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IV. A New Theory of Basic Human Needs Print
 "Is there any thing which can either be thoroughly understood, or soundly judged of, till the very first cause and principles from which originally it springeth be made manifest?"
--Richard Hooker, 1593.  The Problem
Does man have some basic, unchangeable, biological needs, from which his behaviour springeth forth?
   That is one of the deepest questions for understanding human behaviour and social existence.
   If some basic needs exist, which are they? Can man ever satsify these needs? Or are they, by nature, unlimited? If so, should he, by culture, try to master them? Is that at all possible? If not, where are we going?
   Any amount of discussion can be held on these questions. Let me ruthlessly cut through it all and advance my own hypothesis:
   Man has but three basic needs: food, sex and power.
   The more we satisfy the first two, the more we frustrate the third.
   Somewhat more elaborately: The need for sex, when satisfied, creates an ever growing need for food. Hunters and gatherers require enormous areas to get enough food. Only some ten million of them could get it from "natural nature". Since the origin of agriculture - and culture - some ten thousand years ago, the growing need for food has created an ever growing need for economic, political and social integration, for what we now call globalization.
   When successful, such integration permits a population explosion above the ten possible millions. Within the growing number, the number of adrenalinomaniac Cain-individuals, who have a strong basic need for power, that is, for becoming Number Ones, will also grow. The same cultural process, however, also diminishes the number of niches for Number Ones.
   By this inevitable structural process the demand for Number One niches increases, but the supply decreases.
   Thus, man is doomed to remain eternally unsatisfied.
   This contradiction, built into our human nature, can also explain the cruelty of our passed century, the reckless behaviour of man against man, as well as against Nature. Connections to earlier "monotheistic" essays.Nobody can deny the need for food.
   They do exist, but they are few, who deny the need for sex. What happens when you try to suppress it, has been shown by Freud and Father Sergius.
   When the sex need is fulfilled the need for food will grow. Thus we may, in short, speak about the "sex-cum-food-needs".
   Many, if not most, will, however, deny that the need for power is a basic need. In the third number of this series, the one about the CAIN-genes , I have tried to prove that it is so. The simple fact seems to be that those who didn't have an urge to kill their brothers have, for long pre-historic ages, neither been able to eat, nor make love.
   Human existence has been extremely precarious. Because of that, human history has been extremely cruel. And this cruelty has selected for a human nature in which the fratricidal Cain-gene, for power, existing in the spotted hyenas, is as central as those for food and sex.
   Here, I will not argue that any more. I will simply assume this to be true: man has three, and only three basic needs, for food, for sex and for power.
   How do you satisfy the increasing need for food, resulting from the urge for sex?
   By social integration, that is, by uniting many independent social units into ever fewer and bigger ones, permitting an ever more efficient division of labor, increasing productivity on a given earth, raising the harvests and permitting more children to survive.
   That is the essential answer. It is so deterministic over the last 10,000 years that you can even give it a mathematical expression, as I showed in the first number of this series of essays . The Hegelian "World Spirit" has behaved as if he wanted to minimize the fraction A/P, so that A goes towards 1 and P towards infinity, or:
   A stands for the ever diminishing number of sovereign Adrenalinomaniac leaders, P for the ever growing Population.
   Now, how do you satisfy the need for power?
   By murdering your brother, like Cain did to Abel. That is, by struggling, competing, making revolutions or warfare, and by winning and becoming Number One, king, emperor, Caesar, president, tsar, Führer or Chief Executive Officer.
   That is the essential answer. It follows from the Cain urge. The unavoidable contradiction. The need for integration, in order to satisfy the sex-cum-food-need, and the need to be Number One are, by necessity, contradictory.
   Integration means unification of two individual social units into one. Before integration there are two Number Ones. After, only one. One of the two is gone. Over the long history, most losers have been killed. In civilized societies, they are forced, or bribed, or educated to accept the condition of being Number Two.
   Such an outcome is, however, hateful to all strong Number One, Cain-types.
   As much as possible, these try to oppose such an outcome for themselves. If they cannot do this, but survive a defeat, they revengefully conspire to come back, to kill, or to replace the now sitting Number One.
   That is why the integration discussed in MONO I is such an enormously difficult historical process, filled with attempts at integration that first may be successful but then disintegrate. That is why successful integration requires hundreds of years of struggle.
