What Do People Really Want?

Most of us seek fundamental changes in the established disorder

The other day I had a chance, via Skype, to have a conversation about what people really want. The conversation was with some friends from the American Solidarity Party and a young socialist working on his Ph.D.

If one “average” question leads to another, our question—what do people really want?—led to half a dozen. I’d like to share them.

How to get at these questions? My lead-in, aiming for sharper focus, asks for specifics. Which people did we have in mind? Were we talking about poor people, working people, students, professional elites, or the top 1%? Well, let’s take a look at each group in turn.

Sargent Shriver, in the days of Camelot, asked some “down and out” folks (Marx’s lumpenproletariat) at a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality, “What do the poor want?” Right off, a fellow stands up and shouts, “We want teeth!” No need to apologize, sir. Poor people want to make it through the day, and it helps if they can eat their food. Sure, they want more. But the articulation of structural reforms will have to wait.

And what about workers? Too often employer/worker contractual relations make it hard for them to say more than “better wages and fewer hours.” Doubtless, too, they want more. For now, though, a real weekend and some extra money to enjoy it come first. Maybe they’ll have time to think about structural reform when the rat race slows down.

What do students really want? They mostly want to graduate, without their loans holding them hostage. Oh, and it would be great if they could find jobs doing what they studied to do. After all, many of them chose their majors because of the “job prospects.” Who said, “Grub first, then the liberal arts”? Later, time allowing, they might read some books that they hope offer more about what matters. (After all, the jury is still out on whether “doing the hokey pokey” is what it’s all about.) Later, but not now.

That brings us to the professional elites. What do they really want? Sociologically speaking, a few of us Skype-chatters are professionals. But nobody calls us elite. “Stragglers” works. Lots of professionals just want to be recognized as professional. Give them that, and they’ll put up with compact cars and modest apartments; they’ll keep their receipts and wear Dockers and well-worn tweeds. Even so, professionalism is a full-time endeavor. So they don’t often ask whether their profession is a vocation. Does it matter?

Now come the top 1%. What do they really want? Well, how would we know? We don’t travel in the stratosphere. For my part, though, I wish that more of them really want to become philanthropists. I’d better add, knowing how these things go, that their philanthropy shouldn’t prevent the births of the children of the other 99%.

Wait, though. Our question—what do people really want?—led to half a dozen others, or so I said. That leaves one more question and one more non-sociological category to consider. What do we really want? All of us, we say, really want fundamental changes in the established disorder.

So, gentle reader, as we try to articulate our social reforms, please remind us of what Charles Péguy never tired of insisting: “The revolution will be moral or it will be nothing at all.” Remind us, as well, that if we are to be true to our vocations, we must answer Jacques Maritain’s call for “the primacy of the spiritual.”



Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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