Beyond Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Talking to Christiane about the role of making things in a peak oil world.  We both expressed doubt about the ideas that humans only create to satisfy a sense of self when all other needs are satisfied, a la Maslow:MaslowhierarchyofneedsWe felt that a hierarchical diagram maybe needed some more nuance.  I remembered this post by Kathy McMahon, looking at an alternative way of visualising fundamental human needs.  It included this diagram:

ten-fundamental-human-needs_webMcMahon is looking at the work of Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, who proposed that human needs, in contrast to a hierarchy, are interrelated and interactive.   She says,

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.


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 run -away economic growth is no longer a possibility.  We either get, or reject, our place in the biosphere.   It isn’t some romantic notion.  It is preparation for a life that’s dramatically different from the one we are living now.

Cheery post for a Monday:  but all peak oil discussions are bound up in the way you feel about our current systems.  if they are going supremely well for you, you won’t like the idea of change, natch.  if you are frustrated by the way things seem to be going, well, peak oil may well be something that shakes us out of these patterns, and might even help us to reconnect.  I think Max-Neef would agree with that.

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