Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin and Paul Krugman need to get out of Maslow’s Basement.

November 8th, 2012 by Ravi Iyer

Losing an election is tough and I have immense empathy for those who have a heartfelt vision for their country that was not fulfilled on election day.  Most people who care deeply about the election, Democrats and Republicans, do so out of a real desire for the country to do better and it’s unfortunate that the results have to disappoint so many well-meaning people.

That being said, there are some conservatives who have implied that those who vote for Obama simply want free stuff, while some liberals imply that billionaires who support Romney do so out of self-interest.  Consider this quote from Sarah Palin:

We’re not explaining to the rest of America, who thinks that they’re going to get a bunch of free stuff from Obama, that you have a choice. You either get free stuff or you get freedom. You cannot have both, and you need to make a choice.

Or consider this quote from Paul Krugman:

billionaires have always loved the doctrines in question, which offer a rationale for policies that serve their interests….And now the same people effectively own a whole political party.

And in reaction to the election results, Bill O’Reilly opined that the reason that Obama gets support is that

There are 50% of the voting public who want stuff.  They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.

What these three quotes have in common is that they all make a common  mistake about how we view the motivations of others.  Chip and Dan Heath call this “getting out of Maslow’s basement”, which refers to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs depicted below.

Maslow’s idea was that motivation can be grouped from lower level needs such as wanting “stuff” to higher order needs like caring about others, fulfilling values, etc.   The implication of O’Reilly, Palin, Krugman, and many partisans, is that the other side is motivated by these lower level needs.  It is a common mistake, made in many domains to believe that others are motivated by lower level needs. Chip and Dan Heath have shown that we all assume that other people are motivated by lower level needs, but that we ourselves are motivated by higher order needs.  The truth is that most everyone is actually motivated by higher order needs. In the below video, they explain one of many studies showing this.

It is easy to let partisanship help you impugn the motives of others.  And there is no doubt that some amount of self-interest helps shape our values.  However, most people who care enough to vote do so out of higher order considerations.  Indeed, nobody stands in an 8 hour line to vote out of self-interest. They really do want to help the poor or promote economic growth and freedom.  And if we ever want to fulfill the bipartisanship we desire in the world, we would do well to understand the sincere motivations of others.

- Ravi Iyer

Posted in bill o reilly, billionaires, bipartisanship, civil politics, conservatives, election day, free stuff, liberals, maslow, news commentary, obama, paul krugman, political psychology, Post Materialism, romney, sarah palin, yourmorals.org9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin and Paul Krugman need to get out of Maslow’s Basement.”

  1. David T says:

    Indeed. The book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” is heavy on head-scratching: “Why do these white knuckleheads keep voting for Republicans when anyone can see that it isn’t in their immediate economic self-interest?”

  2. re: “The implication of O’Reilly, Palin, Krugman, and many partisans, is that the other side is motivated by these lower level needs. ”

    As I conservative, I can tell you that this is simply not true. It’s not the conservative objection, AT ALL.

    It seems to me that you’ve found a hammer of a new idea, and every problem now looks like a nail.

  3. Ravi says:

    @IndependentWhig – I’m not saying that it is THE conservative objection. Rather that it is a strain of thought that is common to some partisans, including some liberals like Paul Krugman, where the opposite side is said to be motivated by self-interest, rather than higher order concerns.

  4. Rochelle Herman says:

    You assert that O’Reilly made the common mistake of assuming that Obama voters were motivated by lower level self interest. If you read his comments, he derived his assertion from exit polls that 63% of voters that made under 30K (therefore eligible for entitlements), voted for Obama, 7 million people, well above the margin of victory. He based it on numbers. One could argue the numbers, but how is that a psychological/ moral assumption mistake?

  5. Ravi Iyer says:

    Just because someone is eligible for benefits or even will receive benefits, does not mean that they are voting because of it. Many of these people likely are voting to help people like them (e.g. other students or people down on their luck). Just as many billionares assert that they aren’t voting to lower their taxes, but rather to help future entrepreneurs. There is a self-serving element to both beliefs, but I believe both groups are being sincere that they really do want to help people like them, not just receive benefits themselves….and the research suggests that we are likely to be more skeptical than we should be about such beliefs. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Don Denny says:

    Would I vote against my own self interest, you bet I would if it was for the good of our country. It is obvious that the liberal/progressive people in our country are not voting for the good of the country in may cases. To believe that continuing to go further in debt is good for our country is pure ignorance of the facts. Obama does not care about the debt or for this country but only for his ideology which is Obama Socialism. You need go no further that his books to understand his belief system, like his dad, a neo-socialist/Marxist. What is redistribution of wealth?

  7. Ravi Iyer says:

    Interestingly, there are lots of liberals who think that conservatives are not voting for the good of their country as well and use similar rhetoric in the opposite direction. Neither “good vs. evil” view of the other side is likely to lead to any better policy, IMHO, as both liberals and conservatives act on principles that are broadly viewed as important.

  8. Piranhtachew says:

    And so do other political parties.

  9. Jerry O'Keefe says:

    New Guy-Old News Department: As I recall, Rushworth Kidder’s “Institute for Global Ethics” in Camden, Maine once hosted an extended workshop with people from around the globe (various professions, religions; men and women, etc.). They were given a list of 15 common values and asked to identify and rank their top 5. Turns out there were 5 in common (Truth, Responsibility, etc.). On another day, the group was asked to resolve various ethical dilemmas. The IGE observed that, in the process of resolving the dilemmas, there was not a reach back to the identified common values. It was like the two things were unconnected. At least that’s my recollection. Further, Rush (RIP) liked to explain the “Values-Tactics Ladder” (Values – Goals – Plans – Tactics). For instance, Pro-Life and Pro-Choice folks will usually agree that the “Value of Life” is at the top of each of their ladders. The Cumbaya moment dissolves as we descend toward Tactics. The resolution process might seem obvious — get back to the top rung (Values) and try again, but I refer you to IGE exhibit A above — the apparent disconnect between values and the deliberative process. At this point, cue Jonathan Haidt’s explanation of our heuristic approach to life. Might this also help explain the apparent electorate disconnect from the character issue in the 2016 election process?

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