The demands and desires of the modern human populous can be divided into two main groups; the concrete and the abstract.
The concrete demands of humans can be viewed as those necessary to survival; food, clean water, shelter and clothing can be considered the most essential. What is considered essential is subjective, for example some may consider only the bare minimum of food as essential, whereas others may feel it is essential to have sufficiently varied food as to maintain a nutritious diet. The abstract demands of humans are the desires which many feel they are entitled to, and are considered basic human rights, however they are not necessary for human survival; liberty, justice, equality, dignity, and so on. What is necessary to fulfil these demands is highly subjective and cannot be quantified.
In human history an example of the complete fulfilment of either concrete or abstract demands cannot be found although many political theories and ideals aspire to one or the other. Therefore I will use the ideals of the United States of America as a quasi-example of the fulfilment of abstract demands and the ideals of Communist China for the fulfilment of concrete values.
It is important to note that at present the complete fulfilment of concrete and abstract demands are mutually exclusive. In order to supply the concrete needs of the entire populous their freedom and equality must be reduced, and if people are given their abstract demands not everyone will have their concrete demands met, as those with the means of production will have the freedom to hoard resources. Also the complete fulfilment of all abstract values is impossible as complete freedom and justice are mutually exclusive as justice often requires the limitations of the freedom of an individual, therefore we will use an ideal balance of abstract demands which allows the maximum possible expression of all as our idea of the fulfilment of abstract demands.
Liberty is arguably considered the most popularly important abstract demand in our post-colonial, civil rights orientated modern world. Liberty can be considered the ability to continue on your chosen path unhindered by the government or state. There will obviously be a limit to personal freedoms due to law, although Hobbes suggested that law should only be there to prevent violence this is not the case as legislation is also used to protect national economies. If the state did not concern themselves with the economy, almost certainly drastically reducing the provision of concrete demands, it would result in a slight increase in personal freedom, however I believe that this sacrifice of concrete demands (which are earned, not given) would be too great.
Freedom can of course be personally and socially damaging. Many damaging superstitions, beliefs and practices are protected legally and emotionally as religious and cultural freedoms. A good example of this being the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, US. The church is allowed to picket the funerals of US military veterans with signs and slogans of hate, causing much distress to the bereaved. Although a highly controversial topic their actions are protected as religious freedoms.
However, there are also many examples of liberty being restricted by the views of the populous. The freedom of speech is extremely highly valued as a basic universal right but Sean Duffy of Reading, UK was jailed for posting abusive Youtube videos and Facebook messages about the deaths of four teenagers. Understandably this caused much distress to their families, but the act is very similar to those performed by the Westboro Baptist Church.
This raises an interesting question of when peoples freedom to express their beliefs should be restricted to protect those who are affected by this expression. It is commonly believed that if someone choses to express their beliefs through physical violence, such as the Unabomber, this should not be allowed; clearly the use of psychological or emotional violence is debatable.
The theory of Objectivism suggests that freedom (in particular commercial freedom and competition) is the driving force behind human progress and that if this freedom is restricted it can be damaging for humanity. For example, stem cell research, which could help to cure a huge number of medical issues placing humanity such as cancer, is restricted. This is due to the protests of, mainly religious groups, who view stem cell research as unethical and â??playing godâ??. This is a clear example of progress (in medicine, arguably the greatest human endeavour) being hindered by restrictions of freedom, and interestingly a situation in which the availability of concrete demands, in this case health and physical wellbeing, being hindered by a restriction of abstract demands, the professional freedom of scientists. Therefore we can see that limiting personal freedoms reigns in manâ??s ability to produce, which can damage the provision of concrete demands. This can also be seen (albeit with greater complexity) in Communist Chinaâ??s â??Great Leap Forwardâ?? production of steel, which was much less successful than the western â??free industryâ?? approach.
Karl Marxâ??s â??Communist Manifestoâ?? states that if there were no private property, and thus no class division, there would be no need for conflict as everyone would have their concrete demands met. However, I believe this to be ineffective as those who already have their concrete demands have moved on hierarchically to abstract demands, importantly the freedom to achieve their potential. Also it is important to note that the adequate provision by the state of concrete demands can have detrimental effects on the people, for example the â??welfare mentalityâ?? which displays a lack of motivation to produce. This was observed in Communist China when peasants, knowing their food and shelter would be provided no matter how little they worked, produced smaller harvests.
One interesting theory which concerns the supply of abstract demands, particularly the freedom to choose, is the â??paradox of choiceâ??, this theory suggests that the more choices which are available to us, the less happiness and satisfaction we will get out of life as we can always believe that if we had made a different choice, be it in our careers, relationships place these daydreams. Therefore if happiness is considered the purpose of the provision of concrete or abstract demands it could be seen that people may be happier without freedom. However, this theory is based on observations of pre-industrial societies where the lack of freedom to migrate or select an occupation was due more to a lack of financial means to do so than state enforcement, as it would be in a post-industrial society such as Communist China.
The subjective necessity of demands is hierarchical. A populous which has none of its demands met will want concrete demands first, once these are satisfied the society will move on towards abstract demands.
Obviously the preference of either concrete or abstract demands is highly subjective and heavily dependent on personal background. Those with a background in which concrete demands were not met satisfactorily would show a preference towards concrete demands due to their first-hand experience of life without these demands. Those who have always had their concrete demands met, and thus have no first-hand experience of this situation, and importantly little understanding of the difficulties of escaping a cycle of poverty (as many wealthier people assume people are poor because they are too unskilled or even lazy to achieve wealth) would desire abstract demands as these allow them to enjoy their wealth.
Copyright Richard F. Lancaster 2011
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