdom, achievable if the individuals in the society are, themselves, more sapient.
I will be the first to admit that this vision rings of utopian dreaming. It may sound (to some) idyllic and the immediate thought is that it would therefore be impossible to reach. Perhaps. But then again, perhaps not. I described this as a destination, a place that would be nice to go, if we have the means to get there. We humans have always tried to find more idyllic places. That is why we occupy every continent on the planet (even Antarctica). There is nothing wrong with dreaming if it leads you to attempt the journey. As with all destinations there are probably going to be less than idyllic aspects when we get there. Yet we strive.
The reader may have noted a lack of mention regarding spirituality or attainment of higher levels of consciousness in the discussion of self-actualization. This is purposeful on my part. The subject if rife with so many interpretations regarding the meaning of words. I also wish to avoid any discussion of the supernatural or metaphysics beyond what is known to ordinary science. I am reasonably sure that the future wise elders will address the issues of human spirit in a completely appropriate way. I am equally sure that there will be no shamans or voodoo healers or priests as these professions rely on the ignorance and lack of wisdom of the other members of the tribe. I wish to leave this subject to the future to work out as it will. I just don't think it important to consider as part of a “specification” for a sapient society. Highly sapient people seem to have a deep appreciation for that which seems mysterious to so many others, but as a natural part of being human and not requiring a supernatural explanation. Others may disagree!
The important thing is that this vision reflects the process of evolution. The idea that there will be a major selection against many species and selection for some others, that there can be a major radiation of new species after a major die off, is the background against which this is formed. Homo sapiens as we know the species, will go extinct in one way or another. That is inevitable. It could involve the die off of the current population completely, in which case that is the end of intelligent/sentient beings on this planet. Or it could result from this species transforming into a new species sympatrically. It is this latter possibility that keeps me hopeful and out of despair. The world is changing and rapidly it seems. Certainly the world of human enterprise is crumbling in front of our eyes. Without a major new source of high powered energy, gotten very quickly, this world of growth and material wealth must dissolve. The question is what should we do about it?
The next blog in this series will try to address this question. That will be where I discuss the actual journey itself. That is where the map will be described and the pathway(s) selected.
# Remember, I am describing an end point, not the transition. It is more than likely that the latter will involve groups faced with survival and sacrifice long before this end point society is reached. In the next post in this series I will begin to speak to the actual journey.