Finally, An Exposition On Needs and Wants


In previous installments of this series of articles, the question of what makes civilizations complex was introduced. The proposed answer to this question was stated in the previous article. The question is answered by how a civilization deals with the mixture of needs and wants that come to be out of the people that make up the civilization. Do they establish institutions intended to provide only the needs of the people or both the needs and the wants of its people? The former strategy is the essence of a simple civilization while the latter strategy results in the complex civilizations that we most often encounter today. This distinction appears because needs for people are finite in number, while wants in people are potentially infinite. That is to say that wanting has no end, while needs are few and basically the same for all peoples. With this distinction in mind it is time to complete this series by discussing the topics of needs and wants in order to make clear how they influence the operations of civilizations.


The surprising fact about the comparison between needs and wants is the difference between their numbers. The needs of people can be counted in terms of biology. There are five of them. They are- in order of their relative importance in terms of time to disaster- safety, air, water, food, and reproduction. These are the five basic things that all people need. If, for example, people could get only these five things they would live full lives and survive. Compare that to the uncountable number of things that people tend to want. Five versus infinity- the scale tips over. So how is it that wants have become so important and been allowed to add complexity to our civilizations? It seems that one of the culprits that allowed this to take place is the slight confusion about what is a  need, and what is a  want . If you were to ask an average person what they need, they will give you a list of items that will include things that are not one of the five biological needs that was given above. The fact is that we all tend to believe that the things that we want are things that we need. That is partially because the acquisition of needs is not a simple process. We find that at times things that are not needs must be obtained before things that are needs can be obtained. The prime example is money, which is not truly a biological need, but it precedes obtaining some of the biological needs most of the time. It is through these types of associations that the simple list of five biological needs grows to develop sub lists below each of them.


So if we concede that the growth of sub lists under each need cannot be avoided, and allow for one predecessor to each biological need, the number of needs can get to be ten in number. This is still very much smaller than infinity, the concept that represents the number of our wants. In complex civilizations however, the list of things that are accepted as needs grows steadily towards attaining the illusive goal of reaching infinity. When it comes to people competing for resources in a civilization, for example, one of the most important tricks that one can know is how to make something that you want appear to be something that everyone needs. No one is really standing guard at the gate on this matter, because everyone plays the game. Everyone likes to get something that they want. And there it is, we have arrived at a hypothesis that just might be the reason why wants have been able to add complexity to the structure of civilizations. The power of the pleasure principle could be the cause of our surrender to the agonies of complexity.


Someone could ask- why does it matter at all? If some people get the things that they want, so what? Well in terms of the balance of all the ethical factors that are relevant to this topic, we are not really achieving the alternate goal of providing both needs and wants of the total civilization. Often, the five basic biological needs of some portions of the people in a civilization are not provided, while at the same time the wants of some portions of the civilizations are being provided. The argument is now proposed that it is not possible to provide both the needs and wants of people in a civilization, unless its people only want their five basic biological needs. This statement implies that complex civilizations do not really work. A good piece of evidence of this is the constant rising and falling of civilizations that has occurred throughout history. It suggests that the one solution to building permanent civilizations that has not been tried, the simple civilization, is the only solution that will really accomplish this goal.


Like most people when I think of a civilization in which you get only the things that you need I shudder- at first. But when I think about the times when I was worried that my needs were not going to be met because that was not part of the grand scheme of things, I think differently about the subject. I then am willing to accept that the needs of people should define the grand scheme of things. Wants should only come into play when needs of the people of a civilization are met with surety.


My deduction, then, is this. The simple civilization is the true model for the working, successful civilization. The complex model is really nothing more than a   civilization with  a  game embedded within it; the game of getting what you want that my be fun for some,  a power trip, or a pleasure, but it adds devastating complexity to something that is much more serious than a  game- the ongoing survival of the human race.


The 1983 edition of the The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD), Office Edition says a civilization is:


 "1. A human society having an advanced stage of development in the arts and sciences and social, political, and cultural complexity."


I believe that now the definition of civilization that we started with has been fully explored, and I have accomplished what I intended to do from the start. Everyone who has read this sequence of articles has gained an understanding of what characteristics define a civilization. That being the case, we can consider the exposition at an end, though I hope that an ongoing discussion will ensue.


I would like to thank all of the people who made it possible for me to be able to see over and around the obstacles that would have obscured the truth. I thank the many preachers and teachers and friends who helped me to grow spiritually at Thankful Baptist Church. A teacher, Mrs. G. J. Patricio at Groves High School, who inspired me to like the written word so much, that I wanted to do this. To the many travelers that I encountered in college who played, and prayed with me and shared the wisdom of travelers, I say thank you and peace be with you. Thank you a lot Dr. Dimirti Bertsekas of MIT, who gave me enough understanding of operations research to enable to me see how civilizations work at a far deeper level than I could have without his teaching. Last, but not least, thanks to my ever present friends of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization who insisted on me learning the wisdom of the Bible. I benefited from heeding their advice.



May 05, 2012


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