2am… Needs and Wants

Maslow, the(slightly over-referenced?) triangle of needs – eat your heart out. Life has changed a lot since 1943 and that initial design of needs and wants. WiFi, for example, is an essential part of our existence – yes we joke about it, but take away your phone for a week… Feel the burn? 🙂

It’s 2am and I need (want?) sleep. Seems like as good a point as any to pound out a few words, I guess.

Last weekend I ended up hunkering down in surfer beach hostel on Mission beach in San Diego. One night while fighting off some insomnia, I was examining the common area bookshelf and found an intriguing book – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Not sure how common area books work, but I assumed it was a book share and subsequently liberated it from the hostel to read on the plane (just to be sure I will send it back once read). Well, I can’t put it down, it’s a beautiful read…

The quote on the back rubs my hackles in just the right way:

I don't want comfort.
I want God.
I want poetry.
I want real danger.
I want freedom.
I want goodness.
I want sin.
- Aldous Huxley

“Want”? This brings me back to Maslow: these days, in most 1st world countries, we can screw up royally but still have our basic needs fulfilled – shelter, food… and WiFi. I’m not suggesting that it’s the same as the world portrayed in Aldous Huxley’s book, but like the book, it does feel to me that we’ve opened a can of worms in terms of self-actualization. Life is a meal and the basic tastes are all satiated, now we want a plethora of quirky flavours to excite us, to stimulate us.

Brain Pickings – one my favourite lunch-time reads – recently discussed a book called Uncharted, in which the authors data-mined natural words from online books (NGram pattern searches I think). A really interesting Big Data problem. Anyway, Brain Picking’s review contained a graph from the book, which bounded around the back of my head until it rubbed noses with the Aldous Huxley book (they’re like little labrador thoughts, sniffing and tails a’wagging). The graph is reproduced here from the Brain Pickings website:

How is that for interesting? From literature, in the last 100ish years, authors are discussing more about the higher-order desires, and I would say they mirroring the same societal behaviour. In the last 40 years (roughly the contemporary fiction era), look at that spike! Not altogether a surprise, but an interesting graph right?

Well, I’m not a psychologist. But the idea of wants scares me a bit. As discussed in Brave New World, wants are a fickle subject, prone to complacency and disillusionment. If you’re hungry, you know you’re hungry – you want food – and food satiates you. But, if you want a belief in a higher being? Or if you want to feel like your life has meaning? Yeeeessshh…….

This topic kept me up a bit tonight. Especially at the moment, working in the States – a 1st world paradise of wants. What to do if you feel empty, even though your every need is fulfilled and your wants are satiated?

I chewed on it a little tonight and my suggestion is deprivation. Not sensory, but Actual. Material. Deprivation.

Here’s my sales-pitch….

Bored? Complacent? Feel that quiet desperation of the diurnal monotony?

Don’t buy a jet ski! Don’t get that beach house! Don’t join Ashley Madison!

Give up some shit! Literally… Even if just for a while.

Give up your car. That’s excitement! Getting to work on time without the Infiniti and your Audiobooks will give you a huge boost of challenge, purpose, and danger to make life feel like it’s worth living, seriously. 1 month without a car during the summer season?

Or, possibly sacrifice your cable TV/NetFlix/Hulu to the Videographic Deity. What to do when you get home from work then?

Or, give up your mechanism of choice for sexual satiation for a while (spouse, internet site, or shaky device thingey, or whatever – this is a PGish blog m’kay?). That may breed just the right amount of necessity to make you very imaginative in about a week.

Or, give up society for a few weeks. “The things one experiences alone with oneself are very much stronger and purer. – Eugene Delacroix”. Possibly hike a few miles along the Appalachian Trail during the winter if you want a challenge?

I know I’m being flippant, but I feel the point is sound. When you are driving, and want to change lanes, but there is a car in your way, what do you do? I’m willing to bet we all do the same thing – we accelerate to get in front… I know I do. I feel that’s the want more, want to be best, want want want emotion at full tilt. However, another equally valid solution is to brake and just fall in to their rear.

Similarly, if you are bored by having all your wants/needs satiated, I argue that the solution isn’t to generate more wants, but to deprive yourself of what you have already. Fall behind, and maybe appreciate the drive a bit more.

Just a 2am ponderance…

– Sam


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