Friday, September 23, 2011

Reconciling Maslow's Hierarchy with Libertarianism


One of the key breakthroughs of libertarianism is the acceptance of the non-aggression principle (NAP), which states that one may not morally initiate aggression against another. The NAP focuses on violent force, however, this principle may be applied to other areas of man's existence. Maslow's hierarchy of needs (MHN) attempts to generalize man's priorities. Combined with Universally Preferable Behavior (UPB) and praexology, the author argues for a more encompassing moral framework which satisfies the iterated prisoner's dilemma (IPD) through the moral argument “let the punishment fit the crime” (LPFC).


Within each man lies a personal utopia, a nirvana where moral action is rewarded. Maslow has described priorities which must be satisfied for man to bring their utopia into existence. Part of that pyramid requires interaction with others, however, not all action is mutually rewarding. The most unrewarding of human interaction is one where the parties are threatened at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid: a conflict to the death. Assuming the conflict is not instantaneous, it may be trivially described by the IPD. Analysis of the IPD has led to “tit for tat with forgiveness” (TFTWF) as an ideal solution. TFTWF means that if I initiate an interaction, I start off with a (trivial) agreement move, and don't respond negatively unless met with a negative move (note the parallel with the NAP). If my “opponent” gives a negative move I return with a negative move. However, this leads to a prolonged negative spiral if the opponents continue with negative moves. Instead, researchers found that a random positive move could break the spiral, improving the outcome for all parties. This situation has been expressed by Ghandi with, “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind”, and in the Christian doctrine with, “turn the other cheek”.

However, life is not trivial. People don't make “positive moves”. Culture differences and personal preferences alone make this difficult. Further, moves have different weights for individuals, and generally within a community. In western cultures these weights are usually expressed through laws, mores and folkways, and these prioritized social norms with their associated punishments roughly correspond to MHN in a tit for tat relationship; murder has a death penalty, offensive language may be met with ostracism. This is tit for tat, with the level of punishment on the same level as the offense; in case of murder the punishment is a mirrors the offense and is ostensibly equal, however, the offensive language is met with an asymmetrical punishment but at the same level of the hierarchy.

What goals may be morally pursued in the context of conflict? A cessation of the conflict, remedy for victims, and rehabilitation of offending parties are all viable. We have already discussed conflict cessation in terms of TFTWF and MHN: one may not act initially with willful aggression, and may morally attack any target of the opponent's at the same or higher level in the hierarchy. However, one is only rational to attack if attacking that target will accomplish one of the viable goals. It may be in the offended party's self-interest to “forgive” if no goal can be accomplished by retaliating, especially if forgiveness move has a probability of returning the parties to win/win. Retaliation may also lie on a continuum, where partial forgiveness is possible. For example, a spendthrift might get partial debt forgiveness, possibly in return for taking a class on finance (rehabilitation).

What you don't want, is for the tit for tat negative spiral that occurs on one level of the hierarchy to plunge the opponents into the next level down. This is where a conflict over gift registry leads to calling the wedding off, and then a crime of passion. Not good.


So what happens when Joe steals Mike's food because Joe is starving? That's a violation of the NAP (private property). While Mike would be moral taking something of value from Joe, starving people rarely have much of value to take. Instead, rehabilitating Joe with the expectation of remedy may be a more rational choice. LPFC and TFTWF are satisfied; and I would argue this is the best strategy to take when the need levels are crossed: when need levels are crossed in the case where the offending party has violated a higher need, forgiveness, rehabilitation, and remedy are the most appropriate course of action.

A more sinister problem is violent wealth redistribution. Ignoring problems such as corruption, property rights, and the praexological strategy of the assisted, can the act be considered moral? No. In part, because the act threatens a low level of the hierarchy on someone who would provide the charity at a higher level (charity occurs at high levels of the MHN). The violation of Mike's hierarchy at a low level keeps him from reaching a level where he would give willingly; instead demolishing higher levels and engendering the desperation associated with providing for the new lower level. This leads to a society of embittered, desperate, resentful people, instead of the giving society it claims to foster.

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