OUR FOUR NEEDS
(An Explanation of Everything?)
John Courtneidge, 13 North Road, Hertford,
I am going to describe a very simple idea, which, I believe, can explain
all aspects of human behaviour. I appreciate that you might find that
notion impossible, but, please have the courage to think over what Im
saying and then try to use this idea to analyse any aspect of "the
human condition" (history, family matters, child-raising, education,
etc) that interests you.
I am going to start with just one belief and one alone: that, of all
the tasks that face us, the only one that, as a species, we cannot escape
is the job of producing the next generation. To do that, we have to survive
from day to day and, therefore we have four basic needs (thats why
I call this my "Four-Component Needs Theory"). They are:
|o Food, air and water,
o Warm clothing and shelter,
o Human contact (companionship, conversation, intimacy) and,
o An activity (paid work, education, child raising, home making, etc)
The first two arise because we are warm-blooded animals and so we need
energy to survive long enough to find a mate. The second two arise because
we are social, thinking animals. Because we have these four basic needs,
we have the four associated fears that our needs will not be met: the
fears of hunger and thirst; of homelessness and cold; of loneliness and
isolation, and, finally, of unemployment and boredom.
When people are frightened, they try to reduce their fear. They do this
in two ways: finding a solution on their own, or "using" someone
else to find the solution for them. At the most basic level, "using"
other people involves exploiting them: exercising power over them to achieve
your own ends. At a simple level, for example, you could remove your fear
of hunger by stealing someone elses food, or, in the extreme, you
could even eat them to satisfy your hunger! Take as an alternative example,
our reaction to people who dont behave as we wish.
A persistently naughty child, for instance, might be threatened with being
kept in (no companions to play with) or with being sent to bed without
any dinner (no companions, and the fear of hunger) and so on. At one level,
we use the manipulation of these fears as a way of socialising our children:
by forcing them to be social creatures. Thus, in the way that we all believe
that stealing and cannibalism is wrong, our children have to be taught
that theft (and eating people) is wrong. These things arent born
Our most basic instinct, like all animals, is for self-survival: we have
to continually learn, learn and, then, re-learn again the benefits of
co-operation. Again, when we are frightened, we either run away or, if
thats not possible, we fight: it takes a lot of courage to say to
someone who is just as hungry as you might be "OK, lets share
what I have and then lets try together to find our next meal."
However, if we dont do that we run the risk of losing the lot if
the hungrier person attacks us, or worse still, being killed by them as
we eat. This fear of hunger is the most basic fear that we have, and its
manipulation is the most potent weapon that anyone who wishes to exert
power over us can use. Stroppy prisoners can be locked up with nothing
to do: kept alone in solitary, kept cold or ill-dressed, but nowadays,
we draw the line at starving them into submission (although they can turn
the tables by forcing us to heed their wishes by going on a hunger strike!).
This fear of hunger is most acute when we look forward to the future.
We most fear hunger in old-age and at times of illness (times of greatest
vulnerability) and, accordingly, we continually (consciously and unconsciously)
spend big chunks of our time trying to work out strategies for avoiding
hunger in these times of adversity. The whole of human history can be
analysed in this light: ever since it became possible to store food and
the equivalent of food, land and money, people have struggled and fought
to capture more and more provisions againstan uncertain future.
In the past, this struggle would have involved tactics like plundering
the store houses of neighbouring communities, stealing their cattle, putting
their people into slavery and even taking over their lands. Today, we
still do much the same: although in more subtle ways. At base, however,
none of us can insure ourselves against all unforeseen circumstances.
However much we collect food, money, land and so on, however high we build
the barricades around our homes, however many other people we "trap"
into defending our interests, none of us can guarantee against all unforeseen
Thus, our future is best served by joining together and sharing all the
worlds resources: to provide for our four daily needs and to minimise
our anxieties: a problem shared is a problem, at the very least, halved!
Indeed, for survival, our interests are best served not by competing against
one another, but against our innumerable other competitors: viruses, bacteria
and the like. It is our success in fighting these competitors through
public health measures that is one reason for our continued survival,
and is, I think, is one of the most powerful arguments in favour of continually
remembering the success of human co-operation. Collective efforts have
always served us well in the past. After all, what other species has had
our global and, even, extraterrestrial success?
Thus, if we persist in being prey to our primitive fears, we will certainly
fail to provide for our own needs. By sticking together well certainly
have happier lives: without doubt, if we dont have the courage to
join together, loneliness, hunger, cold and boredom will certainly be
John Courtneidge October 1995.
Postscript, February 1999
In brief: our actions are determined by the struggle between our selfish
need-sets and our social need-sets. When we focus on our self-survival
needs, we automatically lose out on fulfilling our social needs and thus
create all the ills of dysfunctional people, families, societies and world.