What do you need ?: Human needs and the many ways to solve them

What do you need ?: Human needs and the many ways to solve them

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By Yayo Herrero, Anthropologist

"It would be very surprising a TV ad suggesting you buy something just in case you need it. Or that it would encourage you to want fewer gadgets to live with. Or to convince you that it is better to laugh in the company of your friends than to buy a series of psychotropic drugs.

The current development model considers it a success to produce many things regardless of whether they are necessary or not. The Gross Domestic Product, as an indicator, does not distinguish between what is superfluous, what is important, even what is counterproductive. Some economists have even said that what is demanded will be considered necessary, ignoring that an important part of the demand is caused in turn by advertising investment.
Many economists and government advisers even argue that if the economies of the richest countries grow, then they will buy more things from the impoverished countries and these in turn will develop more. "If you drink soft drinks you help the development of the third world", "If you buy cars you create jobs".

Once it has been established that we live on a limited planet, it therefore seems relevant to ask ourselves again what is necessary and what is not. The need to grow at all costs has been suppressing the discussion about what is necessary to produce and what is necessary to consume. This has not always been the case, nor is it today in all parts of the world. Throughout the centuries, many cultures have been concerned with deciding what is important, they have tried to survive and seek happiness by wanting and consuming the least amount of things possible.

Even at the risk of not being totally precise, we can say that those things are necessary whose lack would make impossible a dignified life.
Although when discussions about human needs began they used to focus on things like food or protection from the cold, today it is known that needs are also important relational and community. For example, a boy or a girl that nobody calls by name or is never caressed, may develop pathologies that prevent him or her from leading a decent life. Although Maslow He hierarchized them by putting one above the other, (physical needs would come before relational needs, and these before self-realization) today it seems that this hierarchy can also be discussed.

Observing the different cultures from the point of view of anthropology, with a little common sense and a certain desire for consensus, we could obtain a list of fundamental needs similar to the one below:

Subsistence: which includes both the needs for food and for thermal shelter.

Protection and security: ability to be cared for, decrease of subsistence uncertainty, reduction of disease risk, maintenance of a certain personal and community security.

Affected: company, social relations.

Understanding: basic knowledge to function in the environment and in the community.

Participation: to be able to influence the course of things that happen, the decisions that affect oneself and the community of reference.

Entertainment: reception of a range of stimulation, occupation.

Creation: ability to create something, produce variations, carry out realizations.

Identity and belonging: to some group (or several) of reference and basic personal recognition.

Freedom: ability to choose between available options, personal control, autonomy.

Equity and justice: do not live in an unfair environment.

Living in a living environment: that allows us to survive and harbor the possibility of future generations to live.

Certainly nuances can be introduced, but it would not be difficult to converge on a list like this or something like this.

Human needs are common to all cultures, but they vary in the way of solving them, generally depending on the resources and possibilities of each territory. Max Neef calls these different ways of solving needs satisfiers:

Food needs They can be solved through gathering, hunting, organic farming or industrial farming.

Like thermal protection (the shelter) can be solved in flats, in cabins, with central heating, around the fire, with air conditioning or in the shade of a carob tree.

Protection needsSome cultures receive community protection, they know the people who live in their environment, others pay sentinels and private security companies, most of them store grain, many societies do each other favors or help each other when misfortune strikes.

Curing the disease It can be done with shamanic practices or through Social Security.

The needs for affection and relationship They can be solved using the Internet, with the help of matchmakers or by having local parties. In some cultures they hug each other, in others they give gifts. Some cultures turn to extended families, others to organized trips.

Understanding needs They can be approached through school, social gatherings, reading, evening stories, learning trades or with university masters.

The participation It can be developed by voting through SMS, belonging to associations, going on television, holding assemblies around a bonfire or through the squatting movement

Entertainment has found very varied formulas throughout history, some cultures beat the drum, others go to see Warner movies, almost all tell jokes, you can also walk, take long trips or dedicate yourself to climbing, you can play Wii or solitary, there are those who are dedicated to the cultivation of aromatic plants, to observe the ants or to embroider and those who prefer to collect stamps.

The creation He also takes different formulas through the invention of stories, novel incorporations in the construction of houses or in agriculture. Sculptures, web pages, dances, drawings, games, cooking recipes, etc. can also be made.

The identity It can be resolved with belonging to the land of the ancestors, to a political party, to the motorcyclist club, painting for the party, with the L'Oreal colony or with the Athletic Club scarf.

Freedom, personal control and autonomy is expressed by fighting censorship, paragliding, deciding who to marry or separating from, or greeting the sun.
Equity and the need to live in a fair environment are addressed through mutual aid, charity, fair trade practices, enjoying communal property or with the nationalization of oil resources.

