BASIC HUMAN NEEDS,
ALTRUISM, AND AGGRESSION
In this chapter I describe a conception of universal psychological needs— needs shared by all human beings—and how the fulfillment of these needs creates a strong potential for people to become caring and helpful, whereas their frustration creates a strong potential for hostility and aggression. This view is different from the belief or assumption that human beings are either helpful or aggressive, kind or cruel, good or evil by nature. Although I make the assumption that basic human needs are part of our nature, I also contend that it is through experiences that either fulfill or frustrate these needs that inclinations and motives to help or harm others develop. Still, in a sense, it could be said that the fulfillment or frustration of basic psychological needs provide “natural” bases (bases rooted in our nature and common human experiences) for goodness and evil.
This chapter explores the origins of helping and harming others. Evil is an extreme and sometimes repeated form of people harming others. Evil might be defined as “intensely harmful actions, which are not commensurate with instigating conditions, and the persistence or repetition of such acts. A series of actions also can be evil when any one act causes limited harm, but with repetition, these cause great harm” (Staub, 1999b, p. 180). A parent persistently diminishing and derogating a child might be an example of the latter form of evil. Evil actions can be conscious and intended—as in the case of plans formulated to destroy a group—or performed without the conscious intention to destroy. Although from a