The Psychology of Communication


3.2 The Person Grows From The Inside Out

If the person has intrinsic needs, then the person grows from the inside out. Every normal child has the potential to be fully a person, just as every normal acorn has the potential to be fully an oak tree and every normal kitten has the potential to be fully a cat. Powered by the intrinsic system of needs, built into the nervous system, as described above, the child seeks satisfaction for them. In an appropriate environment, children are able to satisfy those needs and thus fully realize the human potential. The basic project of the child is to become an adult - not any old adult but a great and good adult. We therefore need to explain not the genius of Albert Einstein or Margaret Mead (or whoever you think has most fully realized the human potential) but rather why we are not all Einsteins or Meads. Why are most of us stunted?

Abraham Maslow argues that, although the biological, sociological, and psychological needs must all be satisfied by the same nervous system, they are naturally in harmony. The needs are organized in a hierarchy [MASLOW 1954].2 Biological needs are most potent; when they are satisfied, sociological needs become most potent; and, when those are satisfied, psychological needs, in turn, become most potent. That is, you shift gears up the hierarchy of needs as lower needs are satisfied. We get stunted when we fail to shift gears up this hierarchy of needs [MASLOW 1963].

The biological needs and the sociological needs are easily satiated so that, in a healthy person in a healthy society, most time is available for the pursuit of satisfaction of the insatiable psychological needs. Eating ruins your appetite. The satisfiers of sociological needs - namely, other people - are in plentiful - indeed, too plentiful - supply. The satisfaction of the survival needs provides pleasant periodical interludes from the rigors of satisfying the psychological needs. Perhaps psychological needs, which enable us to thrive rather than merely survive, can best be seen in terms of surplus energy just as economic luxuries can be seen in terms of surplus capital.

Most of the people on our planet spend most of their time struggling to satisfy the survival needs and thus have little spare time for the luxury of satisfying the psychological needs of knowing and understanding. Affluent people like ourselves have little experience of a subjective map in which biological needs are prepotent. We get an occasional glimpse of such a world when hungry and note that we are highly sensitive to stimuli relating to food.

A psychologist who flashed nonsense syllables on a screen just before lunch at a convention got a significant number of food-related responses. Volunteers in an experiment on the effects of semi-starvation reported that their consciousness became dominated by food. They talked about food, dreamed about food, replaced the pinups in their lockers with photographs of food, and exchanged recipes rather than jokes with the other volunteers. An anthropologist reports that food dominates the unconscious lives of members of an African tribe for whom food is scarce [RICHARDS]. We are dominated not by sex, as Freud argued, but by whatever is scarce. Sex was what was scarce in Victorian Vienna. The famished man does indeed live by bread alone.

While I was author-in-residence at Brooks/Cole Publishing Company in Monterey, California, we helped the widow of Abraham Maslow publish a posthumous collection of his unpublished papers [MASLOW 1979]. Among his papers, we found a note from Ruth Benedict, who was a teacher of Abraham Maslow (and, incidentally, one of the few people he had met that he considered a self-actualized person).

Ruth Benedict, an anthropologist, puzzled for years about the essential difference between those societies which she liked and those societies which she did not like. She finally concluded that, in the societies she liked, the ends of the individual and the ends of society tended to be synergetic, whereas, in the societies she did not like, the ends of the individual and the ends of society tended to be antagonistic. The note described this distinction between synergetic and antagonistic societies. Maslow used this distinction in his consideration of what he saw as our two basic problems - that of the good person and that of the good society [MASLOW 1964].

One factor which stunts our growth is that we live in an antagonistic society. He argued that, whereas Western philosophers (whether Hobbes with his bad person controlled by good society or Rousseau with his good person corrupted by bad society) tend to view the ends of the person and the ends of society as antagonistic, there is no reason why they can not be synergetic. Society is a social invention and we may as well invent a good one, in which what is good for society is also good for the person and what is good for the person is also good for society. The good society is one which provides the means of satisfying the true needs of the person and the good person is one who has those true needs satisfied. The good person is created by the good society and the good society is composed of good people.3

The view of the relationship between the person and society tends to be an extension of the view of the relationship between one person and another (the little society of two). In Section 4-6, we will argue that the behaviorist views human relationships as contractual, whereas the humanists views human relationships as intimate. Those who view interpersonal relationships as contractual tend to view the relationship between the person and society as antagonistic: those who view interpersonal relationships as intimate tend to view the relationship between the person and society as synergetic.

In Chapter 8, we will explore a darker view of why we are so stunted. The process of human growth is so long and so complex that many things can go wrong. Whereas it is relatively easy for an acorn to become an oak tree and for a kitten to become a cat, it is not so easy for a child to become fully human. The theory of Sigmund Freud could be considered as the dramatic documentation of the many things which can go wrong.

His id, superego, and ego represent the forces striving for satisfaction of biological, sociological, and psychological needs, respectively. Although, as argued above, those three forces are naturally in harmony, Freud demonstrates how they can come into conflict.

Since the ego tries to maximize truth (the reality principle) and the id tries to maximizes pleasure (the pleasure principle), they come into conflict when truth and pleasure are incompatible. In summarizing scientific findings about human behavior, two psychologists describe the person as a creature who adapts reality to his own ends, who transforms reality into a congenial form, who makes his own reality. [BERELSON & STEINER]. It seems that, in the conflict between pleasure and truth, pleasure usually wins.

Since the ego is concerned with laws (propositions created by humans to describe their environment) and the superego is concerned with rules (propositions created by humans to prescribe their conduct), they come into conflict when laws and rules are incompatible. Studies of conformity suggest that, in the conflict between laws and rules, rules usually win.

According to Freud, the attempts by the ego to know and understand our world and ourselves is continually sabotaged by the id chanting I want and the superego preaching thou shalt not. Any accuracy in our subjective maps of the objective world is a limited, hard-earned, and precarious accomplishment. This will remain the case unless we can build a world in which truth is invariably pleasant and rules are invariably rational.

2   My hierarchy is a simplification of Maslow’s hierarchy, in which needs are clumped into three broad categories - biological, sociological, and psychological. His highest need - self-actualization - is considered here as the realization of the full human potential, which involves satisfaction of all those sets of needs.

3   I feel almost embarrassed to talk of the good person - it is so unfashionable. Hearing of a man who lived with Genevieve Bujold, a beautiful and talented actress, I wondered why he was worthy of such a fine woman. Why him and not me! He was pointed out to me in the street. He had a kind face but - no - he was not magnificently handsome. He was introduced to me. His conversation was lively but - no - not brilliant. He took me to his home. It was comfortable but - no - not the home of someone who was fabulously wealthy. As I got to know him better, I gradually realized that he was simply a good person. It is a sad comment on me and my times that it took me so long to consider this possibility.