Well-Being System of Carlos Mallman and the Bariloche Foundation
"In my opinion, a somewhat similar case could be that of the Argentine humanist scientist, polymath and responsible thinker (critical, systemic, paradoxical) Carlos A. Mallmann from whom I borrowed his ideas of human needs for the normative model of sustainability that I built in 2012. To tell the truth, at the time I was writing it I could not find much information about Mallmann on the internet, so the needs part of the model was based on Mallmann’s graph at the top of this article (translated into English and coloured by me to fit the 4 quadrants of my framework). However, I was more familiar with the ideas on human needs of the alternative economist Manfred Max-Neef. As we will see later, Max-Neef stood on Mallman’s shoulders to build his vision of human needs. The first time I saw that Mallmann infographic, possibly around 2007, I was smitten. It was so concise about what it is to be human and how to develop that when I was subsequently thinking about the foundations for a sustainability model I knew it had to be included."
"He was a triadic thinker and played with the relationships of the individual-society-habitat triad, where habitat included society and society included individuals. In that same 1973 document that gave rise to the needs chart in this article, he transparently set out this important framework and the big picture of processes in which to place those nine needs.
We will grasp the rather simplified “reality” of this framework and subsequently understand why “needs”, properly framed in this framework of processes, are the key element for a libido economy and how the other eight types of complementary economies he proposed fit into the framework. Subsequently, the nuances of needs, that proposal of 9 fundamental human needs, will be key to all the work that Mallmann continued (and I will continue) in his attempt to move towards a socially just and ecological theory of Wellbeing. Mallmann considered that it would take no less than 50 or 100 years to obtain it and would require interdisciplinary teams.
Taking into account the above-proposed objective on humanity or its subgroups, Mallmann distinguishes between the different elements of the processes (corner of the graph), structure and performance of a given group:
- Structure: Changes slowly and last a long time.
- Performance: Changes rapidly and may last a short time.
Next, we go to the first line of the input graph, Needs and Nature, which Mallmann explains accurately with this paragraph that I am going to frame as it gives us a holistic view of the human species as nature and integrated into what we normally consider nature.
Then, he adds “All the other elements of the processes are the result of human activities”.
Therefore, Needs (which are “human” nature) together with the larger Nature itself are the primary inputs and he will call the satisfactions (or frustrations) produced by each person the “final product”. This, 50 years later, may sound very similar to the idea of Doughnut Economics, i.e. “meeting the needs of all people within the means of the living planet.”
The first big difference between “Needs” and “Aspirations” is that the former is a small and invariant list (he considered that minimum of 9 needs within the intrinsic physiological and psychological characteristics of the human being). On the other hand, aspirations are variants because they are determined by the present and prior perfomance and structure of the social group (aggregation of the psychic state of its members) . They are what motivate activities (time) and they can be a big list. Therefore, it is already considered an intermediate product.
Finally, from the second column (organisational) to the third (Nature) we find the multitude of activities or “tasks” that we humans carry out with our time through different organisations according to the social group taken into account (family, institutions, nations…) and with their corresponding impact on Nature. Some of the manufactured products are consumed in activities that give us the consequent satisfactions or dissatisfactions if we so judge. Other manufactured products are combined for use in activities and further transformed into a manufactured environment. As there are other groups than the one studied, some of these manufactured products are exchanged. Finally, there are wastes generated during activities that can be considered as some type of manufactured products that accumulate (pollution) or are processed by nature or humans. For example, knowledge is a manufactured product that humans process into new activities, one could say that we stand on the shoulders of giants to see further.
Returning to the first column, the feedback on the process is given here through the modification of the aspirations resulting from the degree of satisfaction or frustration obtained. As these are psychic states, they are personal elements (individual structure).
As has been explained in a simplified way, this framework of processes is what develops in any human group and the needs (expressed through desires or aspirations) are the motivations that move a large number of activities with repercussions in Nature and other human groups. That nature, as we will see later, has its limits and it is at that frontier where a set of infinite aspirations collide with the spaceship “Earth” itself.
- Insatiable vs Relative Needs; Extra-Human vs Intra-Human needs:
"Two important characteristics of human needs that Mallmann pointed out were that they are “insatiable” and “relative”.
Insatiable: This is based on the observation that when human beings succeed in satisfying some of their needs, they replace them with others and struggle to satisfy them, and when they succeed, they begin a similar process and continue in this way until infinity (or death).
Relative: Above certain absolute minimum vital values, needs are relative or comparative, consequently satisfaction, in the same way as perception, is always relative to a point of observation — the individual — and to reference groups — the collectivities he knows. The absolute minimum vital values are, of course, those necessary for an individual to have the physical and mental vigour to be able to perceive differences concerning reference groups.
And from this arises a new and important term that did not exist in Spanish, “bienlograr” (well-achieve). Mallmann said that its opposite, “malograr” (poorly achieve), did exist. Therefore, from this “relative” perspective, individuals are always dynamically well achieving (sometimes going beyond social and cultural limits or going against certain natural limits).
An example that can bring together all this complexity of both definitions and characteristics of needs was Mallmann’s example of the type of food as a satisfier of hunger, which I complement by elaborating a more nuanced paragraph to broaden the nuances of needs.
