Need and Want

The dialectic of desire

If you watch television or any kind of media that has advertisement in it, you’re going to come across a specific discourse and dare I say, a dialectic. Marketing people are quite skilled at working the barriers between a “want” and a “need”. That barrier or the central unifying core of the two is called “desire”. By simply calling to our desire, a want becomes a need and a need becomes a want. In order to manipulate this weakness in human understanding, we simply appeal to psychological markers that apply to a majority of individuals. This is how marketing becomes geared to specific demographics and causes most people to just skip or change the channel on an ad. It’s quite easy to see why.

In most cases, an ad won’t even speak to you because it doesn’t hit any of the necessary psychological cues that will cause you to listen. That’s usually because the ad on its own is not meant to be seen by someone like you. It’s meant for someone else. Retirement funds will be geared mostly toward entrepreneurs and aging individuals, so young people will seldom be interested by these ads. They are written and filmed in a way as to appeal to that demographic.

When in the 80s and 90s, marketers wanted to reach out to children, you’d get ads where adults were either doing rock’n’roll or hip hop in a cringeworthy fashion, to appear “hip” with current trends. Although the ads themselves were horrible to most children, they did stick with them, because the irony of these ads is that adults DON’T understand children, but try their best to do so, even if it comes off as awkward nonsense. I also touched on gender-based advertisement in my series on feminism. Considering the cultural ecosystem of then, kids couldn’t get much advertisement other than on TV or through magazines, to the tiny bit of time these advertisers could get kids’ attention HAD to be attention-grabbing and completely out of whack.

The ads that DID work with kids, at least, kids my age back then, were those that featured amazing gadgets and modular toys like Legos and others with plastic catapults pretending to be missile launchers. Of course, the ads didn’t always feature the price tag (I think they usually didn’t), because kids would know that the products were probably too costly for their parents. So, pumped up teenagers would run up to their parents and start begging for new toys based on that AWESOME ad they’d just seen on TV. Were the toys that great? Were they worth the price tag? That did no longer matter, because the ad had made it seem like it was the best toy ever.

Choosing this one example allows me to introduce the dialectic in more theoretical fashion. The advertisement as I said triggers certain psychological cues in our mind, to first grab our attention, then once the attention is given, the advertisement presents the content therein, based on the demographic it wishes to reach. Finally, as a conclusion, once the person has been “convinced” of the worth of the product advertised, the ending will throw a bone to the future customer, by inviting them to come get their own. It will sound like some kind of recruitment speech to some, where the private interests are pointing at the clients and yelling: “I need YOU to spend your hard-earned money on MY products! It’s worth it!”

For example, if you take a car ad, the car is normally introduced in a mysterious fashion, then its interior is briefly demonstrated, along with a beautiful exterior that fits with the overall scenery: River-side mountain road, calm country haven with long stretches of empty road, salt flat desert, etc… Then, when it seems the car of our dreams has been shown to us, it drives away, beyond our grasp. This sensation of yearning is exactly what makes marketing so successful.

Don’t miss out on your retirement, don’t miss out on your mortgage, don’t miss out on the best experience of your life, don’t miss out on the best vodka in the world, don’t miss out on the best BEER in the world, don’t miss out on the best movie in the world, etc. etc…

The marketer knows that these are things we don’t necessarily need from them, but they have to sell it to us to make a profit, so their advertisement is geared in that direction, to make us NEED their product, not only want it. That’s how the superstitious notion of supply and demand is created. We speak constantly of innovation, in marketing, for whatever product or service there is to be provided. Because innovation claims “first of class” privilege to said product or service. Now, how can there be a demand for a product or service the likes of which has never been seen until now?

An explanation is that there isn’t, but by appealing to the greed of men and women, the 30 seconds the advertisement has is enough to make people dream and then look at their surroundings in demoralized disgust. How much more happy would I be if I owned this too… I could be just like the man in the ad. He looks so happy driving that spacious Lexus, so sure of himself.

I don’t just want to be like him, I NEED to be like him.


Going back on that superstition of supply and demand, I’m now going to expand. If initially, there is no demand, there can be no supply. Only by removing the supply from those who demand it will I create that demand. It can only be through the removal of seemingly vital products that I can then tell people: You need me. You need what I have to give. That’s why I see it as a superstition, because the demand is fabricated, it is not inherent to the market. Products have to first be seized from the general public by way of private ownership, before a demand can be created. Otherwise, there would be no market the likes of which we now see. Everyone would be able to be self-sufficient. There would be little place in this world for the nebulous concept of want vs need. In essence, we should not want what we do not need and we should not need what we don’t want.

