What are the real human needs? So far in this series on RBPEA (Really-Big-Picture Enterprise-Architecture), we’ve explored non-negotiable constraints imposed on us by Reality Department, and problems that are inherent in a culture that still actively promotes serious dysfunctionality in a form I describe as paediarchy: – ‘rule by, for and on behalf of the childish‘. But what do people most need, as people?
In principle, this should be the realm of politics. But in practice, politics these days is little more than minor variations on a theme of possessionism at its most foolish. For example, today, here in the increasingly-misnamed United Kingdom, we have the dubious joys of a General Election. From an RBPEA perspective, we have a, uh, wonderful selection to choose from:
- a party whose only apparent intent is to maximise the theft available to the very rich, and dump the resultant costs of that theft on everyone else
- a party whose previous leader intentionally abandoned every principle upon which the party was founded, and ever since his departure is still struggling to find its purpose
- a party sat stuck in the middle, largely unable to do anything, but often getting the blame for everyone else’s misdemeanours
- a party clinging desperately to the imagined glories of the past, pushing bigotry and bias as a basis on which to remake the world in its own sad image
- a party that should probably know better, but doesn’t
- a bunch of minor parties focussed almost exclusively on local needs, without much awareness of or interest in any larger picture
- the tiny yet wonderfully-anarchic Monster Raving Loony Party, who’ve successfully mocked and parodied the whole sorry mess at every election for the past half-century, to the delight of (almost) all
In other words, pretty much a choice between bad, worse, and downright atrocious: a pathetic joke, bluntly. ‘Deckchairs on the Titanic‘, indeed… – or more like childish squabblings about the pettiest details of just one deckchair that’s already sliding over the edge:
The crucial point we need to note here, though, is that whilst it may be true that human wants are limitless – especially in a consumerist-culture – yet human needs can be a lot simpler, and perhaps a lot more easily sated. And sometimes, just sometimes – even in politics – some rare kind of real sense can break through. Earlier during the election-campaign, the BBC current-affairs programme ‘Panorama’ ran a brief series on ‘What Britain wants‘ – about needs and desires that are essentially common to everyone: in other words, RBPEA-territory. In one of the parallel articles on the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC website, the editor summarised the aim and background of the series as follows:
In the early 1970s, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Norman Kirk laid out a political philosophy which still resonates today. People, he said, don’t want much. They want: “Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for.”
Relationships and a sense of community, a secure home; a secure job, and a belief that life will get better for us and our children – the building blocks of “the good life”, but what do they mean today as we grapple with globalisation, austerity, immigration, insecurities and uncertainty about the future? Is the job at hand to work out a new formula for fulfilment or to find a way back to these old certainties?
“Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work, something to hope for”: seems to me it’d be worthwhile exploring each of these themes from an RBPEA perspective…
“Someone to love”
Perhaps the greatest problem here is that ‘love’ is so easily misinterpreted as a form of possessionism: “you’re mine, all mine!”, as so many so-called ‘love-songs’ put it. Yet if we can look beyond the haze of hormones and other hazards, there are two truly important elements to this: a sense of belonging, in a social sense; and an awareness of interdependence, within the social context, fractally, at every scale.
(Note that interdependence is fundamentally different from either dependence or, worse, co-dependence, on one side, versus an empty illusion of ‘independence’ on the other. Interdependence is an awareness that, in a true system, every element is exactly as important as every other.)
It’s perhaps important to keep this notion of ‘someone to love’ as broad as possible – even perhaps more generally as ‘somewhat to love’ than necessarily ‘someone‘. Yes, for many people, love is definitely something personal, ‘to have and to hold’ and all that. Yet for a sizeable number of us, that kind of direct person-to-person connection is something that is experienced rarely, if at all, or experienced only in the past: for example, my elderly mother has just passed the bleak anniversary where she’s been a widow longer than she was married. For myself, my ‘personal’ connections tend to be either professional ones, or more in the form of uncle or great-uncle – each of which is a kind of love in its own right, even if quite a bit more abstract than that in ‘love-songs’ and the like.
For many of us, too, love is inextricably interwoven with caring, for another person, for an animal, for place, even for a possession: for example, notice how the way some people interact with their car, or their phone, carries more than a hint of a lover’s caress… That this goes very deep into the human soul is indicated by the success and value of the Japanese-developed therapeutic-robot Paro, which resembles a baby harp-seal. Most often used for elderly patients with severe dementia, it’s soft, quite heavy, warm to the touch, and it responds to interaction, giving small plaintive cries. To quote a BBC report:
For Claire Jepson, who helps to manage the robots at the Grenoside Grange Hospital in Sheffield, nearly all her patients find some benefit in spending time with them, possibly because they are drawn to the machines’ apparent vulnerability.