First of all, a need arises in a person, to be hungry (maintenance) and from there arises the desire to eat and for this, the satisfiers that are around the context of the person who has that need are used (he will get sick if he or she does not satisfy it). For example, if you live in Argentina, as Mallmann did, there is a culture where beef, which is very abundant, is a way of satiating it, that is to say, it is one of many ways of satisfying that hunger. In that country and due to its vast grassy plains, in the past cows were raised and a diverse industry was created where many people started to work (spending time). At that time, a culture began to develop that had meat as its identity base. It is well known that on Sundays and holidays, there are many barbecues (“asados”, “parrillas”) with meat in Argentina. That person in that context has many possibilities to satisfy his or her need, wanting to eat meat instead of another type of satisfying food such as cereals. Meat is appreciated and valued. If we go to India we can observe the opposite, the value of beef is minuscule. Because of their cultural context, they do not eat beef. Therefore, if a person is hungry, to satisfy that need for maintenance, he or she will opt for other types of satisfiers maybe rice, maybe vegetables, fruit… Both people (From Argentina or India) after a certain time will be hungry again (characteristic of insatiability) and will start again the cycle of need — the satisfaction of that specific need.
If we extend the complexity, a person could have two needs at the same time (maintenance and affection). One is hungry (and seeks a satisfier in food) and one craves affection for some emotional reason (and may want to hug his mother to satisfy that need). In that personal context, one may well assess which of the two is more important. One can wait to eat after hugging one’s mother, or one can eat first and then go and hug her (babies synergistically do it at the same time when they suckle). If we extrapolate this to the nine needs, we observe collectively in Maslow’s way a hierarchical importance of these needs, but individually and for personal, contextual or even pathological reasons, one can skip this hierarchy, i.e. one can satisfy one’s need for meaning before, for example, one’s need for maintenance or affection. Take for example people who put a bomb on their body and explode it near the “enemy” to satisfy their need for meaning even if it goes against the important earthly need for maintenance. Or the case of the passengers on the plane that crashed in the Andes in the 70s, where the issue of eating came up and possibly some of them wanted to satisfy their need for meaning before eating their companions. Finally, and as a curiosity, Mallmann’s son, Francis Mallmann, much better known internationally than his father, is an international chef who probably became famous for his grilled Argentinean meat. While writing this article, I came across an interview in Spanish where he talks about the secrets behind his first meat-free cookbook, “Fire Green: Extraordinary ways to grill fruits and vegetables, from the Master of live-fire cooking” (2022), This book was translated into several languages. In that interview, he commented on the desire that some of his readers had to make some of his recipes but that they had meat in them and they were vegetarians. I don’t know how far this U-turn in his career as a chef goes, especially from meat to vegetables, but looking at the table of needs that his father designed in 1973 and with the context of the interview I can intuit that he has synergistically used many of the needs on the list: the needs of maintenance and participation of those who asked him for different recipes, the need for the love of Nature and food (Francis tells in that interview about his life as a teenager in the beautiful enclave of Bariloche where he grew a vegetable garden at the back of the house where he lived with his parents); the creative need to innovate in his speciality or the need to give meaning, understanding to the protection of the planet by giving visibility to a vegan diet. This would be a proposal that George Monbiot, with his latest book, “Regenesis: feeding the world without devouring the Planet”, would fully endorse.
These nine needs, which Mallmann selected, could in turn be divided into extra-human (or access) and intra-human (being) needs. The former was mostly satisfied by Nature (goods and services), the latter mostly from human relationships. For example, the needs for “maintenance” and “protection” usually use more goods and services than the needs for “love and “participation”. This is probably the main reason why GDP, as Robert Kennedy famously told us in his 1968 speech, measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile."
"the definition of libido economics as
“The study of the needs, values and aspirations of human beings; the time they devote to various activities; and the resulting satisfactions and frustrations.”
We can observe 6 key elements: needs, aspirations (wishes), values, time, activities (most of them having repercussions on Nature) and the result (a greater or lesser degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction).
Seen 50 years later, from this 2023 and with the term “poly-crisis” or “meta-crisis”, we can see how these 6 elements appear in the roots of this new construct. That is to say, and from my perspective as an anthropologist, I observe a great dissatisfaction of people (bio-psycho-socio-cultural part) evidenced in the increase of physical and mental illnesses with their consequent taking of anxiolytics or immersing themselves in activities (pseudo-satisfactory) to calm that discomfort, an increase of polarisations, clashes between different groups and the consequent cultural wars, etc. A diagnosis that indicates that these human needs are not being satisfied globally or are being partially satisfied but at a great cost in terms of time used (e.g. bullshit jobs) by the population and activities that in the short and medium term are beginning to damage us as a society (local and global). On Nature’s side (biophysical side) we observe how these Nine Planetary Boundaries proposed by the Stockholm Resilience Centre are being exceeded or how each year the Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) reaches us sooner. In other words, to achieve a minimum of satisfaction we are using, as the Spanish expression says “Matar moscas a cañonazos” (Killing flies with cannons), an enormous amount of energy, resources and time. We have to look into that “black box” of human nature where we have those two intermediate elements, aspirations and values, which lead me to these questions:
What do we aspire to? Why do we aspire to what we aspire to? What are the values that are behind our motivations and aspirations? How could we assemble those aspirations to fairly satisfy our needs without harming Nature so much?