   That is what I tried to show in the second essay in this series, MONO II: "a theory of disintegration". The good and the base. Satisfaction of the food-cum-sex-needs normally interacts with the attempts to satisfy the need for power. How? In two ways.
   To give food to a beggar, help the poor survive, satisfy the food needs of others is considered nice and good.
   To strive for power is base.
   Thus the power-hungry consistently try to hide their struggle for (the illusion of) power behind nice words about satisfying food needs and helping the poor.
   When they live up to their nice words, they permit more children to survive. They create a population explosion and an ever growing need for ever more food. Which always can be used as a new cover for the need for power.
   This circle is well known by Machiavellian cynics. But there is another, less observed circle with much more sinister implications.
   To understand it we must ask: How do you get power? Ever better instruments. How do you get power? How do you become Number One?
   Answer: By possessing better instruments than your opponent.
   What are these instruments?
   Instruments can be of millions of different types. I have, arbitrarily, grouped the "micro-instruments" into seven main groups:
  • Human individuals, that are:
  • Population living on a given resource base, that is
  • Resources, united into:
  • Institutions, equipped with technology, in order to better use resources
  • Technology stimulated to work by material sticks and carrots, called:
  • Standard, and to keep together by common values.
  • Values in order to win in, so far, unavoidable conflicts called Violence and Warfare.
These seven factors can also be seen as a "system" in which all factors interact with all the others. In today's world, spontaneous changes in any of them will create effects in all of the others.
 
Together these seven elements form what we call "society". From which follows that society can be seen as a "macro-instrument" for its leading adrenalinomaniacs in their powerstruggle against each other!
   We can observe the movement of these instruments in history. A long-term population growth (P) form ever bigger and better integrated institutions (I) within, in the long run, ever wider geographical borders (R). P and I get equipped with ever better weapons and other technical instruments (T), creating increasing material standard of living but also increasing absolute gaps between haves and have-nots (S), making the unifying indoctrination of common values (V) ever more necessary, in order to make the warfare capacity (W) of the macro-instrument ever stronger.
   These developments are much described and sometimes, e.g. by Fernand Braudel and David Landes, beautifully summarized in macro-histories.
   Not even Braudel and Landes, however, and even less, less good historians, go deep enough into the "ultimate" reasons for this development process.
   Which are, I want to claim, the three genetically based basic needs of humankind, for food, sex and, especially, power.
   The development in all these instruments are, in the ultimate analysis, it seems to me, little but the ever improved instruments in the arms race between Cain and Abel.
   That is where we must search for the basic reason behind social (P,I) and technological (T) development, as well as for growing material gaps (S), the expansion of monotheistic religions and global ideologies (V), environmental depletion (R) and, so far, continued warfare (W) killing ever more people at an ever growing distance, now being able to wipe out all of P and civilized I.
   Another way of summarizing this is to say that the adrenalinomaniac power players tend to transform anything and everybody into instruments for their own power ambitions. The expression of "total war" is a way of appointing every single individual an instrument in the acutest of all power struggles. One observer looks upon our century as a "watershed in the history of human slaughter". In most historical wars, he points out, it is the soldiers who have died. In World War I, civilian casualties constituted about 15 percent of all deaths, in World War II the figure rose to some 65 percent, and to about 90 percent in the wars of the 1980's and 1990's. Anybody at home is a potential instrument for your enemy. Better then to kill everybody!
   If we concentrate on war and the instruments for war, history, seen as an elimination game like the Wimbledon tennis tournament, can perhaps be summarized in a table like the following. If we start with 100,000 players, it takes nine rounds to come down to the present number of actual or potential members of the United Nations. As the process has taken some ten millennia, the hypothesis seems valid, that each step of efficient integration, as an average, so far, has taken one thousand years. Integration is both slow and difficult! Cains and Abels Ever better instrument of the arms race. very approximatively:
  • 100,000 family kings - stone axes and slings
  • 50,000 tribal chiefs - bows and arrows
  • 25,000 heads of tribal unions - spears
  • 12,500 "podestos" of villages - cross-bows
  • 6,250 princes of city states - muskets & cannons
  • 3,125 kings of early nations - guns
  • 1,500 kings of potential nations - machine guns
  • 750 prime ministers at WWI - Big Berthas
  • 375 prime ministers at WWII - V2 rockets
  • 200 modern nations in the United Nations - ABC-weapons plus ICBM.
