Monday, December 28, 2020



Minneapolis Holidazzle Parade from Christmas Past. 
2020 Parade forced into virtual mode by ungoing Global Pandemic.

Call me Scrooge, but I am not interested in having a “Happy Holiday”, because when I read that or “merry” or “joyful”, or other similar words on the few Christmas cards I get, I am reminded of the definition of “happy” that goes “characterized by a dazed irresponsible state [for example] a punch happy prize fighter”.  I’m sure not many folks share my take on the terms (or the seasons), but happiness to me is an emotional state.  As an emotionally challenged individual, I have always struggled trying to figure out what my emotions are, and when I think I do understand them, I become even more confused about what may or may not have caused this state of being.  What little I do understand about my emotional responses to outside stimulus, is that they seem to be mostly about chemical reactions to the release of hormones into my blood stream that result in shots of endorphins or other mood altering hormones to my brain.  These short-term jolts of joy juice never seem to last long.

So when I reflect on my Christmas’s of past, or other what seemed like “happy” times, it seems to me the feelings were short term responses to the: company I kept, consumption of fine foods, over consumption of intoxicating spirits, being blinded by the Christmas LED lights and reflections from the ornaments, getting caught up in the stories of the Christmas heroes like magic baby Jesus or his northern father-figure takeoff Santa Claus, or the receipt of a gift that upon first opening relayed the belief that my life would be easier, more meaningful, or that I was truly loved (or not).  And then once the “happy holiday” had passed, the hangover kicked in, Santa went back to the north pole, the guests went home, I went back to work, the lights burned out, the Christmas tree turned brown and was thrown out, baby Jesus went off to be crucified, and the batteries from my new toys died; my emotional state returned to the more normal one of simply feeling like I was exhausted and in need of more emotional stimulation from the next holiday on the calendar. 

I think my punch-drunk holiday experiences of privilege are a good example of what psychologist Bruce Alexander terms a “sacrifice of psychosocial integration for the benefits of wealth”.   Alexander points out in his book THE GLOBALIZATION OF ADDICTION  (p. 250) the consequences of that state of being: 

The resulting poverty of the spirit leave each person, to a greater or lesser degree desperate for something that will provide a sense of meaning and belonging.  At the same time that the free market dislocates people, it proffers pseudosolutions for the misery of dislocation.  As corporations know that affluent people’s real material needs are already satisfied, they peddle a multitude of consumer products that are designed to fill the void of dislocation: enormous house, modish clothing, personal beauty products, lottery tickets, electronic games and gadgets, gas-guzzling cars, sexual enhancements, exotic foods, weight-loss schemes, and on and on.  Because these products can only partly or temporarily fill the psychosocial void, they are difficult to consume in moderation.  When they are consumed in excess, their ever-increasing environmental and social costs must be pushed to the periphery of consciousness, as in addictive denial.

What better time to be aware of the pitfalls of products designed to stroke my emotional heart strings than the holidays.   And this holiday season in particular, where social isolation is the norm, has been a great time to give up some of these emotionally stimulating practices, and try to find a path out of my own daze.  For me that trail has led me to the more selfish quest for long term satisfaction of my real human needs, a concept I was first introduced to through the writings of Robert Greenleaf.  Greenleaf was the coiner of the phrase servant-leader, a concept he believed could lead to a more meaningful life for more folks.  He suggested in his servant-leader “best test” that the difference between leader-first and servant-first leaders is manifested “in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served”.   Unfortunately, Greenleaf, never really defined what he meant by highest priority needs. 

The best source I have found on defining human related needs comes from my favorite Chilean economists, Manfred Max-Neef.   Max-Neef outlined what he believed constituted human needs in his book HUMAN SCALE DEVELOPMENT.  His ideas on human needs were a response to trying to address development problems in South America that he believed were related to economic policies imposed on it from its North American neighbors.  These policies did little to promote self-sufficiency of the Latin American people and instead indebted them as a means to ensure the growing wealth of the leadership of the super-powered northern neighbors.  As a possible solution to what he termed “a world in crisis”, Max-Neef proposed what he called Human Scale Development, which focused on “satisfaction of fundamental human needs, on generation of growing levels of self-reliance, and on the construction of organic articulations of people with nature and technology, of global processes with local activity, of the personal with the social, of planning with autonomy.”  

