A few years ago, back in 2006-07, when I was first learning about the groups the US military has been engaging since 2001, I printed out a copy of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and scribbled some notes in the margins.
From the bottom to the top, I labeled “Physiological” and “Safety” as “3rd World Needs“. Next to “Belonging – Love” I wrote “religion, local violence (tribal)“, besides “Self-Esteem” I wrote “terrorist threats/ fighting for Islam, etc“, and next to “Self-Actualization” I jotted “music, arts – 1st world risks“.
Unsure what to do with these notes, I stuffed the print out in a folder labeled “miscellanea”. One day, I thought, I would flesh out the theory and see what I could come up with.
A few weeks ago, I read Dr. Steven Metz’s article “Psychology of Participation in Insurgency” on Small Wars Journal.com. The article, written in January of 2012, breaks down the rational of joining an insurgent group using Maslow’s Hierarchy. According to Metz,
Insurgency arises from a combination of two conditions: significant unmet psychological needs, and the feasibility of violence (via both attitudes receptive to it and the actual tools of armed action). To grapple with this, a psychological conceptualization of insurgency would be more powerful and useful than a political one.
Metz then breaks down Maslow’s Hierarchy, dividing into two groups:
Five major categories of motives inspire individuals to consider association with an insurgency, associate with it, or actually join. Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of human needs, three of them can been seen as part of higher order motivation: fulfillment, empowerment, and enrichment. Two are lower order: social obligation and survival.
Now maybe being new to Metz, I don’t complete understand his definition of insurgency. For example, I think Metz leaves out a lot when he writes:
I have assumed that the motivational structure of insurgency is similar but not identical to other forms of violent action, particularly terrorism, but also including militia activity and, to an extent, participation in organized crime.
I am not a pro in this field, and have not partaken in the studies Metz has. That said, my analysis and the notes I scribbled on my print out don’t really fit his at all.
According to Metz’s definition, insurgency only takes place in the top three rungs of of Maslow. But that is not the extent of violence. What I labeled “3rd world risks” in the Physiological and Safety levels of Maslow have been the cause of violence for years. To quote the rapper Paris in his revolutionary song “Tear Shit Up“:
When you can’t eat, you can’t sleep/Can’t seem to find peace/ The only thing the streets see is police and poverty
Right there, that is food, shelter, security, and freedom from fear. Sure, mobs usually don’t have the organization of insurgencies, or perhaps even the long term stability, but they can be just as dangerous to a standing government. Mobs can be crushed or suppressed by strong-armed governments, but if they reach a tipping point, mobs can burn down city hall. And if the ideals of a mob reach the military, the government might not have a chance to sedate it.
I’ve thought about putting the Occupy Movement in the bottom two rungs of Maslow. Hardcore supporters of the cause would have the public believe that because of the “Wealthy 1%”, they can not find work for food and shelter, etc. I’m not 100% sure this label is accurate, however. Maybe in some cases it is, but the stereotypical hippie who received student loans and studied art history has little in common with the poor of third world countries. Bad career decisions does not equal 3rd world risks. However, fighting the system is fighting the system.
In regards to Maslow’s third rung, there is not much group violence born of ”Belonging-Love”. Perhaps this is where we would find domestic disputes and jealous murders, but the need to belong usually doesn’t spawn groups to fight each other. The lack of belonging, however, could be a precursor to individual violence, such as with the Unabomber, although one might argue that his cause de guerre was more from a need for recognition.
Maslow’s 4th rung, “Self-Esteem”, I think is where most of Metz’s essay lies. Metz writes almost directly to Maslow’s 4th level when he says
The higher level motivations are more important, complex, and interesting. They overlap but, in a general sense, people associate with or join insurgencies because they will gain power, gain access to money and other resources, or to fulfill needs such as a sense of identity, belonging, and justice. The best way to describe this is via a typology–a cast of characters if you will. I call them “the survivors,” “the lost,” “the thugs,” “the ambitious,” “the aggrieved,” and “the idealists”.
Here again, is where I differ from Metz. I’m not sure how “the survivors” meets the criteria of higher level motivations. According to Metz, the survivors are not material survivors in the physical sense, but is ”an insurgent who lives in an environment where it is safer to be part of an armed group than not“. This is Maslow’s “Safety” level.
The other four Metz groups (the lost, the thugs, the ambitious, the aggrieved, and the idealists all fall into Maslow’s “self-esteem” category. The lost want recognition, the thugs and the aggrieved both want respect, the ambitious want achievement, and the idealists want achievement. This is where we find the philosophy of militant Islam, al Qaeda, and Osama Bin Laden, for example. Bin Laden wrote that the West had belittled Islam and made Muslims feel like second-class citizens. To fight for Islam then was to wage war for recognition. One could also put the 1960s Civil Rights Movement of America in the aggrieved group as well, although it sometimes bordered on “freedom from fear”.
A major point here is that in Afghanistan, although many of the Taliban claim to be “fighting for Islam” and recruiting those impressionable enough to give their lives for the jihad, the Taliban is not the same as al Qaeda. The Taliban is a political group that want power and resort to illegal means of political protest, to include violence.
Finally, there is one level Metz didn’t comment on: Maslow’s highest level, “Self-Actualization”. Once one achieves all the lower rungs, they can work on the actualization level. Here is where I think counter-culture blossoms. Here is where art, literature, and songs about the struggle bloom. Here is where those people who can sit and write and sing and campaign spawn ideas about the struggle. Sometimes these ideas are true representations of the struggle and sometimes they help fuel the fight, as revolutionary media does. Sometimes they are misguided and mocked by the general public. But it is often through the literacy or creativeness of those seeking Maslow’s top rung that those on the bottom are emboldened to fight. Sometimes those on the top rung are used as messengers for those seeking power. The pursuit of innter talent and creativity could be used to for some nefarious marketing and public relations.
Overall, although my philosophies and thoughts differ in parts (I wish he could find more peaceful suggestions than to suggest that one of the best alternatives is a strong military identity that everyone joins), I am really glad I found Metz’s article. It gave me reason to finally get out some my ideas. I hope they made sense. Perhaps one day, I could use this as a spring board for something bigger.