Je Vous Dis, Merde! 41: True Needs, False Needs, and DEVO-Style “Freedom of Choice”

In a very cool recent article, “The Big Brotherhood,” the contemporary political philosopher Philip Pettit wrote this —

Imagine the position of women in relation to their men in a society where husbands have legal power over their wives: the power, for example, to determine where they may appear in public, who they may associate with, what church they may attend, and so on. And now imagine a woman whose husband dotes on her, as Torvald dotes on Nora in Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, giving her carte blanche: allowing her, in effect, to act as she wills within the range, intuitively, of personal liberty.

Does Nora free enjoy freedom of choice in that domain, thanks to Torvald’s indulgence?

Surely not. Nora can act as she wishes in that range of choice, it is true. But she can only act as she wishes because Torvald is willing to let her act as she wishes. She depends on his will for being able to act as she wills, so that it is his will that is ultimately in charge. Like a horse that is given its head, to invoke an old metaphor, she may enjoy free rein. But it is Torvald who is in the saddle, able to pull back at any point on that rein.

Accept these observations about freedom, and they have many lessons to teach us, not least in the new domain of digital communication.

We all now recognize, as we receive advertising that reflects our past choices, that the companies on which we rely for various services have a means of targeting us individually, a means of keeping tabs on our movements, and a means, in principle, of interfering coercively in our lives. Thus they have the means of exposing us to shame for any embarrassing use of the internet; exposing us to financial restriction — in effect, penalties — for any evidence of carelessness in the use of our funds; and exposing us to governmental surveillance for possibly suspicious activities.

This exposure to the possibility of interference means that in a realm of personal freedom, as we might have thought of it, we are not actually free. We may not suffer any of the penalties to which we are exposed. But, as in the case of Nora and Torvald, the exposure is sufficient in itself to compromise our freedom.

Pettit’s immediate target here is the way in which seeming “freedom of choice” in our everyday use of social media, and digital communication more generally, can actually hide an oppressive and repressive system of “Big Brother”-style social and political control of ordinary people’s lives by a global network of fabulously rich and powerful corporations like Facebook and Google.

But for the purposes of this essay, I’m interested in two more general points that build on Pettit’s argument.

In order to get to those two points, however, we’re going to need a distinction between what I’ll call (i) true human needs and (ii) false human needs.

In that connection, here is what the 20th century radical political philosopher Herbert Marcuse wrote in the first chapter of his 1964 book One Dimensional Man:

The intensity, the satisfaction and even the character of human needs, beyond the biological level, have always been preconditioned. Whether or not the possibility of doing or leaving, enjoying or destroying, possessing or rejecting something is seized as a need depends on whether or not it can be seen as desirable and necessary for the prevailing societal institutions and interests. In this sense, human needs are historical needs and, to the extent to which the society demands the repressive development of the individual, his needs themselves and their claim for satisfaction are subject to overriding critical standards.

We may distinguish both true and false needs. “False” are those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice. Their satisfaction might be most gratifying to the individual, but this happiness is not a condition which has to be maintained and protected if it serves to arrest the development of the ability (his own and others) to recognize the disease of the whole and grasp the chances of curing the disease. The result then is euphoria in unhappiness. Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs.

Such needs have a societal content and function which are determined by external powers over which the individual has no control; the development and satisfaction of these needs is heteronomous [i.e., unfree]. No matter how much such needs may have become the individual’s own, reproduced and fortified by the conditions of his existence; no matter how much he identifies himself with them and finds himself in their satisfaction, they continue to be what they were from the beginning — products of a society whose dominant interest demands repression.

OK. Here’s my take on all that.

True human needs are absolutely universal across humanity, and essentially bound up with human dignity.

In turn, true human needs are of two different but closely-connected kinds.

First, some true human needs are such that their satisfaction is a necessary condition of all human dignity.

Let’s call those the basic human needs.

For example, among the basic human needs are everyone’s needs for:

— adequate nourishment, adequate clothing, and adequate accommodation

— adequate physical and mental health, as sustained by adequate healthcare

— adequate access to a healthy natural environment, both local and global

— adequate scope for human movement and travel across the earth

— adequate protection from coercion by others

— adequate access to human companionship and human communication

— adequate primary and secondary education

Since satisfying the the basic human needs is a necessary condition for human dignity, then respect for human dignity demands that everyone, everywhere should always have enough of whatever it takes to satisfy their basic human needs.

Second, over and above the basic human needs, all other true human needs are those whose satisfaction most fully conform to the absolute value of human dignity, by exercising people’s various capacities and realizing their potentiality for being autonomous, individually flourishing, and collectively flourishing, in ways that also are compatible with and supportive of the autonomy, individual flourishing, and collective flourishing of everyone else.

Let’s call those the humanity-realizing needs.

For example, among the humanity-realizing needs are everyone’s needs for:

— aesthetic enjoyment of all kinds

— intimate personal relationships of all kinds, e.g., families, life-partners, lovers, close friends, etc.

