We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The need/want distinction doesn’t only apply to dresses

A favourite occasional source of LOLs for me is the Top Tips section at Viz Magazine. This morning I found one that makes a distinction that is more than merely humorous, I think:

HOUSEWIVES. Look in the dictionary to find the difference between the words ‘need’ and ‘want’ then carefully choose the right one to use when talking about buying new dresses.

‘Need’ suggests some kind of objective truth about what is, well, needed. It can thus be used to disguise the whimsical nature of a decision, as above.

It makes very good sense, when you are discussing some project which you both agree you want, to speak of this or that contributory item or procedure being accordingly needed.

The problem is that discussing ‘need’ can be an exercise in disguising or misrepresenting the degree to which we all want something which then means we also need this particular extra, by simply not engaging in that prior discussion.

Collectivists regularly use ‘need’ to disguise what they want, and want often for very dishonourable reasons.

Perhaps I am being naïve and starry-eyed (as I often am) in believing that the kind of argument which makes clear what I – and I hope you also? – want, as well as what that project will consequently need, is the one that will triumph in the long run, because the logic of what I am saying may be needed, to get what I want and think you should want also, is presented with greater honesty and completeness.

7 comments to The need/want distinction doesn’t only apply to dresses

  • Alisa

    ‘It makes very good sense, when you are discussing some project which you both agree you want, to speak of this or that contributory item or procedure being accordingly needed.’

    Finally someone making the distinction in a way that makes a perfect sense.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I remember turning on BBC News 24 some time in the early 2000s. On the hour their swirly graphics came up with the voice over announcing that BBC news was:

    All you want to know. All you need to hear.

    This particular slogan seemed remarkably short lived. I only ever saw it used once. Probably too honest ;-)

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    Let’s consider what the distinction between luxury and necessity means in terms of material goods, because that’s what the joke in Viz is referring to. The only absolute human necessities are sufficient food, water and shelter to stay alive. If you have access to a cave, a spring and some edible wild plants then you have all the material necessities of life. You do not even need to own any of them as long as you can make use of them whenever you need to.

    Therefore a luxury is anything that is desirable even if it is not necessary for the continuation of life. It must by definition be something that improves the quality of a person’s life, because if it did not do so then it would not be desired. For example, beautiful objects are desired because they provide aesthetic pleasure, and fine food provides physical pleasure. Even an object that is brought as a status symbol provides value to people who are highly conscious of their social position. Since different people value different things the definition of what constitutes a luxury is necessarily subjective.

    But the important distinction is not between necessities and luxuries but between what is a luxury and what is not valued at all. To live only by what is necessary is to live in a state of nature. It is obvious that people living in modern Western societies own many things that are luxuries rather than necessities. But even a pre-industrial agrarian community has moved far beyond the level of strict necessity. They have built villages and developed agriculture to raise their quality of life above mere survival.

    Therefore the pursuit of luxury is ultimately the pursuit of a better quality of life. It cannot be inherently frivolous or immoral unless you believe that human beings have no right to improve their material conditions. The number of luxuries that the average member of a society can possess is a measure of how successful that form of social organisation is in meeting human needs.

  • Alisa

    Andrew, not necessarily disagreeing, but: we *want* to survive, we *need* this and that in order to do so. That’s a good example of why I like Brian’s point so much.

  • veryretired

    Want sounds greedy and ishy. Need sounds so pathetic and, well, needy.

    The progs know that to describe anything as a want is to condemn it as a negative in the judeo-christian moral tradition, so they camouflage all their demands as being needs, i.e., the pleadings of the weak and helpless.

    But needs, when the definition becomes so nebulous as to include nearly everything found in a typical middle class lifestyle, which is how the modern welfare state has defined it, become a black hole of all wants and desires as well.

    Needs, in the modern social welfare context, is a bottomless pit down which an endless amount of resources must be thrown to satisfy the demands of state enforced “compassion”.

    And, of course, managing all those resouces, and deciding who gets what, is the little plum reserved for the anointed members of the right-thinking, right-feeling, and rightly-connected, cadre of true believers.

    The demand for an unending quest to satisfy the needs of all is the foundational principle of the inverted morality which has so deformed and corrupted our culture, and which threatens to bankrupt the richest economic engine the world has ever seen.

    If the 20th century taught us anything at all, it should be that repressive, redistributionist systems are a disastrous failure, and that freedom brings with it the very prosperity and wide spread well being that the collectivists claim to be seeking, but can never achieve.

    But, then, empirical analysis is a rational attribute, not an ideological one.

  • Laird

    Well said, VR!

  • Or we could just tackle this head on and say re Rand that ‘one person’s need is not a cliam on another person’s life’.