Friday, May 29, 2009

Morality Lost

“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Philippians 4:12

I do not think that life is whole without a spiritual aspect to it. I think one of the most useful spiritual views is that of self-actualization, which is basically when what you want to do and what you ought to do are the same thing.

Abraham Maslow was the psychological theorist who came up with the idea of a hierarchy of needs as it related to human motivation. Most importantly, he was the first to look at exemplary humans rather than mentally ill or neurotic people; to look at what is going on inside of extraordinary people. (In fact he wrote: "the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.” This is an idea I extrapolate to a whole lot of areas.)

It starts with the physiological. You need to breathe to be alive, eat, be warm (shelter, clothing), sleep, have water, pee, and have sex. Homeostasis. One might be concerned about what one eats after one has enough to eat. Then there are the safety needs -- a world that is predictable and orderly and where those basic physiological needs have the likelihood of being met continually. Owning a house and having some established food production are key here if you ask me.

The next level are the social needs, belonging and acceptance. Some people go so far as to form cults or gangs to satisfy these needs but most of us suffice with family and friends. Esteem is the next level, and if you don’t know how to esteem yourself, here you will seek the esteem of others by external means. Self-esteem is always an internal phenomenon, manifested most usually as confidence and self-respect. It isn’t something that can be taught, or given, or learned, or earned but is far more of a decision of independence.

And then, finally, there is self-actualization wherein lies morality, creativity, acceptance,
the ability to solve problems -- and while Maslow didn’t put it in here, to my mind, spirituality. Peak experiences is the catchphrase that comes to mind.

Maslow was not without his detractors, mostly people who dispute how strict the hierarchical nature of the needs is. It makes some sense that one cannot really think that deeply about morality when one is trying to figure out, from scratch, where one’s next meal is coming from. At the same time, creativity can be all the more important if what one has to eat is some form of beans and corn every day. And that is sort of where I am coming down in this exploration.

I think people are shortsighted and foolish to not consider their physiological and safety needs beyond “I can make the payment this month” and that any exploration of kinship or morality or creativity in the absence of taking care of the physiological and safety needs is a pretense. It is the sort of pretense that costuming serves when one lacks real self-esteem -- one pretends as a character instead of being a character.

But at the same time, and this is the key I think, one cannot surpass the physiological and safety and social needs to reach esteem and spirituality. It would be my posit that the only real way to explore, say, morality would be to grow one’s own food and build one’s own house because only in that way does one understand the labor and resource cost of such and take that into the moral consideration. I think that is why most monastics lead a simple life -- to stay in touch with the physical realities.

In a sort of “hither world, thither world, all worlds are one” way, there is no spiritual reality without the physical, nor any physical without the spiritual, and there is a great deal of suffering that results from the illusion of one separated from the other. It is why what you choose to eat matters to a small girl in Tahiti; it is why where you chose to drive today matters to a Inuit; it is why what you chose to speak to your friend matters even to someone you have yet to meet, and how you choose to conduct your business and the example you weave for your children matters. It all matters. To everyone and everything.

You only know the price and the gift of the chicken if you hatched it, raised it, looked it in the eye, fed it, worried over it, then chopped its head off and cleaned it and examined its bowels and aged it and cooked it and ate it. It isn’t awful or grand; it just is. But it is something that almost no one has experienced anymore. And it is in that that we have lost our morality.

thanks to Madcap and to Penelope


Anonymous said...


Madcap said...

Morning CG,

It'll be a gift if I've got any chickens who make it to the dinner table at the rate we're going. 7 dead so far! Ouch!

And it does make me so much more grateful and mindful about what's on my plate, and how precious and tenuous everything is, at the same time as being resilient and tough and common. I want meat that isn't full of antibiotics... and I want to know that I raised it myself. I feel like it's building my core. Pilates of the spirit.

My friend finished a law degree on the west coast last year, and when she came back to the prairies she was shaking her head at the brilliant bone-heads she was surrounded with. Everyone sitting around and talking, nobody out doing anything. So yeah, ora et labora, always.

Madcap said...

Surrounded with at university, I meant!

CG said...

you've got 100 meat breed chicks, right? We lost so many more than 7 when we did it (and I expect you will before it is over too). Another reason I won't do meat breed chickens! LOL! Or 100!