— social and political solidarity of all kinds

— free thought and free speech of all kinds

— creative self-expression of all kinds, e.g., arts, crafts, etc.

— meaningful work of all kinds, or what I call lifework

— higher education of all kinds

— spirituality of all kinds

Since it is arguable that the ultimate goal, purpose, or meaning of human life is no more and no less than to pursue the satisfaction of humanity-realizing needs, then respect for human dignity demands that everyone, everywhere, should always have enough of whatever it takes for them to able to pursue their humanity-realizing needs.

Now we’re in a position to define false human needs as:

anything that people desire, no matter how intensely or repeatedly, whose satisfaction represses, suppresses, or in any way impedes, undermines, counteracts, or outright destroys the satisfaction of their own or other people’s true human needs.

So what are Pettit and Marcuse telling us?

First, in contemporary neoliberal democratic states like the USA, the very idea of so-called “freedom of choice,” far from being a necessary ground of the satisfaction of our true human needs, in fact denotes an all-embracing, global, mass media-driven and social media-driven system through which our true human needs, both as individuals and as social beings, are systematically replaced by false human needs, in order to serve the economic, social, and political interests of a global network of fabulously rich and powerful corporations, closely interlinked with national governments and their security and military establishments, that comprise what has been variously called the “the military-industrial complex” (Eisenhower), “the power elite” (C. Wright Mills), and “the deep state” (Mike Lofgren).

But for our purposes here, let’s call this, following Pettit, The Big Brotherhood.

Correspondingly, I’ll also call the false “freedom of choice” brought to us by The Big Brotherhood, DEVO-style “freedom of choice,” so-named for the well-known edgy pop song, “Freedom of Choice” from the album of the same name — released by the new wave band DEVO in 1980.

Second, most political activity in contemporary neoliberal democratic states like the USA is ultimately designed by The Big Brotherhood to get people to conform to, support, and vote for what satisfies their false human needs, not their true human needs, by seducing them into thinking that their supposedly all-important DEVO-style “freedom of choice” will be increased, or at least preserved, by doing so.

Three perfect examples of false human needs, accompanied by all sorts of DEVO-style “freedom of choice” in the specific means of their satisfaction, are:

— the desire to possess more money, property, and adult playthings than 99% of the rest of the world’s population (“wow!, I can choose between making many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or being a millionaire or being a billionaire or …”)

— the desire to be using social media constantly, day and night (“wow!, I can choose between Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or ….”), and

— the desire to own and use guns (“wow!, I can choose between a revolver or a semi-automatic or a rifle or …”).

It’s a self-evident fact that many or even most Americans have one or more of these three false human needs to a significant degree.

It’s another self-evident fact that although the correlation isn’t perfectly one-to-one, there’s a very high positive correlation between (i) all false human needs and (ii) distinct advertisements projected at us via the mass media and social media — “wow!, all that freedom of choice.”

And it’s another self-evident fact that false human needs are messing us up, big-time, both individually and collectively.

Not altogether coincidentally, the So-Called POTUS Donald Trump fully or even pathologically manifests all three of the false human needs I specifically mentioned, as I’ve noted here, here, and here.

Now compare and contrast those false human needs with, for example, the true basic human needs of the victims of recent hurricanes, and of Mexico’s earthquake victims in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, and, on Tuesday, Mexico City

An injured man was pulled out of a collapsed building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City.

Therefore:

— In order to live individual lives that most fully conform to our human dignity, we should wholeheartedly affirm and promote the satisfaction of true human needs, and, correspondingly, we should try our damnedest to avoid falling into the self-destructive and other-destructive patterns of lives based on false human needs and DEVO-style “freedom of choice,” thereby unknowingly becoming puppets of The Big Brotherhood.

— In order to create a progressive revolution in contemporary politics, in accordance with the basic principles of what I’ve dubbed Grouchomarxist Lennonism, we should create, demand, and engage in all and only those political activities that seek to provide everyone with (i) enough of whatever it takes to satisfy their basic human needs, and also (ii) enough of whatever it takes for them to able to pursue their humanity-realizing needs.

— In turn, the seven-part platform of The WTFU Party, described directly below, is a concrete social and political scheme for providing everyone, everywhere, with both of those “enoughs.”

To sum up, then:

True freedom of choice is nothing more and nothing less than your being able to choose the most effective means of your own and everyone’s else emancipation from false, DEVO-style “freedom of choice” and The Big Brotherhood, for the sake of pursuing the satisfaction of your own and everyone else’s true human needs.

And, as always, to anyone who seriously disputes the soundness of this argument,

Je vous dis, merde!

***

“Je vous dis, merde!” (literally, “I say to you: shit!” or more loosely, “You’re so full of shit!”) is a morally and politically defiant slogan invented and first published by an early 20th-century Catalan anarchist who used the nom de guerre “Miguel Almereyda.” Almereyda, who was murdered in a French prison in 1917, was also the father of the famous French film director Jean Vigo, who immortalized the same slogan in his breakthrough 1933 film, Zéro de conduite, aka Zero for Conduct.