As an alternative to the pillaging and plundering that was typical of the economic system that dominated the world in order to increase the profits of the privileged, Max-Neef proposed an economic system designed to serve nine real human needs: Subsistence, Protection, Affection, Understanding, Participation, Idleness, Creation, Identity, and Freedom.  Unlike Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, there is no hierarchy in Max-Neef’s nine needs, with the satisfaction of each need just as important as all the others.  The other anti-hierarchical aspect of Max-Neef’s needs, is they don’t feed on the people at the bottom of the pyramid to satisfy the wants of the people at the top.  In theory, everyone has equal access to what they really need. 

Each of the needs then has four attributes or ways in which the need, needs to be satisfied: Being, Having, Doing, and Interacting.  From this there can be a large range of choices in how that need might be met by what Max-Neef appropriately calls the Satisfiers.  For example, the Subsistence/Being need might be satisfied by the human who achieves physical, emotional, and mental health; Subsistence/Having by obtaining food, shelter, and work; Subsistence/Doing by working, feeding, procreating, clothing, resting, and sleeping.  He laid out this concept of human needs in what he called the Matrix of Human Needs and Satisfiers.  The possible satisfiers of the human needs could be quite varied, with some being more effective than others in satisfying the need in question.  The satisfiers that are available in essence define the culture and the society of the people who seek them and are shaped by the ecosystem that the people find themselves in, and also determine how the people will interact with that same ecosystem. 

Satisfiers of the needs are categorized into one of five types:  

Synergic – satisfiers that in the process of satisfying one need also satisfy or help to satisfy other needs.  Community gardens where people have access to land to grow their own food are an example of a synergic satisfier that satisfies multiple needs.  Besides providing food that satisfies the Subsistence needs to eat and work to exercise the body; activities in the garden could also contribute to needs like Protection where users would know they could go to obtain safe and healthy food; Understanding where the gardeners could expand their knowledge of plants and how to grow them, Participation where gardeners could interact with other gardeners to teach and learn from each other, Creation where gardeners could create beautiful gardens, and Freedom where gardeners would be free to grow whatever sorts of plants and food they desired within reason. 

Singular – satisfiers that satisfy only one need and remain neutral as far as serving other needs go.  Welfare sorts of programs where those served are given coupons to buy limited food at specified markets in order to satisfy one aspect of the Subsistence need to eat falls into this category.

Inhibiting – satisfiers that typically over satisfy one need and, in the process, seriously impair the possibility of satisfying other needs.  A diet consisting of mostly junk food might satisfy the caloric intake requirements for the Subsistence need, but in the process other nutritional requirements are ignored and non-nutritional additives to the junk food contribute to the unset of health consuming diseases like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure;  which then consume the consumer, their resources, and their ability to participate in processes that would satisfy other more important needs.

Pseudo – satisfiers that stimulate a false sensation of satisfying a given need, and often times pursuit of the pseudo-satisfaction prevents the real need from being satisfied.  Contributions to parasitic charitable institutions would be an example of this where the contributor believes their monetary contribution is in part satisfying their own needs for Affection and Participation by showing they care by helping to pay for poor folks to get access to food, clothing or shelter to satisfy their Subsistence needs.  In the end, much of the money ends up padding the pockets of the administrators of the acts of charity, and the other real human needs are left mostly unmet.

Violators and Destructors – satisfiers mostly aimed at meeting the need for Protection, that when applied not only annihilate the possibility of satisfaction of the Protection need, but also render the satisfaction of other needs impossible.  Use of pesticides and herbicides on factory farms as a way of protecting crops from pests, not only kills the unwanted weeds and insects, but it can kill or seriously impair the farmworkers, their neighbors, the other creatures in the environment, and the consumers of the poisoned food, thereby preventing those folks from satisfying other important needs.  

For a more detailed explanation of Max-Neef’s ideas on human needs, refer to his books: ECONOMICS UNMASKED, HUMAN SCALE DEVELOPMENT, and REAL-LIFE ECONOMICS.  In the book ECONOMICS UNMASKED, Max-Neef and coauthor Phillip B. Smith laid out how the growth obsessed economics of our corporate controlled world that fails to meet real human needs; was poisoning the biosphere, exhausting the planets natural resources, making the already rich and powerful more wealthy, and combined with growth in human population destroying the habitats of other species.  Unfortunately, as important as it is to reverse the trends of our current way of life, really understanding human needs can be rather complicated, perhaps even more complicated than understanding our emotional state.

