Evolving Human Needs

Lord Acton (1834-1902) captured an aspect of human nature that may have shaped, and continues to shape, our society and, in so doing, our individual worldviews:

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Great men are almost always bad men

While accepting this generalization, it is possible that this quote fails to highlight that many great men, whether good or bad, act as a catalyst of change. As such, we may need to consider whether human society would have evolved, at all, without the corrupting effects of power that is said to drive all great men. However, it is possible that Lord Acton's quote is more pertinent to the institutions of power, which have come to transcend the lives of all men and women. If so, the question we may really need to consider is:

How susceptible are our institutions, e.g church, monarchy and state to corruption?

History would seem to support the suggestion that most institutions have a 'tendency' to become increasingly corrupt, at least, when they have the power to demand conformity to their worldview. In some  cases, this worldview may only extend to self-interest, while others may encompass deeply held ideologies or beliefs.  Of course, it may be foolhardy to think that such concerns only have historical significance, as even today, education can quickly become indoctrination and individuals are then left to confront the imposition of 'collective' worldview with possibly little regard for them as individuals.

 But what needs drive us as individuals?

Maslow's definition of Human Needs


The requirements for human survival have been described in terms of a hierarchy of needs as illustrated in the diagram above. The lower three levels will be equated to survival needs, as they are things we strive for when we do not have them.

  • Physiological needs relate to such basic needs, such as warmth, shelter, food and sex.

  • Safety needs are linked to the additional need for security and the suppression of fear.

  • Social needs could also be related to security, but have wider implications in that they not only include interaction with people in general, but also the need for close family and friends.

As we progress up the hierarchy, the needs become more abstracted and are possibly better described as goals:

  • Esteem is a need that satisfies the human desire to be well regarded and appreciated by other people.

  • Self-actualization is also somewhat different in scope, as it relates to the need to win and the associated sense of achievement.

Note: It is recognised that Maslow's hierarchy, as presented, does not really address any religious or spiritual need. In part, this issue is addressed within a Personal Perspective, which follows the outline of philosophy, theology and science, specifically discussed in the page entitled 'The Psychology of Belief'.

However, unlike the other needs, self-actualization (or power) can become stronger as this need is satisfied, provided the lower survival needs are still met. Possibly, it is this facet of human needs that makes great men susceptible to corruption by power, while esteem makes other men susceptible to the collective conformance of society through its various institutions. Therefore, while the 'need' for esteem and self-actualisation may only start out as an individual's aspiration for power, its growth can probably be seen in the evolution of many of the institutions that now control our society and therefore come to define the perceived collective worldview of a given society,


In the diagram above, the isolated triangles of power and esteem are simply representative of the upper echelon of some institution, which make up our society, e.g. political, financial, religious or academic etc. Within these groups, people aspire to gain both esteem and power, although such aspirations can extend beyond the goals of a single institution. Therefore, in terms of the diagram, there is a suggestion that there can be rivalry between institutions, which can ultimately lead to an aspiration for power within the overall hierarchy structure of a society. As such, all these factors may have played an important role in the development of various civilizations and led to a 'collective worldview' that may be at odds to our own personal worldview. Again, we shall table the question:

Is a collective worldview one of consensus of the majority or the imposition of a minority?