Here is the seven-part platform of The Wake The Fuck Up! Party , aka The WTFU Party, aka Up Against the Wall, Philosophy-Fucker!, aka UAW/PF —

1. Universal Respect for Human Dignity (URHD):

· Human dignity is the absolute non-denumerable moral value of every member of humanity, and everyone ought to try wholeheartedly to treat everyone else in a way that is sufficient to meet the demands of respect for human dignity, especially including (i) alleviating or ending human oppression, and (ii) actively engaging in mutual aid and mutual kindness.

2. Universal Basic Income (UBI):

· Anyone 21 years of age or over and living permanently in the USA, who has a personal yearly income of $50,000.00 USD or less, and who is capable of requesting their UBI, would receive $25,000.00 USD per year, with no strings attached.

3. A 15-Hour Workweek for Understaffed Non-Bullshit Jobs (FHW-for-UNBJs):

· Anyone 18 years of age or older who is living permanently in the USA, who has completed a high school education, and is mentally and physically capable of doing a job, would be offered an eco-job, paying a yearly wage of $25,000.00 USD, for fifteen hours of work (three 5-hour days) per week.

Thus anyone 21 years of age or older with a high-school degree and who is also mentally and physically capable of working, would have a guaranteed yearly income of at least $50,000.00 USD if they chose to do an eco-job.

The rationale behind the three-year gap between (i) being offered an eco-job at 18 and (ii) beginning to receive their UBI at 21, is that every young adult who has finished high school will have the option of pursuing three years of part-time or full-time free higher education without credentialing, i.e., for its own sake, after high school, before making longer-term decisions about what I call job-work and life-work.

***

Here are a few more details about UBI and eco-jobs.

(i) The UBI is to be paid by a monthly stipend check.

(ii) Eco-job income is not taxed.

(iii) For all individual yearly incomes of $50,000.00 USD or under, no tax will be levied; hence for someone receiving their UBI and also doing an eco-job, no income tax will be levied.

(iv) For all individual non-eco-job incomes, for every $1.00 USD earned above the standard UBI of $25,000.00 USD, the monthly UBI stipend is reduced by 50 cents, until the recipient’s UBI is reduced to zero; hence for those individuals with yearly non-eco-job incomes equal to or under $50,000.00 USD, the maximum UBI + non-eco-job income sum is always $50,000.00 USD.

(v) For all individual yearly incomes over $50,000.00 USD, for every $10,000.00 USD earned, that surplus income is taxed at the rate of 1%, with the highest surplus income tax rate being 50%; hence the maximum surplus 50% tax rate starts at individual yearly incomes of $550,000.00 USD, and applies to all higher surplus incomes.

***

4. Universal Free Higher Education Without Credentialing (HEWC):

· Everyone would be offered, beyond their high-school education, a free, three-year minimum, optional (but also open-ended beyond those three years, as a further option), part-time or full-time universal public education program in the so-called “liberal arts,” and also in some of the so-called “STEM” fields, including the humanities, the fine arts, the social sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences.

· For many or even most people, their HEWC would fall between (i) the end of their high school education at age 18 and the corresponding availability of eco-jobs, and (ii) the beginning of their UBI at age 21.

· But HEWC would be open to anyone with a high school degree, no matter how old they are, provided they are mentally and physically capable of doing the program.

5. Universal Free Healthcare (UFH):

· Every human person living permanently in the USA will receive free lifelong healthcare.

6. 2-Phase Universal Open Borders (2P-UOB):

· Phase 1: Starting in 2021, there will be universal open borders with Canada and Mexico, and everyone who moves across those borders and then claims residence in the USA, will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the USA, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents to depend on the current availability of (i) adequate funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the USA, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the USA and elsewhere in the world.

· Phase 2: Also starting in 2021, the USA, Canada, and Mexico will collectively form a Global Refugee Consortium (GRC), with three-way open borders to any political refugee, economic refugee, or asylum seeker from anywhere in the world (aka “global refugees”), who will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA, Canada, or Mexico, and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the three GRC countries, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents, and the precise distribution of new residents among the three members of the GRC, to depend on the current availability of (i) funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the three GRC countries, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the GRC and elsewhere in the world.

7. Universal No-Guns (UNG):

· No one in the USA, including police, internal security forces of all kinds, armies, and intelligence forces of all kinds, has the moral right to possess or use guns of any kind, for any purpose whatsoever, because the primary function of guns is coercion, and coercion is immoral.

· UNG would be implemented by repealing the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in 2021 and then universally banning the possession or use of guns thereafter.

I’m also assuming that Universal Public Education (UPE) — universal free access for all human persons of any age to good public education up to the end of high school — already exists in most countries, and needs no further justification.

Where UPE does not already exist, it would automatically become a necessary part of the seven-part WTFU Party package, thereby making it a eight-part package.

***

Mr Nemo, Nowhere, NA, 22 September 2017

***

The WTFU Party is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here. Please consider becoming a patron! We’re improvident, but cheerful.

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store