February 13, 2008

Climbing Maslow's Pyramid

despite the title, this post isn't going to be about Maslow's Pyramid, it's about Abraham Maslow, the guy who invented it:

Abraham Maslow was born in New York City in 1908, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and the oldest of seven children. Young Abraham grew up in modest lower-middle-class comfort--and withering emotional barrenness. His father, Samuel, ran a barrel-repair business in Manhattan and spent little time at home, absorbed in his work and steering clear of his shrewish wife. Rose, Abraham's mother, was nothing short of a horror, Intensely miserly despite the fact that her husband earned a decent living, she kept a lock on the refrigerator to prevent her children from snacking. Her penny-pinching, furthermore, was embellished by a vicious cruel streak. Once, as a young child,Abraham came upon two stray kittens and decided to take them home. When Rose discovered the kittens in the basement, drinking milk from her dishes, she killed them right in front of her little boy, bashing their skulls against the basement wall. Maslow thus discovered early in life that bread alone was not enough: economic security was no consolation for a love-starved boy.

Like so many other bright young New Yorkers of his day, Abraham took advantage of that broad avenue of upward mobility, City College. He tried other, conventional routes of further ascent--law school and medical school--but was unable to stick with either. Intellectual passions won out over economic passions, and he ended up earning a PhD in psychology from the Univerity of Wisconsin. Entering the job market in the middle of the Great Depression meant that finding a position would be difficult, and the reflexive anti-Semitism that then prevailed in academia made matters still worse (several advisors urged him to change his name to something more ... acceptable). Overcoming all obstacles, Maslow was eventually able to land a job at the unprestigious Brooklyn College. He later moved to the newly formed Brandeis University, established as a refuge for Jewish scholars and students.

The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture, Brink Lindsey, p. 59-60

So how did so many of those low-SES immigrants, like young Maslow, manage to climb the pyramid despite withering material hardships and virulent discrimination that makes today's conditions seem like a walk in the park?

Let me suggest it had something to do with the fact that Abraham Maslow was a "bright young" boy.

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