Sunday, July 29, 2007

Can I buy Self-Esteem?

It’s 4:00 in the morning. I’m on a business trip staying in a strange hotel room. I woke up thinking about several simultaneous issues. One is why do we as a culture continue to try to solve our issues of lack of self-esteem and self-actualization with more material goods? The second was why do we have such a disparate immigration issue? And in the end why do many of us feel we are the victims in all of this?

The baseline of my thinking centers on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In Maslow’s hierarchy there are five levels: physical, security, belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. The bottom two needs are external (physical and material) in nature. The top three are more internally focused. A few days ago I was in a meeting where we started to talk about “Who were the oppressed?” The discussion started along the lines of the third world countries. It very quickly turned because some (certainly not all or even most) of the people in the third world countries can maintain a high level of self-esteem and self-actualization in spite of their seemingly lack of food, shelter and security. Whereas many, if not most of the population of the United States, in spite of our great wealth, feel oppressed by others, be it government, our employer, or society in general. Our discussion concluded that some people could operate at the higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy in spite of their environment, while others feel that the path to the top leads through the bottom. “If I can have enough things I will feel better about myself.”

Because of this we are willing to go into debt to buy things we neither need nor can afford. Madison Avenue helps us by making sure we understand that this behavior is the American way and that it drives capitalism. I read an article recently in which a man said that he grew up poor but didn’t know it. Now even the lower middle class is made to understand they are poor by our standards. The media won’t let it go. We don’t seem to want to acknowledge that our poor have a higher standard of living than most country’s rich. That will lead later to my thoughts about illegal immigration. For now let’s talk about those who are legally here. Now I am not naive, with over 250M people in the United States anyone can come up with literally thousands of examples of almost anything. It’s pure probability. So let’s gloss over for now the stories of the poor and down trodden. They exist in every society and that can’t be resolved, we can only move the definition of poor. There will always be someone at the bottom. Our standards are high and they should be. As one of the wealthiest nation in the world we should expect more. Pareto’s Law (cour’s d’economie politique) stated back in 1896 that 80% of the wealth is generated by 20% of the population. That would mean the converse is true that only 20% of the wealth is held by the remaining 80%. It was true in Europe then as in the United States now. We have tried every tax scheme and entitlement program known to man to change this and still can’t. The Communist tried socialism and only exasperated the issue. Yet we are trying to socialize even more services in an attempt to control the decisions of others. In the end, we as a people are far better off materially than almost any other country, yet we suffer dramatically under our own lack of self worth. We have become a victim-based society that is looking for reasons to believe that we are suffering and it’s not our fault.

Interestingly Pareto’s Law extrapolated also says that 80% of our problems are within our own control. We can take action to change the very environment that causes us so much distress. Is going into debt to buy self-esteem the right answer? Could be go to the library and read a book for free rather than set in front of the TV watching cable programming? Aren’t these the very programs that convince us that we are undervalued because we don’t live like the top 20%? The answer is “No”. It is not the American way. We are consumer oriented. One of the major roles of our government is income redistribution. We will buy our way into a higher self worth even if the government, or debt, has to pay for it. It is not our responsibility to raise our selves up. It is the responsibility of the rich, the government and society in general. After all they have all the resources. All we have is our self-will and self-control. We know how weak that is.

My only statement concerning illegal immigration: do you really wonder why? When they can come here, live better than they ever have and still send money home, why not? We are disgusted by their willingness to live three and four families to a home. Adults get along by riding bicycles to menial work for sub-standard pay driving down our standard of living. Why, because it is so much more rewarding here then where they came from. They haven’t bought into Madison Avenue. Before you say it, there is one more issue that helps them. They aren’t part of the income redistribution system. They don’t pay taxes. We have built an environment where the middle class from another country can come here to fulfill their dreams by becoming our lower class. And all we get is lower self-esteem because we lost a job we didn’t want to someone who will take less to do it then we would.

Cicero’s Six Mistakes of Man (according to Arthur F. Lenehan):

  • The delusion that individual advancement is made by crushing others
  • The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected
  • Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it
  • Refusing to set aside trivial preferences
  • Neglecting development and refinement of the mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying
  • Attempting to compel other persons to believe and live as we do.

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