That is how the economics of desire work; by creating jealousy where there is no need for it to be. This jealousy pushes individuals to seek that which they do not have, want what they do not need. In this case, is need subjective or objective? It remains quite objective, but a qualitative definition has to be made on just how subjective “need” is. A need is that which is necessary for the continued survival of an individual or the maintaining of their way of life or its improvement (should that be necessary). Now, do I NEED to buy an expensive car? Do I NEED to buy a car? That might be a possibility. Initially thus, my need is the car, because it provides transportation, but do I need to have a 500hp engine with a sunroof and re-heating bucket seats with a 370watt subwoofer in the trunk? Probably not.

Now, of course, there’s no one stopping anyone else from buying such things, but what we must reconcile with is that these are not needs, they are wants. What I say when I buy something expensive is that I am of a higher class, I am a person who is successful and deserves to be given better products than those who are not. That does make sense to a key, and I have to say I completely agree that a person who worked very hard should be given their just dessert. Why, though, is the man who has worked his entire life doing a job nobody else would want to do, not entitled to having better things? Even more distressing, why is that man’s retirement going to be spent in a home, forgotten by all, while a more wealthy individual will be able to live the last years of their lives in regal comfort?

The logic of the desire dialectic is that those who gain access to that which they desire deserve to receive all that they want and more. This, in lieu of proper prioritization of what is good for society, tells us that one man’s life is worth more than another, because one man is the owner of a marketing firm whose entire business model is based around creating false narratives that will attract new customers. Why is this dishonest work worth more than the work of a man who teaches children, essentially helping to raise the next generation of citizens? Because the market decides what is worthy and what is not.

If we follow the logic, we will end up thinking no one ought to be a teacher and we should all be entrepreneurs who make millions off of the products and services that we offer. That is nonsense, but that is the reality that we are given by modern media: Be pretty, be quiet, take abuse and reap the fruits of your self-inflicted punishment. No wonder we weep the death of empathy in our societies, we are far too busy tearing each other down than we are helping each other up.


It is status that drives us to want things we don’t need. Like a Christmas tree adorned with lights and plastic objects hanging from its branches, we hope to shine like a model in a clothing store glass. How dignified do we look to others? What is that job we could have that would make people envious of us and our possessions? Desire is the magic mirror reflecting to us the image we wish we had but do not yet bear. It promotes hatred of the other, jealousy at every turn. Once you are snatched by this vicious circle, you will not escape. What of desire, in this case, then? It speaks of the deepest and most basic of instincts that we have as animals. Other species simply use plumage or intricate mating behavior to attract a worthy significant other. We, in a sick and twisted and intense desire to make love to ourselves, seek to find the beautified version of us, and wallow in its self-love. It reveals that deep inside, we hate ourselves, not because of who we are, but because of the others. Other people are happy, why aren’t we?

Status soon becomes a ghost we chase but never catch, because it is not status that will fix the unending pain we feel inside, that void of meaninglessness we try to fill with niceties and video games, cars, accessories, social clubs… That hate soon evolves out of us and is dispensed onto the others. Our lens is darkened by our failing attempts to gain success, and before long, we no longer love and we no longer appreciate the little things we have, because of the things the OTHERS have. This is simple animalistic behavior that certainly does not warrant a philosophical entry like this one, and could probably be summed up as: Humans are selfish and their selfishness kills their humanity.


What are solutions open to us to keep from engaging in this constant circle of materialism and self-hatred, followed by hatred of the other? Well, for one, we need to revise how we see our social transactions with other people. They are not goods and services, they are individuals with their own hopes and dreams, and their hopes and dreams do not necessarily overlap ours, nor do we need to trample theirs. We should carefully, either in meditation or in discussion with our friends, evaluate what it is we want of life, instead of keeping it to ourselves. When the smoke of doubt dissipates, we can then appreciate the little we have and learn not only to evaluate our wants and our needs, but why we have such feelings toward them.

If the feeling is to gain social status over another, we should cease and desist. Should the feeling be that it will procure US great happiness but is not necessary to our survival, we need to admit it is a want and not a need. Our needs can only be inserted into our wants when they are necessary for the improvement of our quality of life and, if possible, that of others. Altruism will ensure that we do look out for others and they us, and from hatred of the other, we will gain love and from love, we can all have that which we need, because we will care for each others’ dreams on more than an anecdotal level.


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