Gonzo Marketing:Winning Through Worst Practices The Bombast Transcripts: Rants and Screeds of RageBoy
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Saturday, July 17, 2004
maslow and the ´┐Żbermensch
notes on the origins of "self-esteem"
Who doesn't love the idea of dominance, right? Here's a small handful of titles showing how much we all care about this intimate topic. Hold that thought. It will recur in a moment in a much different -- and for most, I suspect, a wholly unsuspected -- context.

cover cover cover cover

The following is from The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist by Frans De Waal. The passage quoted is from the beginning of Chapter 9, "Apes with Self-Esteem: Abraham Maslow and the Taboo on Power." The bits that I've highlighted in red indicate why I'm posting this at all.

"Few people realize that Abraham Maslow, one of the first modern psychologists to explore human ambition, was greatly inspired by monkeys. He was struck by the cocky, confident air of the top monkey, and the slinking cowardice, as he called it, of individuals near the bottom of the hierarchy. Maslow also saw that high status pays off in terms of access to resources. In 1936, he postulated a drive for dominance...

Turning his attention to human behavior, Maslow observed in some people the same self-confident attitude that he had seen in his monkeys. After proposing some now-forgotten labels for this attitude, such as 'dominance-feeling' and 'ego-level,' in 1940 he hit on the concept of 'self-esteem.' This blend of self-evaluation and self-love struck a chord in American culture, and the term remains immensely popular. Feeling good about oneself has become a goal in and of itself, sometimes quite disconnected from actual ability or merit." [pp. 297-298]


"[Maslow] thought mainly in terms of individual differences and personality types. Because he saw dominance as a sign of inherent biological superiority, he felt that in a good society the elite should be given the opportunity to realize their potential. They should be protected against the malice of the nongifted, who inevitably have trouble accepting their miserable positions. He this forgot that dominance is a social phenomenon that resides in relationships, not individuals. Alone on an island, the biggest boss is no boss at all. Individual abilities do play a role in achieving high status, but the abilities involved are often distinctly social, such as diplomacy and a talent for building lasting relationships." [p. 300, italics in original]

I think it's overgenerous to say Maslow "forgot" the social dimension of dominance. Esteem bestowed by others for accomplishment is of a higher order than self-assessments, which are often based on nothing more than naive and narcissistic mantras of uncritical self-affirmation. What he was interested in was superior "human potential" (as in the movement), which his later -- but closely related -- theories of "self-actualization" sought to develop. It is my theory that Maslow was a closet Nazi seeking to create a master race of supermen. More evidence suggestive of this hypothesis will be forthcoming shortly.

5:24 AM | link |

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"RageBoy: Giving being fucking nuts a good name since 1985."
~D. Weinberger
28 October 2004

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Until a minute ago, I had no photos. I still have no photos to speak of. I don't even have a camera. But all these people were linking to "my photos." It was embarassing. It's still embarassing. But I'm used to that.

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