Vygotskian Writings Теоретическая психология Выготскианские тексты

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Specific human basic need

One could come closer to the distinction of “real” and “fictive” feelings, if he was able to class human needs into “natural” and “artificial”, or “normal” and “abnormal” categories. This would enable us to assume that if the positive or negative feeling we reckon with in a decision about marginal cost and profit concerns, e. g., subsistence, than taking it into account is rational, if however it concerns, e. g., drug abuse, it is only a subsequent rationalizing of a previously formed practice.

In the introduction to my monograph (Garai, 1969) on the specificity of human needs I discussed in detail how arbitrary the result of classifying the factors that inwardly determine humane behavior in terms of such dif­fe­rentiation is. This differentiation is opposed to the anthropological fact that Marx wrote about that production does not only provide material for the need, but also provides the need for the material, it does not only pro­du­ces an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object. By force of this anthropological fact it is in principle impossible to make a distinction bet­ween what every “normal” person needs “by his nature” and what he de­ve­loped in himself in an “abnormal” way or he was “manipulated” to have as a need.

In a Stalinian period this arbitrariness had more grave consequences when it was the basis of a practice of economic planning in which a central power was to have seen to the “normal” needs of the members of society. Departing from this the plan was expected to define production which was meant to satisfy this “normal” need to a growing extent and, on a final view, in its totality. This basic ideology was closely related to the practice of the central power of that period of seeing to what it deemed “abnormal” among the needs of the individuals and get them eliminated.

Jean Baudrillard (1982) argued that man has no biological needs at all. The so-called primary needs that are alleged to strictly determine con­sump­tion required for satisfying them, as well as the secondary needs alle­ged­ly defined by culture in such a way that satisfying them is up to the in­di­viduals, are both merely ideological alibis of a consumption whose primary func­tion is to hide, or conversely, to emphasize by means of consumed goods the social differences between the class having and the one excluded from po­wer in production. Consumption is determined by production and produc­tion, in turn, means first of all the production of surplus. Thus, Baudrillard states, what actually happens is not what is believed to happen on the basis of ideological appearances, namely, that the members of society consume the biologically indispensable subsistence minimum and what remains becomes distributed as surplus. He asserts that each society produces according to its structure a surplus as allowance of some positions in the structures and what remains extra will be the necessary consumption accorded to other positions of the structure as a “strictly determined subsistence minimum”.

This context may include both that a part of society should not be reproduced but left to perish, or even actively eliminated, and that the non-optional “subsistence minimum” should also include goods without the consumption of which biological existence can be sustained but a human, that is social, existence relevant to the given social structure cannot. “Today the subsistence minimum is the standard package, the prescribed minimum consumption. Below this, man is asocial – and is the loss of status, the social non-existence less grievous than starving?” (Baudrillard, 1982; p.86). This is how the refrigerator, the car, the washing machine and the TV set got included in the “index of conformity and prestige” in the west-European type societies in the sixties. Baudrillard means by index a list implying a moral command. This prescribes a well defined usage towards all the articles put on the index: for instance, refraining from reading books on the Index or destroying them; or, in our case, the purchase of commodities on the index. Thus, the object which one gets hold of and uses as such and not as a practical technical gadget, will be a “franchise, a token of special recognition, legitimating” (Baudrillard, 1982; p. 45.).

Having conceded to the impossibility of defining generally specific human needs (i. e., what differentiates all men from all animals in this respect and at the same time likens all men to one another) as regards their material, I made an attempt in my above-mentioned monograph to identify them by the form that is manifest in each instance of human need.

The form, in accordance with Leontiev’s (1983) theory, I found in the struc­ture of activity. Leontiev assumes that during the phylogeny the psy­chi­cally controlled activity becomes more and more complex and this fact is on­ly reflected by the development of the structure of the psychic perfor­man­ce of controlling it. I have based on Leontiev’s hypothesis a further as­sump­tion on the genetically specific basic need: at each specific philogenetic le­vel the run of an activity structured according to that very level is needed.

Thus, even at the bottom level of phylogeny instead of postulating se­ve­ral needs urging man to consume various materials indispensable for sub­sis­tence it would be more appropriate to consider an only basic need aimed at the activity of procuring such materials. This need starts to mobilize when the animal identifies by means of some signs one or another of these mate­rials pre­sent in its environment and then the ant or bee, for instance, be­gins its col­lecting activity even if its organism is actually saturated with this ve­ry ma­terial. Accordingly, the satisfaction of the need is not the result of in­cor­po­rating the material in the organism but the successful running of the acti­vi­ty that puts the individual in possession of the object containing the material.

At further levels of the phylogeny of animals the objects determining the activity structure include, in addition to the goal to be attained, the ob­sta­cle that blocks its run toward that goal and later the tool that helps over­come the obstacle blocking the path of the activity moving towards its goal.

Man’s activity inherits all these structuring factors. Kurt Lewin has dis­covered and his team verified in several experiments that whenever the in­tention of an activity presents itself in a person, it operates like a need as long as it is active. This quasi-need is an inner tension that drives to a defi­ni­te activity and in the field of this activity it marks certain objects as goals for the activity, others as its obstacles or tools, respectively. It follows from Le­win’s theory that in order to understand what a person feels and does one must know, not what is the material that corresponds to his/her real need, but what is the form that corresponds to his quasi-need. Someone’s inten­tion to get bread for living and another person’s to get a concert ticket may be driven by their decision to identical behavior (e. g. queuing up, if the ob­stacle in the way to attain their goal is the gulf between supply and demand).

Human activity turns out to be structured in such a way that in addition to the inherited goal, obstacle and tool it includes a fourth structuring factor: taboo. Taboo is basically a ban to use something as a tool to overcome the obstacle in the way of the activity moving towards its goal, even if the factor in question were otherwise technically adequate. The impact of the taboo is most frequently connected with property relations: the technically adequate tool is as such coordinated to another position, so its use by people occupying the given position is prohibited by taboo. In this sense taboo is complemented by Baudrillard’s social allowance (prestation sociale) which have people feel pressure to get certain objects without needing them as technical tools, merely because they are allowed to possess these objects while others are not.

Thus, taboo becomes one of the structuring factors of human activity. Hence, what is needed for the man’s genetically specific basic need is the run of an activity making for his goals, overcoming the obstacles of this advancement, getting tools for it and, finally, mastering taboos on prerequisites of this activity.

Lewin’s theory specifies the formal correlations of such a need in a time interval when the goal is already set but is not yet attained. Neither before setting nor after attaining the goal exists the inner tension which as quasi-need qualifies certain objects in the activity field as goal, obstacle or tool, respectively.

As regards taboo, Lewin mistakenly places it in the same category as the obstacle when points out that a person’s manoeuvring room is delimited by the domains of inaccessible activities, such as shooting down an enemy or do­ing an activity beyond his capacities. But the obstacle that limits man’s pos­sibility of pursuing an activity beyond his capacities. and the taboo that li­mits his freedom to shot down his enemy are not of equal quality. The for­mer dis­able us to attain the goal, while the latter disables us to set it at all.

The hypothesis of the specific human basic need (SHBN) assumes, in ad­dition to Lewin’s quasi-need urging for the attainment of a set goal, ano­ther inner tension that emerges when man has attained his goal but not set a new one yet. This tension may also be conceived as a quasi-need that is sa­tisfied by the setting of newer and newer goals. Setting new goals occurs in the wake of social changes which repeatedly reveal that the customary al­lowances and taboos no longer suffice to orientate man unambiguously in his activities. Taboos therefore have a major role in the emergence of new goals.

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