Finally live in a living environment It can be solved by spending Sundays in a mountain chalet, rehabilitating an abandoned village, creating natural parks, putting plants on the terrace, prohibiting the emission of toxic substances or surviving in a cabin in the middle of the jungle.

Does it matter to solve the needs with some formulas than with others?
Distracting yourself is a necessity, but playing the harmonica is not the same as go hunting elephants to pass the time. There are those who are avid for strong stimulations, but practicing tightrope walking is not the same as doing rallies in protected areas, which destroys the ecosystem, requires a lot of fossil energy, pollutes.

Therefore, it does not matter.
At present the so-called developed societies they don't argue about needs. There is discussion about production, investments, subsidies, but not needs. It is worth as an example to say that they have been eliminated from the classic economics manuals. Neither does it speak of the needs in the studies carried out in the school. It is not a topic on the news or in the media gatherings.

The first step to suppress the discussion was to say that it would be very difficult to agree because "that of needs is very subjective."

The second step It consisted in saying that since there are no objective needs, "what is demanded will be considered necessary."

The third step was to make invisible the fact that a good part of the demand is caused by the advertising manipulation. Galbraith says that “what is not needed is advertised”, based on the probable fact that if something is necessary it need not be remembered every moment.

"Make a friend"
"Eat daily"

They are not proposals that need publicity. However, what is unnecessary that is advertised tends to be sued.

The market monetize satisfiers. What does this mean? If water is an accessible and non-monetized good, then the business is to deteriorate the accessible water until make it scarce and thereby achieve that it has to be bought in the supermarket. Subsistence agriculture is not very monetarized, so the market, which considers it obsolete and backward, keeps changing the rules until it is makes impossible.

In our society it is relatively easy to hear the expression: “I need to change my mobile phone”, “I need a jacket that matches this skirt”, “I need to go far away to relax”. In general, the human capacity to desire is very high, and more so if desire is overstimulated. It is easy therefore to become needy (which is how a poor person was called before). A desiring society is a society in need. In this way, the paradox is reached that rich societies think themselves poorer. The chronic dissatisfaction caused is the engine of market development.

Therefore, they try to make obsolete or backward those who maintain the power of the community in the face of global power. In this way they have been destroyed (most of the time by force) the forms of organization of the survival of indigenous peoples, their communal lands, their form of agriculture, their ways of solving health, education or ways of being distracted.

As the market moves better on the scarce (it does not make sense to market the abundant and accessible), moves satisfiers based on abundance to those based on scarce. Talking and communicating face-to-face (which is an abundant resource) does not allow the satisfactor to be marketed well. Access to the space (which is still an abundant commodity) is restricted for them and in which they can talk and touch without giving anyone business opportunities, and it is replaced by a Messenger or Facebook promotion.

The radical monopoly concept proposed by Ivan Illich alludes to how a formula, which in principle was offered as one option among others, it becomes the only one. In the city of Los Angeles the car was offered as an upgrade. At present it is not possible (for most people) to survive without a car (walking on the streets is considered marginalized people, and in any case you cannot walk to the bakery). When shoes appeared they were offered as an improvement over going barefoot (until very recently an important part of humanity went barefoot) you could choose according to your tastes and needs. If a person wanted to go barefoot today they would be expelled from most places.

Given the magnitude of the ecological crisis and the need to limit oneself, it is necessary to distinguish which formulas will allow us to continue living and which ones will not. It is necessary to develop the satisfiers that allow the sustainability."

There is a story by Tony de Mello that goes like this:
“A rich merchant visits the indigenous communities of the upper Orinoco and is horrified when he sees one of the indigenous people lying quietly in his hammock chewing tobacco.

"Why don't you go fishing?" - The question.
–Because I have already fished enough today –answers the native.
"And why don't you fish more than you need?" –Insists the merchant.
"And what was he going to do with it?" - asks the Indian in turn.
–You would earn more money. That way you could put an outboard motor in your canoe. Then you could go far down the river and catch more fish. And so you would earn enough to buy a nylon net, with which you would get more fish and more money. Soon you would win to have two canoes and up to two engines and faster ... Then you would be rich like me.
"And what would you do then?" Asked the native again.
"You could sit back and enjoy life," the merchant replied.
"And what do you think I'm doing right now?" - the Indian answered satisfied ".
Anthony de Mello (1982). The song of the bird. Salt Terrae

* (Complete book, here:

An antropologist in the moon

Video: Cattle-rearing offers multiple ways of utilizing land resources - Tilewa Adebajo (July 2022).


  1. Kazirn

    You are wrong. Let's discuss this. Email me at PM, we will talk.

  2. Liko

    Without speaking!

  3. Gosida

    I am sorry, that I interfere, but I suggest to go another by.

  4. Xenos

    Of course, I apologize, but, in my opinion, there is another way to resolve the issue.

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