Are we “programmed” to let our own house burn down?

3 Dec 2022 | Intelligence

Behind every decision is a motivation and behind every motivation is a need. According to Maslow, we seek to satisfy our needs in a certain order and our number one priority is to satisfy our basic physiological needs. A hungry person will put his or her life in danger to get food.

The problem is that we do not feel a vital need to preserve our home.

Most of our “responsible” behaviors respond to secondary needs of self-esteem or personal accomplishment: I sort my garbage because it is responsible, I plant trees because I feel useful.

On the contrary, most of our “irresponsible” behaviors respond to primary needs, physiological satisfaction and security: I transform the forest into fields to feed myself, I eradicate species to protect myself.

To preserve our planet, we must profoundly change our relationship to the world and reprogram the hierarchy of our needs to make the preservation of our home an even more fundamental need than the satisfaction of our own physiological needs.

Are we individually and collectively capable of making environmental preservation the “zero” level of our Maslow pyramid?

In practice, this would mean that we would (for example) be able to accept to feel hunger and thirst if that was the price to pay to preserve our planet.

No animal is capable of this. The hungry animal eats without worrying about the consequences on the environment. But we are not animals and our intelligence could perhaps allow us to reprogram the hierarchy of our individual and collective needs.