“When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessities and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices.”
Henry Thoreau, Walden
In 1943 Abraham Maslow posited a theory about the basic needs of humanity, a hierarchy of need (Fig. 1); in what order they are required and what is exactly needed to become what’s termed as self-actualized – the realisation of personal potential and ambition. He felt that only 1 person in 100 would reach this stage. Critics of the theory apportion potential fault in the methodology he used to create the theory; he only looked at people whom he considered self-actualized and in small numbers.
Some of the requirements seem self evident; from the basic physiological needs of food, drink and sleep; to safety, shelter and safety within society; social needs such as belonging and love and finally esteem, independence and self respect. Without these earlier needs met, a person can not or will struggle severely to reach their potential.
Physiological needs are often overlooked in developed countries; they seem to appear prevalent and with access available to all. People do fall through the cracks, even at such an early stage. In the U.S. it is estimated that 11% of the homeless are army veterans(1). People used to the provision of their physiological needs being met, in return for placing their safety on the line. The number is roughly 50,000 as of January 2014(2).
On the night of 12th June 2016; there was a mass murder in the US. For some, such as the gay community worldwide there is no shelter or safety. In the UK, Alan Turing most famous for breaking the Nazi Enigma code, shortening WWII by a potential 4 years. He was also a superb and talented mathematician. Turing was arrested for homosexual acts in 1952 at the age of 39 and was given a choice between prison or probation with chemical castration. On advice, he took the second option and became impotent through the treatment. He committed suicide at the age of 41.
Both the UK and the US has come to recognise homosexuality not as a criminal deviancy, but as a wholly natural way of being. Gay marriage and other steps to equality have taken place slowly over the years. Human rights take many years to assemble; many people suffer in their slow development that did so needlessly. The gay people who frequented the nightclub this week were another casualty of the monolithic slow pace of change. This should not have been; they lived within a country that recognised their right to safety, to love, to self-esteem and to actualize as who they are, openly and supposedly without fear.
It is estimated that 4000-6000 gay people have been executed in Iran since 1979(3) for no other reason than their sexuality. The Iranian death penalties are cruel and perverse; from stoning ‘adulterous’ women to death, to public hanging. This should be challenged, openly and without fear. People being denied the most basic of needs through tyranny, whether imposed socially or governmentally, simply cannot be allowed to go unopposed. We must not shrug when we hear the news, people suffer needlessly and all our voices can ameliorate it. In Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Somalia, Qatar(4) and potentially Uganda.
The right words for the victims and their families of this massacre, as with all horrendous acts committed by the ignorant and the hate filled, are never found to be found. On behalf of myself, personally; I am so sorry that the world can work like this. It is heartbreaking. For anyone denied of a life in peace and safety, being unable to have the very basics of what we absolutely need; is an utter tragedy. At least one other person understands it does not have to be this way and I’m sure I’m not alone.
“Behaviour showing respect for someone’s dignity symbolizes that person’s moral standing… …Our entanglements with people close to us erode simple self-interest… …There is a constant pull towards new kinds of sympathy and commitment…Respect and sympathy are ‘human responses’ which human beings do not always have.”
Jonathan Glover, Humanity, a moral history of the twentieth century
In the book Humanity; Glover tries to understand and explain the morality of some of the horror of the previous century. He points out that we, as humans, do have moral resources which are used to rein in barbarity; being dignity, respect and sympathy. He also points out that these are not always present and remain an aspiration for humanity.
For us not to chase that aspiration; to simply shrug off the challenge of thinking wider and bigger than ourselves has almost become an overriding apathy of the age we live in. The feeling of helplessness, distance, self-interest and a plethora of motivations makes us think in a more narrow way. In the UK, the clothes shop chain BHS is on the brink of being closed down; there are potentially 11,000(5) normal, every day people about to be made redundant. No longer able to buy food and pay bills, unless they either find a job immediately or jump through the hoops required to claim unemployment support.
Yet the news is dominated by the senior figures in charge, the criticisms of the model of business and other less essential issues.
Do we want people to be self-actualized? To fulfil their innate potential, to be happy and content? Sometimes, it would seem not. It would seem that we don’t care for happiness, so concerned with maintaining the basics, contentment comes as a distant dream.
“Juan Zamora asked me to tell this story while he kept his back turned. What he means is that he wants to have his back to the reader the whole time. He says he’s ashamed. Or, as he puts it himself, “I’m in pain.”
Carlos Fuentes, The Crystal Frontier – Pain
The Crystal Frontier is a series of interlinking short stories by Mexican author Carlos Fuentes. The shame being felt by Juan Zamora was because of how he felt about himself, what his family might think of him. He was homosexual and in a relationship whilst studying at university in the US, far away from the more parochial nature of his home in Mexico.
Even within the freedom of 1980s university life Zamora could not escape judgement, from himself and others. He could only cope by turning away from people, so they could not scrutinize and judge him for his happiness in his relationship. Not just apathy but shame also motivates people not to look, not to help, not to talk when they really should.
Using the moral resources described by Glover; nowadays Zamora would be accorded dignity, sympathy and respect. He might have even come close to self-actualization, to be content and happy and to live to his fullest potential. Or, could he have been the victim of a bigot, killed for his sexuality?
Human rights have taken millennia to build; societies have changed. Thoreau states: “Old deeds for old people, new deeds for new. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost.“(6) We as a society may have lost a bigotry over homosexuality, but many bigots remain and too many continue to harbour and fuel them.
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