The same process can, symbolically, also be seen as a very slow integration of many small triangles, one each for the 100,000 family kingdoms, into ever bigger triangles. In today's world, nations like Sweden are built by a couple of hundred thousand small triangles as building blocks, the United States by a few million. At the top of any big integrated triangle, as well as at the top of each small building block inside it, the same basic needs for food (higher income), sex (office harems), and power (career climbing), are driving the individual Cain and Abels to transform anything within reach into better instruments both for themselves and for the higher social unit of which they form part. Satsifaction of sex-cum-food needs with an arms race. Some, who are impressed by these changes, love to see them as "progress". Others, including myself, tend to see them as ever greater swings in a cyclical development between "good" and "evil". The sharpest and most beautiful exposition I have come across concerning the struggle between these two viewpoints, over the latest 4,000 years, is Norman Cohn's Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come. The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith.
   In this light, positively loaded words like "progress" and "culture" take on a more neutral meaning. They denote but different steps in an eternal armaments race between biologically unchanged adrenalinomaniacs, eternally set to win.
   In absolute sense, progress certainly exists.
   The US weapons of the year 2000 are certainly more murderous than those of Charlemagne. But the relative gap between American and Russian weaponry may not be bigger than those between Charlemagne and Haroun-al-Raschid.
   The same applies to almost all instrumental "progress". In absolute terms progress does exist, in relative terms, no.
   It can possibly be said that even "culture" - an unusually ambiguous concept - has taken on better forms. Not that Disney and soap-operas necessarily are better than Aeschylus and Sophocles. In no way! But the freedom of the individual to think and express himself, and the striving for some human rights for everybody can be seen as superior to a society, in which slavery was a "natural" institution.
   From our fundamental value point of view, that is, the struggle against redundancy death and for reproductive success, material progress is certainly a fact. Thanks to the improved division of labor inside ever more integrated social units the results are excellent. In 1820 Thomas Malthus was, for instance, scared that any material growth would be eaten up by a population explosion and David Ricardo was still equally convinced that technology would push man out of his work. After these early doomsday scenarios, not entirely unknown today, the global population has increased fivefold and the average material standard of living eightfold.
   Without any doubt there has been enormous progress in our human capacity to satisfy the two first basic human needs, for food and for giving food to the fivefold results of the sexual urge, only since 1820. Frustration of the power need. This increasing satisfaction of the two first needs has, however, frustrated the satisfaction of our third basic need, that for power.
   This is by necessity so. The improved instruments developed in the armament race have not only given us a better productivity, permitting more people to live ever better. As the size of a society is related to how far a cannon can shoot from a capital, the ever more far-reaching cannons have created integration of nations and markets. Now, when the ICBMs go so fast around the globe that they can shoot down themselves from behind, the same process goes under the name of "globalization". But it is still the old struggle between Cain and Abel.
   Most easily this can be understood in the case of a formal merger between two nations or two companies. This can be the result of a marriage or of a peaceful agreement or, possibly, resulting from a conquest by one over the other, in a war or in an unfriendly take-over.
   Out of two Number Ones we now get only one King or one CEO. The wish to be Number One is, by necessity, frustrated in the one who isn't King or CEO any more. And if the former King, as has been more normal than not in history, is killed, his family and tribe will carry the frustration with them until they, for their own kind, can re-found a new Eden or a new Israel.
   The progress in the satsifaction of the sex-cum-food-needs by means of integration has, in fact, reduced several tens of thousands of family kingdoms into some 200 formally sovereign nations. If we assume 100,000 to start with, the cruelty of history is shown by the elimination of some 99,800 independent family kingdoms or bigger units, such as those of Australian Aborigines, Armenians, Kurds and Jews, by warfare or imperialism. A belief that history hasn't suddenly changed, helps us understand why one single, globally integrated market under the rule of the President of the USA is feared by many, and why it will expose the United States to an immense frustration and even terroristic hate from the outside world.

A negative-sum game
The case is, however, infinitely more troublesome.
   Let us say that when we had 2,000 sovereign social units on the earth we had, at the most, 200 million individuals. With 200 nations, we today have 6,000 million individuals, 30 times as many.
   This development has taken place in less than 10,000 years, that is in less than one quarter of one percent of our walking on our hindlegs. Which we have done some four million years.
   It is a fair assumption that our biological nature, the "normal distribution of personality types", has been created in the 99.75 percent of human or humanoid existence. Or even earlier, as lots of primates lived in herds, much like our primitive family kingdoms, and as we share some 98.4 percent of our genes with the chimpanzees.