“Our patients experience a lot of distress when they come to us. Paro provides comfort, people begin to focus on this thing; the tactile stimulation calms them.
“They seem to be reassured by offering the seal reassurance; it’s crying out, it’s wanting to be looked after, as a lot of patients do.”
“They seem to be reassured by offering the seal reassurance” – to me that’s the key phrase there. Even in the seemingly most-disconnected, love and caring for others seems to be enough to re-bind people into a social context. In that sense alone, overt acknowledgement and support for some aspects at least of ‘someone to love’ would seem to be essential to any social-architecture.
“Somewhere to live”
From an RBPEA perspective, the suggestion here would be to bring this right back the actual needs, for subsistence, and for shelter.
Which, courtesy of the dysfunctions of the money-economy, is right now best described as a mess…
In Britain, it used to be that a house would cost around three times one person’s income; and banking rules had ensured that it had been that way for at least a century. Rentals were problematic, but they too eventually came down to sane levels after the breaking of the slum-landlords in the 1970s or so. But from then onwards, with the rise of the re-entrapment of women in the paid-workforce (after the women’s movement had previously spent the best part of a century getting women out of it), the median house-price soon jumped to three times household-income; and then, after deregulation in the 1980s, a steep climb to five times, then eight times, ten times, sometimes even more.
Right now the typical house-price in this country works out as around thirty years of one person’s income: an-all-too-literal instantiation of the translation of ‘mortgage’ as ‘death-pledge’. Yet who – if anyone – actually benefits from this mess is far from clear. For rentals – likewise now almost fully ‘deregulated’ – the price-levels are reaching the point where the lower-paid workers who keep cities going are no longer able to live anywhere close enough to the respective city to do the work that’s needed: there’s a real risk that, very soon now, our cities are going to grind to a halt for lack of available labour. On top of that, the landlord/tenant-model all but guarantees the decay of the housing stock, as it costs the landlord money to maintain properties for the tenants’ benefit, and tenants have no incentive to spend money for what would ultimately be only the landlord’s benefit – and often are legally forbidden to do so anyway. To say that all of this mess is insane in every sense is something of an understatement…
There’s also a key side-theme here illustrated perfectly by a catch-phrase from the Australian comedy-film ‘The Castle‘: “You can buy a house, but you can’t buy a home”. In effect, this provides a cross-link to the theme of ‘someone to love’, but here in the sense of ‘somewhere to love’ – a place in which love, in all forms, can take root.
To me it seems that the only feasible way out of this mess is to disconnect these needs from the possession-economy: in other words, bring the whole ‘mortgage’ mess to an end, and the landlord/tenant-model likewise. In short, ‘somewhere to live’ must be separate and distinct from current notions of ‘work’, and the money/possession economy behind it. And yes, I’m acutely aware that to do so would be non-trivial – to say the least. But from an RBPEA-type perspective, I’d suggest, and strongly, that it’s the only way that’s actually likely to work – which clearly the current mess isn’t going to do for much longer.
The one other essential proviso is that ‘somewhere to live’ must be separate and protected from beliefs, race, religion etc – we cannot have a collapse into the ghetto-models of the past, because that too is just another form of possessionism. In part this brings us back to the earlier RBPEA discussion about ‘feelings are facts‘, because we do need to acknowledge and respect people’s feelings – yet not to the extent where other people are blocked from access to fair subsistence and shelter, as happens too often right now. Again, not trivial, I know – but again, probably the only way that’s likely to work, especially over the longer term.
“Somewhere to work”
Perhaps the simplest way to tackle this is to acknowledge work as an expression of who we are. There are two crucial points here:
- much of the real work that people do to service real human needs – for example, caring for their children, or for elderly relatives – is not acknowledged as ‘work’ within the money/possession-economy
- much of the remaining work that people do, they do solely for money, not because it satisfies actual human needs
Hence, to link this back to the previous post on ‘the future of work‘, we need to detach the whole concept of ‘work’ from the absurd distortions created by the money-economy, and reframe it by asserting that useful work is anything upon which people choose to expend their energy.
Or, to put it the other way round, we must bring to an end the current routine entrapment of so many people in the dysfunctions of the money-economy, and the isolation of so many others from access to societal resources solely because the work they do is not classified as ‘paid-work’. And, for that matter, we must bring to an end the delusion that ‘power’ is ‘the ability to entrap others into our work for us’ – which is what the current paediarchy pushes at us every day.
