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(February 1999) [Printed in "Reality Module No.8" under the title "Democratic Humanism - What Are Genuine Human Needs?"]

Democratic Humanism (1) -
What Are Genuine Human Needs?

Level 1. Physiological Needs
Level 2. Safety Needs / Security
Level 3. Belongingness = Love Needs
Level 4. Self-Esteem
Level 5. Self-Actualization Needs
Higher Levels?

Related Works
Feedback and Discussions

"One of the lessons of the latter half of the 20th century is that Communism doesn't work - it leads to inefficiency, stifles individual innovation, devalues human beings to the status of machines, causes environmental degradation, and leads to most of the people being pretty unhappy for most of the time.

"I'm predicting that by early in the 21st century (by 2025 at the latest) people will come to realise that laissez-faire Capitalism doesn't work either - it leads to social inequality, causes exploitation, devalues human beings to the status of consumers, causes environmental degradation, is inherently unstable, and leads to most of the people being pretty unhappy for most of the time.

"I'm expecting a new political system, one which is based on genuine human needs and desires, to come into being. It will be a genuine social revolution and I have no doubt it'll be fought against by old style monetarists every angstrom of the way, and will only come into place after a long struggle and a lot of soul-searching.

I don't know what it'll be called - possibly something like Democratic Humanism."

From "Future Imperfect. Part 2" in Reality Module #3. (April 1998).


I'm basing my hierarchy of human needs on the model proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1962-63 and described in the book "Principles of Psychology." (1) (I've got to start with something - and I can always change the model later on if it proves inadequate).

I'll be tackling the secular trinity of Politics, Economics and Sociology.

This will be a short essay.

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Level 1. Physiological Needs.

These are the most basic needs. The needs for food, water, fresh air, etc.

With most of the world's population malnourished or starving, with supplies of potable water under threat in parts of Asia and Africa, with the pollution of water, air and soil - we can say that even these most fundamental human needs are not being properly met in most parts of the world.

This indicates major problems with the world's economic practices.

Of course solutions are being implemented to deal with many of these problems, but I suspect we are not working hard enough to solve them. We need to find and put into practice new and radical ideas.

The first problem Economic Humanism will have to look at will be the problem of poverty.

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Level 2. Safety Needs / Security.

These are the needs of human beings for shelter (a place of their own), and security.

Once more this is economics based. Even in rich western countries like Australia, we have too many homeless people (few of them homeless by choice), and the cost of accommodation in cities is getting higher and higher. Many low- income people are finding it increasingly hard to cope with rental costs (I know I am), and affordable public housing is becoming more and more scarce. It is not an ideal situation when even fundamentals like housing are being pushed out of the economic reach of the disadvantaged.

Security has many dimensions. It can mean safety from attack and burglary. (A law-and-order problem, as well as a social and political problem.)

It can mean economic security - both a financial safety-net if you become unemployed, or the increasingly rare commodity of a permanent job.

Economic security has become rare in this age of economic restructuring. No one has a 'job-for-life' and we have to constantly reinvent ourselves in order to pursue new career options.

Medical care is also a source of insecurity. ("How long will I have to wait for treatment? Is this strange doctor competent? Can I afford the bills?") Governments have a role here.

Lastly it can mean a freedom from stress: a modern malady brought about, perhaps, by our imperfect understanding of the changes happening around us, and the economic pressure to "perform."

Political policies and programs can ease the insecurity of the economically disadvantaged. Changes in employment practices and policies can ease the stress caused by current job pressures. We must learn as a society that it is okay to relax - economic 'progress' isn't everything.

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Level 3. Belongingness = Love Needs.

This is the next level: family ties, sense of community, sense of a common purpose.

These are not directly politically related. All our politicians can do is fund projects to foster 'community spirit' whatever that may be, and fund counselling for those economically-disadvantaged persons who feel unable to relate to others or who feel alienated from society. (This is psychotherapy.)

These are projects to help us live together more harmoniously as a society.

[I'm not sure at what level our intrinsic needs for Justice and fair play fits in. Certainly there should be affordable 'justice for all.']

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Level 4. Self-Esteem.

Citizens need to feel that they have value, that they are not just cogs in a machine.

This is where the common capitalist simplification of citizens to consumers or customers is so debilitating. (We get the unconscious message that our money is more important than we are. Economic rationalism has a lot to answer for).

The democratic part of Democratic Humanism comes into play here. Citizens debate and make decisions about issues that affect them all.

Politics is far too important to be left in the hands of politicians.

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Level 5. Self-Actualization Needs.

This describes the need most of us have to develop to our full-potential in all the areas that are important to us.

The most direct link here is with Education. Education is the most visible social means by which people attempt to develop their skills and improve their opportunities, and investigate deeply the matters which really interest/stimulate them.

An issue here is that with the increasing emphasis on user-pays in Australian education - many people of limited means will be denied the opportunities that education provides.

(Sure the government will fund educational programs for the disadvantaged but they will be courses the government thinks you should do - not what you might want to do!)

There are many issues here.

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Higher Levels?

Maslow doesn't mention any of these. I'd say we might have a need to feel that our life has meaning/relevance, and maybe that we have a place in history.

Politics, Economics, and Sociology have nothing to say here. They are all too trivial.

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This introduction gives me a range of areas to explore in future essays.


(1).Price, Richard H. et al. Principles of psychology. New York, NY : CBS College Publishing, 1982. (pp.382-383) [ISBN 0-03-048411-1]

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Related Works

- Origins of these ideas -
Future Imperfect - Part 1 - Gathering the Threads (February 1998)
Future Imperfect - Part 2 - Weaving the Tapestry (April 1998)

- In This Series -
Democratic Humanism (1) - What Are Genuine Human Needs? (February 1999)
Democratic Humanism (2) (April 1999)
Democratic Humanism (3) - Know Your Dragon (June 1999)
Democratic Humanism (4) - Maslow Meets the Economic Rationalists (August 2000)
Democratic Humanism (5) - Fostering Change From Within (June 2001)
Democratic Humanism (6) - The Getting of Wisdom (December 2001)


Feedback and Discussions

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Copyright © 1999 by Michael F. Green. All rights reserved.


Last Updated: 28 August 2003