   If so, it is also a fair assumption that the need to be Number One is extremely strong in a small but fixed percentage of the members of any human group, irrespective of its size - possibly the right extreme of a normal distribution curve for adrenaline or testosterone.
   Let us now redo our illustrative calculation.
   2,000 units have been integrated into 200. 1,800 CEOs or Kings have been forced to step down. In the same time society has grown from 200 to 6,000 million individuals.
   Now we have not only the 1,800, who actually have experienced their demise as Number Ones, but also the 2,000 times 30, who may be born with an intense Cain-urge to rule, but who never ever got close to the satisfaction of this basic need. That is, as a minimum, 60,000 potential leaders, with families and friends and blood or cultural kinsmen, who are bound to get seriously frustrated in their power needs, when the satisfaction of the food-cum-sex-needs has forced a necessary integration upon them.
   The conclusion doesn't seem too far-fetched: the frustration of the basic need for power may grow more than pari passu with the growing satisfaction of the sex-cum-food needs! Consequences Jean-Pierre Changeux has said that "In spite of the enormous progress in well-being brought about by science and technology, and by medicine in particular, Western society is presently in a state of ethical malaise. Traditional reference systems are breaking down or becoming sources of conflict, and nothing appears to be able to moderate the 'morality of profit' that is spreading over the planet. There is an urgent need to find new sources of reflection capable of enriching and diversifying the debate on ethics."
   The contradiction I here have suggested may be an insoluble dilemma, one of those that Isaiah Berlin said we have to live with. It may help us explain the undeniable "ethical malaise" that the famous French geneticist points to.
   My theory of needs helps us, it seems to me, to understand a number of things.
   It helps us understand why no Number One in a subordinated unit of a hierarchy is ever completely satisfied, why all these fake Number One positions with titles like "deputy" managers and "vice" directors don't satisfy us. We want to be Number Ones.
   It helps us understand Aristotle's realization that "the nature of needs is limitless", which I have modernized to "Karlsson's Law of Constant Dissatisfaction" ruling an eternally unsatsified, overly ambitious, male climbing class.
   As capital is a superinstrument with which you can buy all other instruments of power, we now understand why we have the much lamented "morality of profit".
   My contradiction warns us that economic growth and expansion will never stop by itself. In fact, it may become dangerous for us, when ever more natural resources are transformed into ever more efficient instruments with ever worse waste effects, or when our weapons, atomic, biological or chemical, get too dangerous for their creators, caught in an unconscious power spiral without end.
   The adrenalinomaniacs of every generation are born to a given set of instruments in a given nature. To get somewhat better ones, they are willing to sacrifice another little bit of nature, or risk ever bigger disasters. Will the end result be that we all drive around in Mercedes Benz in an all-covering asphalt desert spiced with atomic land mines?
   Is there, to look at another problem, an interaction between the three basic needs? Do those, who were born to be Number Ones but are structurally forced to live as Number Twos, or lower, possibly seek consolation in an ever higher level of satisfaction in the two first material needs? May, for instance, the American craze for food and gadgets, visible in inordinate fatness and infantile toys, copied around the world by those who can afford it, be but an expression of power frustration? The stronger the center, with its FBIs, IRSs and CIAs, the fatter the citizens?
   My theory also puts some disturbing questions to the academic establishment.
   It may, for instance, help us understand an age-old and important distinction in the economic science, that between production and distribution. However much we have produced, the gap between the poor at the subsistence level and the ever richer at the top in a growing market economy, has remained. The growth of the economy can be explained by the sex-cum-food-needs. The unequal distribution can be explained by the power need. And our inability to get rid of this gap, in spite of much kind talk from Jesus and others, can be understood as a result of the contradiction between these needs.
   Can it be that the whole economic system, including academic economics, is concerned with Needs 1 and 2, while the political system, including academic political science, is concerned with Need No. 3? And that the contradiction between 1+2 versus 3 has not been properly noted?
   In today's world, almost all new weapons and power instruments are created by R&D, by scientists and technologists. Is this anything but the continuation of the old arms race, financed by ever more powerful and richer states and companies under eternally competing Cains and Abels? Isn't the only difference that IQ in the heads has replaced muscles of the body? For the rest, are the technical inventors and natural science professors of Stanford and Los Alamos more than modern gladiators in a global Coloseum?