A big reason for this apparent complexity is that for much of recent human history (the past couple millennium, plus or minus), the people in charge have done their darndest to make sure the folks they ruled wouldn’t have access to the things they needed to ensure their real needs were met (things like the commons for example).  This definitely gave the alpha’s a leg up in forcing the common folk to look on high for guidance in achieving that state of “happiness”.   And our higher powers did their best to keep us distracted by imposing their rules, religions, and rituals on we the people, to keep us dependent on their benevolence and ensure their power grab was not loosened.  Creation of holidays, or the holy day, played a big role in distracting us from manipulations from the mighty.  For the folks who spend most of their days doing bullshit work designed by the elites to keep them in power and profit, having a day off now and then to give thanks seemed miraculous indeed.  But once the holiday was over, the peasants returned to a life of essentially being pissed on by the top dogs while trying to feed on their crumbs.   

Cultural Anthropologist John H. Bodley gives some insights into how satisfaction of human needs has been coopted by the elites in the Fifth Edition of his book CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY – TRIBES, STATES, AND THE GLOBAL SYSTEM, (page 343).  He also indicates how in our corporate dominated culture anything you think you might need, needs to be bought and paid for to ensure a profit to the corporate-person who attempts to sell us what they think we need.  He also indicates that satisfaction of those needs was much more likely in the good old days before the corporation moved to town.  Bodley writes:

By definition, tribal cultures were the only culture to focus exclusively on satisfying basic human needs.  Every household had access to the subsistence resources it needed and controlled its own production and consumption.  Every household was in effect, guaranteed what anthropologist Paul Radin called the “irreducible minimum,” an inalienable right to “adequate food, shelter and clothing.” 

In the commercialization process, everything that people need for their well-being has been converted into a commodity to be sold for profit.  State power is used to encourage people to become wage laborers – producing, purchasing, and consuming commodities rather than pursuing noncommercial subsistence activities.  The inherent problem with this system is that millions of people no longer have access to basic subsistence resources and cannot earn a sufficient wage to purchase a decent living.  Thus, millions are unable to provide for such basic needs as food, shelter, clean water, and pure air.  Infant mortality rates soar, and malnutrition is now common.  This kind of poverty makes the commercial world seem inhumane relative to both imperial and tribal worlds.  From a global perspective two millennia of economic growth has not changed the overall distribution of social power.   In the commercial world, just as in the imperial world, only a few are wealthy and powerful.  Elite-directed growth has flipped the social pyramid in comparison with the tribal world.

It is fortunate for us that the least fortunate folks Boldly is referring to, typically do not reside in our suburban neighborhoods, unless some of those poor homeless folks venture out to our suburban malls with their signs asking for some of our hard earned change to help them meet a few of their unmet needs or at least get something to numb out on, so they don’t have to think about all the things they really need, but will not be able to obtain from our suburban markets. Unfortunately, the outlook for ending this hugely unequitable arrangement does not look good, at least as long as we keep banging our heads against the wall in search of a return to our “happy holiday” state of punch-drunk joy.  For getting our real human needs met on an everyday basis is going to take a big non-hormonal influenced rethinking of our way of life that results in diverting our energies toward landing the knockout blow to the fools at the top, who are ultimately responsible for the whole corporate sponsored Holi-dazzle spectacular mess.  

So, all I want for this holiday season is some insights on what it will take to punch the lights out of the real Scrooges, the power elite.  A little help from some undazed friends in bringing this task to fruition would also be nice.  And then I think together we could all celebrate every day coming together to figure out how to really satisfy our real human needs, without destroying the planet in the process.    


Prairie Hill said...

This is a fascinating article that really expands my understanding of universal human needs! Thank you.

Tom Jablonski said...

Thanks Ziggy. But if you really want to understand human needs, check out Max-Neef's writing. He does a much better job then me in explaining human needs. There are links in my post to a couple of free PDF copies of his books, which are more like pamphlets than books. Hope your needs are met soon!

Bob said...

Thanks Tom,

I'm less dazed and confused by the holi-dazzel when it's portrayed from the proper perspective.

Tom Jablonski said...

Sorry about the undazzle-ment. We all need a dream, especially lately.