Abraham Maslow was something of a management scientist. He published a work in 1943 describing a ‘hierarchy of needs’ which he used to describe human motivation. Dumpster diving is generally thought of as meeting the basic need of subsistence. For this reason dumpster diving is considered a function of the poor, the homeless, the socially inept. As I look at the ideology of freegans and others who are attempting to eliminate waste in America, I can rationalize that dumpster diving might fit any of Maslow’s categories of need – even self actualization.
This diagram shows Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid with the more primitive needs at the bottom.
Let’s take a look:
Physiological – this is the most obvious function of dumpster diving, providing substance in the form of food. This is the central need exemplified by poverty and the homeless. Society generally looks at dumpster divers as fitting in this category.
Safety – The regular flow of discarded food and material from Corporate America seems to offer some assurance that there will be food for the taking well into the future – a source of nutrition for self and family has been found. The well heeled homeless person knows the dumping schedules of all businesses within walking distance. This knowledge is only magnified with communities sharing this information.
Love/Belonging – this strikes me as the central reason today for the communities springing up in support of diving in dumpsters. There is a sense of acceptance and a sense of belonging that transpires when groups of people seek the same objective. This sense of acceptance can over ride other social prejudices. Many behaviors become acceptable when done in community.
Esteem – The definition of dumpster diving as one of redemption, of recycling, of actually being responsible with resources is a powerful motivator. When done in community – a successful foray into dumpsters is a mark of achievement. Who among us does not want to be seen in light of accomplishment – and what is the mark of accomplishment in a dumpster diving community?
Self Actualization – This is the goal of humanity – the actualization of self as different than the rest of the animal kingdom. Dumpster diving provides the morality of saving resources, of creative uses of energy, of solving the problem of food, of denying social prejudice, and of acceptance of the fact of corporate waste.
Dumpster diving in community can be psychologically very self-rewarding.
I should note that I have just demonstrated a process of rationalization that can be used to justify any behavior a community might decide is appropriate.
I am reading, listening, learning, and trying to assimilate the culture of community dumpster diving. Is this a practical Christian revolt against corporate greed? Is this merely an example of individuals respecting a value of not being wasteful? Is this a need for independence by people who feel disenfranchised by capitalism? Am I stuck in my own cultural values – unable to see the merits of community action? Am I over analyzing a modern phenomenon?
I just do not know.
See Also: Economies of Scale and Dumpster Diving