Tuesday, March 29, 2011

beyond maslow's hierarchy of needs

Transitioninaction | Chilean economist Max-Neef, proposed that human needs are seen as few, finite and classifiable. While the strategies may change in an attempt to meet them, the needs remain the same throughout the world, and at all times throughout history. In sharp contrast to a hierarchy, these needs are interrelated and interactive. This model replaces the notion that humans are driven by insatiable needs for consumption, replacing it with a notion of “satisfiers” which can either be genuine or false.

Max-Neef points out that an attempt to satisfy one need can inhibit or destroy others. For example, an ‘arms race’ satisfies the need for protection, while destroying the need for subsistence, freedom or participation. Materialism can express identity, while removing time for relaxation or subsistence of the biosphere. We have to learn to calculate the real costs of our needs, not just the obvious price-tag.
Formal democracy, which is supposed to meet the need for participation often disempowers and alienates; commercial television, while used to satisfy the need for recreation, interferes with understanding, creativity and identity – the examples are everywhere.
In contrast to satisfiers that violate or destroy, others are “synergic” where two or more satisfiers cooperate together for an even more gratifying outcome. Think of examples such as preventative medicine, group sing-a-longs, or breastfeeding. Every implementation of a satisfier has to be examined through the lens of its capacity to provide multiple benefits, or antagonisms to other satisfiers. In other words, we need to grasp the trade-offs. An essential feature of needs satisfaction is the evaluation of its benefits and costs.

While Western psychology has had a decidedly individual perspective, that model no longer fits the situation we’re facing. Embracing “Maslow’s Hierarchy” no longer fits the problems we are confronting. We have to get, on a cellular level, that economic growth is no longer a possibility. We either get or reject our place as a part of the biosphere, and not the Masters of it. It isn’t some romantic notion. It is preparation for a life that’s dramatically different from the one most of us are living now.
You learn extraordinary things [living among the poor]. The first thing you learn [from people] in poverty is that there is an enormous creativity. You cannot be an idiot if you want to survive. Every minute you have to be thinking: “What next? What next right now? What can I do here? What’s this? da da da. Your creativity is constant. In addition there are networks of cooperation, mutual aid, all sorts of extraordinary things, which you no longer find in our dominant society. .. which is individualistic, greedy, egotistical, etc. And sometimes, it is so shocking that you will find people happier in poverty than you would find in your own environment. Which also means that poverty is not just a question of money, it’s a much more complex thing.

Video - Manfred Max Neef U.S. is becoming an underdeveloping nation.

These are more than the words of an idealist. This is a vision for our time, a psychological view of humans that extend back well before the oil age, and will, if we survive, extend well into the future. Like Max-Neef, I listen to the stories of the poor, stories of survival, creativity, community. Unless we collectively begin to grasp the fundamental nature of this truth, and reject Petroleum-informed models of individualism–a belief that only wealth can bring tolerance and creativity–we will handicap ourselves beyond our imagination.


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