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Rubenstein Since the publication of his seminal book, Deviance, Terrorism and War: The Process of Solving Unsolved Social and Political ProblemsJohn Burton has been closely identified with the theory of basic human needs, an approach to understanding protracted social conflict that he continues to espouse and to refine see, e.
Burton did not invent the theory, which posits the existence of certain universal needs that must be satisfied if people are to prevent or resolve destructive conflicts, but he gave it its most impassioned and uncompromising expression. The Basis of Social Order defined eight essential needs whose satisfaction was required in order to produce "normal" non-deviant, non-violent individual behaviour.
According to Sites, these included the primary needs for consistency of response, stimulation, security, and recognition, and derivative needs for justice, meaning, rationality, and control. Sites, in turn, recognized the importance of Abraham Maslow's conception of human development as the sequential satisfaction of basic needs, which Maslow had grouped under five headings: The idea that humans qua humans have needs whose satisfaction is the effective antidote to alienation is considerably older than this, of course, as Karl Marx's Creating essay new next paradigm relationship sacred step reflections on Hegel suggest: The whole of history is a preparation for 'man' to become the object of sense perception and for needs to be the needs of 'man as man'.
It can be seen how [under socialism] the wealthy man and the plenitude of human need take the place of economic wealth and poverty. The wealthy man is the man who needs a complete manifestation of human life and a man in whom his own realization exists as an inner necessity, as a need "Towards a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction," in McLellan,p.
For Burton, the concept of basic human needs offered a possible method of grounding the field of conflict analysis and resolution which he and a few other pioneers had essentially improvised during the s in a defensible theory of the person.
Together with other peace researchers see Lederer and Galtung, ; Coate and Rosati, ; and the writers represented in Burton, bhe set out to reframe the concept in order to provide the new field with a convincing alternative to the prevailing paradigms of postwar social science: Over time, however, he tended to emphasize the failure of existing state systems to satisfy the need for identity as the primary source of modern ethno-nationalist struggles.
The great promise of human needs theory, in Burton's view, was that it would provide a relatively objective basis, transcending local political and cultural differences, for understanding the sources of conflict, designing conflict resolution processes, and founding conflict analysis and resolution as an autonomous discipline.
The importance of this ambitious project is now generally recognized by conflict theorists, whether they agree with Burton or not see Fisher, ; Avruch, ; Jeong, This essay will suggest some ways in which the project has succeeded, some ways in which it has fallen short, and some possible avenues for further theory development.
The Need for Needs Theory From the end of World War II until the late s, general theories of conflict came in two varieties, neither of which, in John Burton's view, was adequate to explain either the persistence of "irrational" social struggles or the real opportunities for their resolution.
We can call these apparently opposed but actually complementary schools of thought conservative personalism and liberal situationalism. Conservative personalist theories picture humans as creatures driven to engage in violent conflict by sinful rebelliousness, innate aggressive instincts, or a lust for power e.
From this perspective, the situational environment merely provides a context and trigger for conflictual thoughts and activities that are primarily internally generated.
By definition, human impulses to sin, aggress, or dominate cannot be stamped out; they require control or "balancing" by countervailing force.
If this be true, of course, non-violent, self-enforcing conflict resolution what Johan Galtung terms "peace by peaceful means" must be considered a utopian fantasy.
Liberal situationalist theories, on the other hand, seemed at first to provide conflict resolvers with grounds for optimism.
By emphasizing the potency of social determinants rather than the intractability of individual instincts, they suggested that conflict behaviours might be altered by altering the external situation. Strict behaviourism for an extreme example, see Skinner,relegated instincts and other internal mechanisms to a metaphorical "black box," postulating that, given a certain environment or situation, people would behave in predictable ways.
Frustration-aggression theorists like Dollard reduced the aggressive instinct to a mere potential for destructive action, with primary attention focused on situations that activate this potential by frustrating goal-oriented activity.
Social learning theory presented humans as cognising creatures whose ideas and attitudes were largely determined by social conditioning Bandura, And much post-Freudian psychoanalytical theory moved analogously from the primacy of instinct to family- or culture-based situational determinism Mitchell and Black, But these "inwardly driven" and "outwardly determined" models of behaviour actually functioned as the polar extremes of a continuum on which most analysts and policymakers occupied some midpoint.
Thus, while the personalists opened the door to limited "social engineering" by suggesting that aggressive instincts could be externally controlled or counterbalanced, the situationalists found themselves unable or unwilling to reconstruct social environments as Skinner had fantasized doing in Walden Two, to the extent necessary to eliminate anti-social behaviours.
When faced with a case of destructive violence, therefore, both schools of thought tended to respond as if objectionable behaviour could be modified by applying the right combination of threats and rewards. Both philosophies, that is, were essentially utilitarian, with the conservatives emphasizing the control of behaviour via the administration of pain "deterrence" and the liberals control via the administration of pleasure "positive reinforcement".
Both perspectives, as John Burton, Johan Galtung, and others pointed out, were essentially elitist; that is, they assumed that governing elites could pacify their unruly subjects by discovering the point at which curves of pain and pleasure would intersect to produce "consensual" behaviour.
And both, in practice, tended to emphasize the stick more than the carrot, on the ground that force must be used as the "persuader" of last resort.
Where conservative and liberal utilitarians most clearly joined forces was on the terrain of "Political Realism" - the perspective that sees political actors both as aggressive power-seekers and as rational calculators of individual and group interests.
In foreign affairs, Realists emphasize the relentless pursuit of power by competing nations and blocs, war as a continuation of politics by other means, and power-based negotiations as the only practical alternative to inter-group violence Morgenthau, In domestic affairs, they emphasize the needs for normative consensus, interest-based commercial and political bargaining, and the violent suppression of crime Coser, ; Wilson, The problem, according to John Burton and other needs theorists, was that the methods dictated by Realist thinking had proved ineffective to prevent or terminate serious transnational and domestic social conflicts.
Realism, in short, was simply not realistic. The types of social conflict most characteristic of world society since - ethno-nationalist wars and civil wars, violent struggles between races, social classes and religious groups, Great Power "police actions," terrorism, gang warfare, and crime - seemed largely immune to coercive or manipulative counteraction.
In fact, people's involvement in these sorts of struggles appeared to escalate in response to attempts to deter their behaviour forcibly - a mysterious, frightening response that tempted their would-be controllers to declare these intractably disobedient actors evil, irrational, or even non-human.
Faced with the near-genocidal implications of this cycle of violence, Burton and others saw the need for a theory that would challenge both brands of Realism at the level of their most basic assumptions.Essays on Creating Sacred Relationships by Sondra Ray.
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