   Many such questions can be posed. But let me now jump to my simple Conclusions. Stoic philosophers have always maintained that a good life is best achieved by living a modest life in which pleasure can be obtained from one's own capacity to appreaciate the beauties of life. That man is wise who can control his needs, instincts and desires, they have maintained. The basic needs of man arise from his animal nature. The essence of culture is the attempts to rise above that animal nature.
   This seems to me to be more true than ever.
   Thus I conclude that if man can restrain not only his need for food and sex, which has been much discussed, but, as we now understand, also his animal basic need of power, there may still be some hope for humanity.

Capri in the summer of 1998.
Gunnar Adler-Karlsson ©

APPENDIX

Maslow vs. Adler-Karlsson
A general theory should apply also to itself, in itself be a theory of that theory.
   Social theories like this one form part of the social value instruments. As all instruments, they are designed or invented to be better than earlier theories.
   Which, then, is the earlier theory of basic needs, upon which this one tries to improve?
   I have asked a number of social science colleagues which theory of basic needs they are using in their teaching. Most said they don't teach any "ultimate" theory of needs at all. But those who do, have invariable pointed to the late Abraham H. Maslow's famous theory of a "hierarchy of basic needs".
   This theory exists in various versions. But let me use the one presented in Maslow's much used book on Motivation and Personality. The "basic needs" are here grouped into the following categories:
  • The physiological needs.
  • The safety needs.
  • The belongingness and love needs.
  • The esteem needs.
  • The need for self-actualization,
  • The desires to know and to understand, and
  • The aesthetic needs.
Please, reader, observe that all these are seen as basic needs. Had they not been that, I could also have accepted them as "desires" or "wishes" that we all would like to satisfy.
   Which are the differences between Maslow's theory and mine? Four seem important.
   1. Maslow has several basic needs. I have only three.
   2. Maslow's needs ascend a linear ladder, always upwards, towards heaven. Mine is cyclical, always tied down to earthly reality where equal men compete using, perhaps, linearly improving instruments.
   Maslow's higher basic needs fade out into half metaphysical entities like "self-actualization", a most nebulous idea. It seems as circular as the theory of needs, or demand, in the economic science. It goes under the name of "revealed preferences" or "you need what you buy", a most pleasing theory to successful sellers.
   I have no "higher" basic needs. I stick much closer to material reality: food, sex and, in order to be sure of food and sex, power.
   3. Another important difference is that Maslow's theory is one of free human creation, congenial to politically correct thinking about our freedom to create any society we may wish to. Mine is highly deterministic, saying that man goes around in circles, chained by his biological needs to create ever more potent instruments, but also doomed to be frustratedly unsatisfied however much he does so.
   4. From this follows the fourth and, in a way, most important difference: Maslow is flattering his readers, my theory is insulting them.
   Maslow is telling the adrenalinomaniacs as well as the herd that they all are freely engaged in the creation of an ever better and more perfect reality, in which each of them will be able to "actualize" that suppressed ideal self, that homunculus who yet, by outside constraints, is chained within him- or herself.
   A highly appealing idea to weak human beings, wanting to think themselves monotheistic Gods!
   My theory tells myself and the other ambitious climbers that we are dumbly chasing after wind or, more specifically, competing for the illusion of power. It tells us that we will never ever become omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent, only laughed at by future historians.
   The masses, who will never know it, are informed by my theory that they not only should look upon themselves as instruments for the climbers, but even be grateful for this condition. Because, as Bernard Mandeville showed already 300 years ago, without the competetive struggle for power and luxury between the testosteronomaniacs, creating the demand for ever more instruments, also living ones, most members of the masses would either be poorer or dead.
   In sum, Maslow soothes his readers. I am holding up a mirror to them.
   It is evident that Maslow's theory of basic needs is much more appealing than mine, to the masses of ever hopeful individuals as well as to their ever unsatisfied rulers, who can use it for ruling ever more of them.
   If so, how can I nurture any hope that mine will stand any chance of "winning" over Maslow's?
   For two reasons: I am convinced that my theory is much closer to the brutal truth of vain humanity. And truth is, in spite of all, one of the highest and most important Western instruments. Secondly, I am equally convinced that mankind is approaching an objective condition in which my realistic theory is the better instrument for understanding the present human condition. Thus it is also a better instrument for survival, for the reproductive success of our species. It will give our adrenalinomaniac rulers more power! If that is true, my theory is bound to "win".

Gunnar Adler-Karlsson ©
 

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