Saturday, 13 August 2011

The fundamental human needs test

It occurs that using one of the lists of fundamental human needs I've featured here, or a better one if you can find it, anything in society can be tested. The recent troubles in England's cities, for example.

In the jargon, 'satisfiers' are the means by which human needs are met. In our consumerist society, advertisers seek to persuade you that your human needs cannot be met unless you buy their product. this enables the spiral of consumption to keep going and maintain the false goal of economic growth.

In the recent troubles, what satisfiers were the various looters and rioters getting? Obviously a flat screen TV is a 'satisfier' in that we're taught to want such things. Maybe setting fire to a building gives a sense of enjoyment.

We need, though, to satisfy human needs in a way that is socially constructive and sustainable. The theory says that satisfiers have to be chosen to really work, but this does not mean that society cannot inform the choices. Classically education and the family are expected to instil society's values, but it's pointless if children are taught to share and not fight, when at national level we see countries grabbing what they can for themselves, using military force if necessary, and in daily life we are indoctrinated that consumer products are satisfiers, to the exclusion of all else.

If society can be arranged so that human needs are satisfied sustainably, it is hard to see how people would want more. And if human needs are being satisfied, we would presumably not see civil unrest.

I see that my argument may be circular. If society is dysfunctional, then human needs are not being met by definition, as a functional society is a human need. Even so, I hold that directly (or as directly as possible) satisfying human needs sustainably should be society's goal, not money, not profit, not economic growth, not competition.

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