"Early in the essay you mention Abraham Maslow and your disdain for his hierarchy of needs theory. Have you written anything on this?"
I have actually written about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and about the whole humanistic psychology theory espoused by Maslow, but I unfortunately did not have a link to any of that, and chose to provide a brief explanation instead. This is an expanded version of that explanation.
I am sure if I had met Maslow I would have liked him, as most who knew him did, but I could never have liked his ideas. He is certainly important to know about, however. Many of his ideas have fallen out of favor today, but his influence, not only in the field of psychology, extends to many other fields, such as nursing where is hierarchy is still taught.
[NOTE: Wilson was at one time extremely influential in the "new existentialism" (which was no better than the old existentialism) movement. See Colin Wilson for a more formal description of his life and influences.]
Though I have no use for what is called psychology today, for reasons explained in the Packer article, I give credit to Maslow for pointing out if one wants to understand normal human psychology, studying the psychologically disfunctional is not the way do it.
Nevertheless, his humanistic psychology was mostly created, "out of whole cloth," as my grandmother used to say, of which his "hierarchy of needs," is a good example.
I have no intention of analyzing the entire hierarchy. I will only point out three things, that, in my opinion, prove that it is just so much typical psycho-babble.
1. If it had been called a, "hierarchy of desiderata," it might have had some meaning, but just calling anything a "need" is a floating abstraction. There are no inherent or intrinsic needs. A need is a term of relation. Before there can be a need there must be some objective, purpose, or goal for which a thing is needed, without which the objective, purpose, or goal cannot be realized. Maslow never says what the elements in his hierarchy are needed for.
I'm sure someone will argue the objective or purpose of the needs is assumed or obvious. If that is so, let someone say what that obvious objective is. I've tried to guess. Is it survival? Most of the listed "needs," except of the first level, are not needed for survival. If you name any specific objective (good health, wealth, knowledge, success, or romance), none of the listed, "needs," are required for achieving those objectives. Indirectly Maslow does suggest an objective—something he calls, "peak experience," which is neither an actual accomplishment or condition, but an emotional experience or feeling. Today the experience is achieved with drugs.
2. There is one human need required to fulfill all human objectives or purposes, without which nothing can be achieved, including life. Maslow does not include that need. The indispensable thing, without which a human being cannot live or achieve anything else is knowledge. How could a psychologist, interested in human consciousness, ignore the one thing that distinguishes humans from all other forms of life and defines everything else about what a human being is—the conscious human mind, and its requirements?
3. There is nothing profound in the hierarchy and most of the so-called needs aren't needs at all. Of course there are physiological "needs" if one chooses to live, like air, water, food, clothing, and shelter. Maslow includes sleep and sex. The needs he describes are supposedly things that must be supplied but sleep requires nothing, and one can certainly survive without sex.
The rest of the, "needs," are mostly nonsense. For example:
Safety Needs, which supposedly include personal, financial, and health security. There are no such things. One does their best to provide for their person needs, and to keep their finances in order and safe from loss or theft, and does what they can to stay as healthy as possible, but there are no guarantees. The right attitude is to do whatever one can reasonably do to secure these things with the understanding any of them can be harmed or lost at any time and to be prepared to deal with the loss when it happens.
Social Belonging Needs, which supposedly include friendships, family, and intimacy, because, "humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among social groups." This is pure socialist claptrap; there is no such human need. No moral individual needs the agreement, approval, counsel, or affection of any other individual to live happily and successfully, but no moral individual ever lacks for mutually beneficial relationships with others.
Esteem Needs which are supposedly needs for recognition, status, importance, and respect from others, is more collectivist garbage. A sense of self-esteem and personal integrity comes from knowing one has done all he can to learn and work and achieve and be all he can be as a human being. Such an individual does not need anyone else's approval or recognition, and often will not have it. One's actual worth as a human being is not determined by what others think of him, but what he actually is and has made of himself, whether anyone else knows it or not. Anyone with real integrity and worth will get all the recognition that is possible from those capable of appreciating him.
Self-actualization in Maslow's hierarchy it is only achievable after all the other needs are mastered. But self-actualization is all that one does to be and achieve all he can as a human being. It's not the final objective, it is the fundamental principle that makes the achievement of all things possible. At all times, and in every way possible an individual must always strive to learn, think, choose, work, and produce all he can and be the best he can. Being all one can be is not something someone hopes they will achieve someday, it is what one must achieve every day—it is the means by which everything else an individual desires is achieved and acquired, one's knowledge, one's skills and abilities, one's health, one's wealth, and one self-esteem. Friends and love will be his because he will be worth befriending and loving.
Psychology is a pseudo-science and all it practitioners and authorities are to some degree quacks. Some, like Maslow, are intellecutally brilliant, which makes them that much more dangerous.