Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Maslow, As It Relates To Iraq

For the longest while, I have had to listen the proponents of the ongoing war in Iraq eschew that this is a war of "freedom," to which mainly is a straw man's argument, designed only to be an argument of last resort that would otherwise make it impossible for some detractors of Operation Iraqi Freedom seem as though they are somehow against basic human rights. It's a show of desperation on their part, an opportunity to look as though they have the moral highground, when in fact, all they are merely doing is scraping from the bottom of the barrel.

In having to put up with this nonstop nonsense, you always knew that in the back of your mind, this simple argument made by the absolutists and the glib demonstrate any lack of thought, or the ability to understand reason. With them, everything is black and white, cut and dry. I tend to find glibness to be just another word for ignorant; absolutism a deadly policy.

If this is a war of freedom, as the proponents maintain, then have they not read Abraham Maslow's paper, A Theory on Human Motivation, which subscribes to the practical theory of the Hierarchy of Needs? We are to believe by the neoconservative intellectuals that people yearn for freedom; that freedom is contagious and once thrust upon oppressed peoples that it will spread to a region where such things have been denied to those for generations.

They therefore are presupposing that Iraqis who lived under Saddam Hussein would embrace some "liberators" from afar coming in to rescue them from the brutal tyrant that Hussein was. But what they fail to grasp, rather, is not the lack of freedom that is missing, but that they fail to understand what Iraq and Iraqis needed.

Freedom is not a basic need. It is a need to be met after various subordinate needs are met. When applying Maslow's Hierarchy, we come to the realization that there is an ordinal set of needs that have to be met. Once each primary need is met, we then graduate to the advanced need (in an ironic sense, each graduated need is somewhat ancillary to the previous).

You have your basic sets of needs. First is physiological, second is safety, third is love, fourth esteem, and fifth and finally, self-actualization. The first two imply a sense of security. In the absence of all, the first fulfillment of any human being is physiological. You and I have to eat in order to stay alive. We need to drink and eat so that our bodies can survive. If the individual is a simple creature, then once that physiological need is met, then that creature will never need more than to simply survive and be happy at that.

The second need is safety. Once we've satisfied our basic demand, we need to live without having injury brought upon us. Our fears of illness and injury overwhelm all others except in physiological terms. We naturally wouldn't eat out of a garbage can because we know that most likely the food in there is contaminated by expiration, by disease-carrying insects, and contact with other substances that would make food rather inedible to us. But to a person who is starving and has come to their last resort, they will forego safety and be willing to become sick if it means they will live to see another day.

The next set of needs are needs based more on personal advancement. Love is a need based on human responses toward one another. The absence of love is not necessarily life-threatening, in that you can live without ever having relations with another human being. Naturally, there are long-term effects and consequences that can drive people to bring harm upon others, but that's not important enough to go into here.

Esteem comes from the desire have a higher appreciation of ourselves. We base that esteem on achievement or some capacity and/or ability to accomplish something. Sometimes esteem can sit in the place of love, provided that the esteem will bring perhaps a better class of people for whom one can love. From having a greater self-worth, we can attact those whose values are mutual to our own.

The final need is the whole "freedom" thing: self-actualization. This comes only after all other needs have been met. If we are to become everything that we are capable of becoming, that is, if we are to be a people who live in freedom as opposed to tyranny, we have to be advanced enough to demand it.

The problem with the neoconservative proponents of the war lies in that they just assumed that freedom is a basic need. It is not. You and I have to consistently day in and day out be able to be self-sustaining. When we overran Hussein's army in three weeks, it was argued that we'd be met with cheers and thank yous, to which in the very days following April 9, 2003, we were.

But like my Urban Planning professor said, you have to have infrastructure in order to govern. It's infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. Now that the Iraqis have a new freedom that they didn't have under Saddam, how did they plan to eat, or work, or care for one when a family member got sick?

Under Saddam, things were kept under control. Yes, no one argues that he was a vicious tyrant, a thug, a bad guy. That is a given. But, Iraq was a stable nation before March 2003. In fighting this War on Terror, we decided to pick a fight in a region that had, if not a civilization up to our standards, at least a nation that could be held together. Had we thought of Iraq as an asset-by-proxy in the war in Afghanistan, we could have realized that even though Hussein was not our ally, his presence and ability to keep things together in Iraq, would have made it easier in our quest to eliminate Al Qaeda and bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.

But now, because we have given Iraq "freedom," we have taken away their basic needs. The physiological and safety needs cannot be met adequately in Iraq because we, with our military might, destroyed vital infrastructure. They could no longer produce enough electricity to power the entire nation. They could no longer produce fresh, potable drinking water in a nation that is all but dry, sandy desert. With no government in place, there is no infrastructure and administration. There is not enough public works operators that can fix roads, traffic lights, or even dispose of wastes properly. Not enough police, ambulance, and fire crews to handle emergency matters. Putting the advanced needs above the basic needs created chaos.

A parallel to this is New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina. The people there already had the self-actualization of freedom. But once the physiological and safety needs were taken away by a Category 4 hurricane, we were left with a city in ruin and despair. You have to have order and security before all the good stuff that comes with democracy.

The end result of all of this, is that we have failed to understand what was really needed for Iraq and its people. I'm not about to say that removing Saddam from power is without some justification. Preemptive wars may be fought in another time in the future, for just reasons and other circumstances we have not yet conceived. They may very well be more successful than this. I cannot honestly ignore entirely, the humanitarian element in fighting this war. If Iraq does turn out to be a stable and prosperous civilization 10-20 years from now, George W. Bush will be looked upon very favorably by history.

Yet, had we acted in a more diplomatic fashion than we did, we could avoided going to war in Iraq altogether. Or, both the international community and Bush could have gotten their way at the same time. Regime change, with more nations and voices having a say, being internationally sanctioned, could be planned in such a way as to adequately meet the needs of those who will one day be able to realize their own self-actualizations.

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