The key here is that work, and ‘somewhere to work’, must be separate and distinct from ‘access to societal resources’ – what many would think of as ‘rights’ to those resources, except that even the concept of ‘rights’ is itself inherently invalid. If we don’t do this, we fall straight back into possessionism again – with all that that implies. I’ve seen a few suggestions on how to tackle this at present, such as a guaranteed ‘living wage’ for everyone, regardless of whether they’re ‘working’ or not: and even though, by definition, these cannot work on the longer-term – because they’re still based on money-system, which is inherently non-viable – they probably are useful and important as an intermediate step towards a more viable and sustainable responsibility-based economy.
Once we acknowledge this point, it frees us to explore another perhaps more subtle theme about systems and ecosystems – namely, that a truly viable system already has all of the elements that it needs. What this suggests is that all those widely-varying skills, abilities and aptitudes that people already have – many of which are dismissed or derided at present as ‘mere hobbies’ and suchlike – are actually the skills that the human-ecosystem needs for its viability. All of those skills: no exceptions.
Which suggests a couple of rather important points.
One is that our current concept of ‘work’ is, yet again, incredibly wasteful: talents and competences that are needed by the ecosystem are instead shut down or thrown away, in favour of forcing people to fit into someone else’s arbitrary predefined ‘roles’ that they’re not well-equipped for anyway. Why on earth should we continue trying to build systems that not only waste people’s entire working lives, but don’t contribute anything towards (or, worse, even actively mitigate against) human-viability anyway? Stupid, to say the least…
Instead, this suggests that what is really needed is to help people find out what their natural skills and aptitudes are, and thence develop these aptitudes in ways through which those people can literally ‘find their own place’, in a natural, dynamic sense, within the overall human-ecosystem. If nothing else, that would enable ‘somewhere to work’ to have real meaning again – which, judging by the current statistics on disengagement at work, it certainly doesn’t have at present.
“Something to hope for”
Whereas the other themes focus more on the present, this theme is more about connecting with the future – and perhaps also linking future, past and present all together. Put simply, it’s about the motivation needed to make things ‘better’ in some way – and not just dream about it for some indefinite future, but take action in the present towards making that future happen.
This is also a theme that links strongly to the other themes, about ‘somewhat to love’, ‘somewhere to live’, ‘somewhere to work’ – perhaps more so than those other themes link with each other.
There is somewhat of a catch, in that ‘hope’ can be a two-edged sword – particularly in a paediarchy, where ‘hope’ is perhaps too often a synonym for ‘dumping the responsibility for change onto the Other’. We need to keep the emphasis here on hope as personal motivation, rather than something imposed on others…
There’s also a strong cross-link here with that previous theme of ‘feelings are facts‘: although hope may well be something that’s shared with others, ultimately all of this is personal, or ‘subjective‘ – and needs to be acknowledged as such.
One of the side-themes that comes up from that cross-link is that concerns such as religion, belief or faith are always a personal matter. At an RBPEA level, we need to be very wary of any aspects of religion or the like that seek impose their beliefs on others – assertions of the form such as “There is no way to [insert-your-definition-of-paradise] but by [our-dogma]” and so on. Architecturally-speaking, it’s probable than we’ll need to get to explore their own belief-systems, and systematically expunge any form of demand that others ‘must’ hold those same beliefs.
(And yes, I do fully acknowledge the apparent irony or paradox here, in that this post itself might seem somewhat of that type – attempting to impose beliefs on others. The difference here, perhaps, is that, wherever practicable, I’ve been very careful throughout this series to keep the focus on the constraints, rather than on any purported ‘plan‘ that might arise from interpretations of those constraints. That distinction is kinda important, I’d suggest?)
“Something to hope for”? – without proper support for that hope, and action on that hope, there might well be no future. Or, perhaps, a POSIWID-type future all too literally not worth living. Hence why all of this is kinda important – to say the least…
Implications for everyday enterprise-architecture
Maybe much of the above might sound a bit abstract – particularly for a mainstream enterprise-architecture at the scale of an everyday organisation. Yet stop and think for a moment about those four themes:
- ‘someone to love’ (or, more generally, ‘somewhat to love’)
- ‘somewhere to live’
- ‘somewhere to work’ (or, more generally, ‘somewhy to work’)
- ‘something to hope for’
As per the above, all of those themes represent core human needs – so if they’re not present or acknowledged in the architecture, by definition something very important is missing. Might be worthwhile reviewing the architecture on that basis, perhaps?