This formula (Demand – Need = Desire) comes from Žižek, after Lacan’s Love – Appetite = Desire. But how does this work?
For Lacan, love is a demand, and he talks of the demand of love and the appetite for satisfaction. But not all demands are love and not all love is a demand. Is the appetite for satisfaction the same as need?
At the immediate level of needing to satisfy our physical appetites, the answer would be yes – I am hungry → I have an appetite for food = I need to eat something. A plate of spinach is given the hungry individual. He or she doesn’t particularly like spinach but the hunger is dominant and he or she devours the insipid dish to satisfy that hunger. After the hunger has abated, what is left over? Nothing. There might still be spinach on the plate, but the hunger has gone and the hunger was everything so there is no need to finish the spinach. If it is eaten it will certainly not be with any gusto, for after the hunger is satiated there is no desire left. On the other hand, give the individual a plate of his or her favourite food. The ration is ample enough to satisfy the appetite, the need for food and the hunger is quelled. Nevertheless, the individual is left wanting more. And … this is desire.
In this way we see that desire is a going-beyond need. In its essence it is a demand for more than one need.
Now, by understanding desire this way, we reveal how capitalism works in the realm of desire and needs.
In a mechanical sense, capitalism is a motor for desire which is a transcendence of the relationship between demands and needs that pulls us into a yearning for the unnecessary.
I love pizza. I am hungry. The pizzeria offers three sizes: individual, medium or family size. The family size is enormous; the individual ration is small but sufficient. Desire, however, entices me to buy the middle-size pizza. It will leave me stuffed, feeling unwell even, but … such is desire. The pizza lover after me buys the family sizer. He is alone and won’t be able to finish it, but … he also likes cold pizza. Or he’ll reheat it for breakfast tomorrow.
In this case, the equation is not Demand – Need = Desire but (demanded)Supply – Need = Desire. For capitalism to work, supply must create demand. It is not enough for a business to estimate what people want, it has to create that want. It has to create the market for itself. The realism of consumerism is not that we can have what we would like, but only that which is there. The illusion is that we can get whatever we want in the market place or the department store. Reality, on the other hand, is that we want what we imagine we can get there. What we really want is very often not to be found. One just has to look for a certain style that is no longer in fashion, or a replacement for a broken part of an old machine, or even a pair of shoe-laces for an old pair of shoes or a tooth brush that will slip into one’s old toothbrush-holder, or … a lightbulb that won’t have to be replaced every year, or a medicine to cure one’s arthritis, or a tomato that tastes like the tomatoes we had when we were kids …
For the capitalist market to exist there needs to be obsolescence. The shorter the life-span of a product the better. In the equation Supply = Need + Desire, it does not matter what the values of Need and Desire are as long as both of them have some degree of positive value. The real value for the capitalist is determined by the value in Supply itself, which is really the factor of availability. The greater the availability value is, the more likely it is to generate the Need and Desire necessary to make it a successful business proposition. The main aim is to fill the shelves with your products and leave no room for competition. This is why companies create their own competition – they are filling the space of Supply which determines our Desires and Needs.