May 10, 2004

The Maslow Myth

There is more to life than politics -- even in an election year. Virginia Postrel pens the cover story to Innovation Magazine and mirabile non dictu, it's an eye-opening look at consumerism, style, art, and economics.

Human beings do not wait until they have full stomachs and a roof that doesn’t leak before they satisfy their aesthetic needs. Given a modicum of stability and sustenance, people have always enriched the look and feel of their lives through personal adornment and decorated objects. Poor people created the body decoration illustrated in National Geographic. Poor people built cathedrals in Europe and sand paintings in Tibet. Poor people turned baskets and pottery into decorative art. Poor people invented paints and dyes, jewelry and cosmetics.

Five thousand years ago, unimaginably poor Stone Age weavers living in Swiss swamps used fruit pits as beads to work intricate, multicolored patterns into their textiles, work that archeologists have found preserved in the alkaline mud.

These artifacts do not reflect societies focused only on “lower-order” needs. Aesthetics is not a luxury, but a universal human desire. The anti-capitalists who criticize markets for luring consumers into wanting more than meets their basic needs and the capitalists who scoff at
aesthetics for detracting from serious work are missing a fundamental fact of human nature.

I am a big fan of Abraham Maslow, but I'm a bigger fan of Ms. Postrel -- and I think she's got him here. The real story is not to discredit the hierarchy of needs but rather the importance that people place on art.

PDF reader required, but it's great -- read it.

Posted by jk at May 10, 2004 12:41 PM
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