Despite not being a psychologist, sociologist or anthropologist, Mallmann tried to answer similar questions and to go towards a “Wellbeing theory” by holistically analysing the human being and society from an “internal” perspective.
Mallmann found that lever in the “needs” and their internal ecosystem. I also came to a similar conclusion through my FMT in which I ended by saying that the approach to solving “this poly-crisis”, mainly of our western society, should be mainly internal, focusing on global ethics and responsible wellbeing which were the internal quadrants of my framework. We can see examples of this change of focus in the cultural revolutions of the 1960s, which in the face of our Western malaise brought from the East methods, ideas that focused on the internal part. There has also been a revival of methods and ideas from more Western philosophies such as Stoicism, and Aristotelianism… Recently, in the face of the 2030 development goals (mostly external), the [original: Internal] Inner Development Goals (IDG) movement has arisen. In front of the visible and cold data, we have the invisible and internal relationships that Nora Bateson calls Warm Data. The U-theory proposed by Otto Scharmer and the focus on virtues (Positive Psychology, Jubilee Centre…) are further examples of an approach that starts with the internal, the invisible."
The Latin-American World Model of the Bariloche Foundation
"Carlos A. Mallmann, a physicist-mathematician, was the first president of the board of the Fundación Bariloche in Argentina, which was founded in 1963. This organisation became famous in the 1970s for its Latin American World Model (LWM) or Bariloche model which was the alternative to the MIT model, the World3 model whose data were used to write the book “The Limits to Growth” (1972). This book has greatly shaped the environmental and political agenda to this day. New versions of that book have been written 20, 30 and 40 years later. Similarly, revisions of the Latin American World Model have been written 30 and 40 years later, appealing to the validity of that model.
Therefore, what were the main differences between the two models? Which was the path that was proposed from the South and which became the less travelled one? As both models were based on mathematics, on the technical, which adds complexity for those who do not understand, I will focus on giving a brief outline of the philosophy behind LWM and thus give it a voice so that it can at least be heard. Similar to Edgar Morin’s proposal in his book Science with Conscience, the authors of LWM started from an ethical-political stance. Thus, Scolnik, one of its authors, pointed out how mathematical techniques can and should be used as tools for policy design. In other words, science is not aseptic, and once this has been assimilated, it is necessary to make the whys and wherefores of a choice, transparent and conscious. If possible, give a moral sense to what is being done."
How Mallmann’s proposals compare with those of Max Neef
"In my research on where Mallmann’s nine needs could have come from, I have come to see support in Maslow’s needs and Fromm’s needs (Fromm also had a list of 8 needs). On the other hand, the nine needs chosen by Max-Neef can be seen to stand on the shoulders of Mallmann’s needs. For Max-Neef Leopold Kohr and the Bariloche Foundation led by Mallmann were his great inspirations. An interesting contribution of Max-Neef was the creation of five types of satisfiers and his manifesto for a new economy based on five postulates and one fundamental value principle."
List of living needs satisfaction problems
“The following table gives a list of living needs satisfaction problems arrived at from a worldwide perspective and described in a very aggregated way. The problem mentioned in it should certainly have the highest priority in the Research and Human Needs program.”
A mathematically formalised model that could explain the origins of the self-organising phenomena
"In this last part of his career, he used intensively the mathematical part to try to find a cyclic model. This was one of his most complex works. Together with Lemarchand developed a mathematically formalised model that could explain the origins of the self-organising phenomena that somehow generate temporal patterns in societies. Within each cycle they found four phases which they identified as:"
MAMA: a holistic human sustainability model
"The support on Mallmann’s shoulders was essential for the creation of a holistic human sustainability model that I developed during my Master in Sustainability in Spain. For semantic or linguistic reasons, I have chosen to change the human capacity of “Perfection” to “Consciousness”, maintaining the needs of transcendence and maturity as elements to reach it. Although I called it the Normative model, in recent years I have renamed it MAMA, (Mallmann, Martín) as a tribute to the influence that the 9 needs have on the “invisible” part of those 16 quadrants. Likewise, following a less travelled path, I have been able to construct a network with 10 nodes or elements that in one way or another, depending on whether or not they are based on a holistic ethical or moral perspective and following Mallmann’s nine needs, can lead us to a desirable society (Good life) or a sick society "
- Twitter: @ResWellbeing
- The four complementary theoreticians of well-being in the 20th cy: https://miro.medium.com/v2/1*1biFSEpqSBYAKUUytbcH1g.jpeg
(Mallman - Schumacher - Illich - Graves), to be complemented by the female theoreticians of the 21th cy (Vandana Shiva, Inez Aponte, Kate Raworth, Anna Coote, Nora Bateson, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Janine Benyus, Martha Nussbaum)
- See also: the Max-Neef Model of Human-Scale Development