Do you know your need? Do you REALLY know what you need? This question may sound unnecessary as it’s assumed every reasonable human being ought to know his need. But then, it’s not as simple as that; a deeper reflection on how we come about our craving for things will reveal that there is more to what we call NEED than mere necessity.
What we call need may arise from natural necessity such as when we eat to nourish our body, find shelter over our head, take medicine to cure illness etc. It may arise from social and cultural necessity such as when we pursue education, marriage, and make babies. While needs that come from natural necessity are simply what they’re – NEEDS – those that are rooted in society and culture sometimes pose a problem as to whether they’re really need or temptation to over-indulge.
This is because here we’re actually at the mercy of society which creates and conditions these “needs”. For instance, why did people “need” to marry many wives in the past and worked so hard to achieve it but today humans rarely fancy this “need” even as increasing number, especially in the West, no longer “need” marriage at all? The answer is that the “need” to marry and the number of partners “needed” are in the first place created by society. Also, in our traditional society, why did women “needed” to merely have their hair hand-woven but today most “need” some kind of synthetic materials attached to their hair? The answer as well lies in the fact that the “need” as to how to beautify the hair was in the first place created by society who thereby can always re-create it.
We can go on and on, but the above posers underscore human dilemma when it comes to dealing with what we call NEED given that it’s a product of many things including our nature, culture and even promotional activities of business organisations. Yes these capitalist entities, through overt or covert advertising and other marketing strategies, do influence what we call NEED, so also society, our peers and other elements that condition our habits.
The result is that all these forces combine to reinvent what we call “need” such that our cravings continue to grow unendingly. We are thus pushed to continue to pursue happiness and satisfaction via acquisition of whatever that’s fashionable. But that is no path to fulfilment. The satisfaction we seek outside is deep within us, away from the noises, illusions and pressures of society’s culture.
A personal example can help for illustration. Some time ago I began to notice my growing fascination about phone camera quality. I Immediately recognised that this could add to my “need” thus increasing my existential burden. I simply asked myself what exactly I needed camera for. Am I a photographer or a marketer who needed to produce attractive products of his goods? Or was I becoming captured by the contemporary culture of VISUALS where people fantasize a lot about images including the exaggerated images of their “beautiful” self as faked by camera lenses and allied software tools like Snapchat? Then and then I simply refused to fall for the cultural “trap”, to become a slave to the marketing tricks of makers of TECHNO CAMON, Samsung Galaxy, iPhone 15 pro max etc.
Even in regard to natural needs like food, a reflecting mind would have observed how we have become enslaved to “food” as defined by MacDonald’s, Coca-Cola and others such that we now consume too much calories and sugar with serious backlash on our health. Sociologists have sufficiently documented how these capitalist entities have been defining our “needs” for us when it comes to food.
Now hear this: human need for the material is endlessly changing, manipulatable, and can swing from the most reasonable to the most insane. The only thing constant in us is quest for happiness. And happiness can only be reliably, wholy and conclusively attained through a personal introspection that separates one’s NEED from his GREED. A man remains chained to his greed when he surrenders self to the dictates of endless craving as created by society. He becomes a slave to consumerism.
Forget the idea of rational choice as propounded by classical economics. Yes we can always imagine that a reasonable human will always make the rational choice. But who defines what’s rational for you – yourself or society?
This is my meditation this midweek.
Henry Chigozie Duru, PhD, teaches journalism and mass communication at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria.