"It [government] covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd." ~ Alexis de Tocqueville
Desire Is the Mother of Necessity
Column by B.R. Merrick.
Exclusive to STR
Necessity is the mother of invention. ~ ascribed to Plato
This alleged Platonic nugget may very well be true, but it does not take into account something that I believe is far more important, since it gets closer to the root of why we invent. If necessity is what leads to invention, what, if anything, leads to necessity?
I suppose any discussion of root causes would have to begin with the definition of necessity, or rather, how the word is currently in use: “the quality or state of being necessary... pressure of circumstance... physical or moral compulsion [That’s an interesting one.]... impossibility of a contrary order or condition...”; and my favorite (for the purposes of this article): “an urgent need or desire.” I am also struck by the definition of “necessary”: “of an inevitable nature... inescapable... logically unavoidable... determined or produced by the previous condition of things... required...” Okay. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Based on the definitions above, the thing that is necessary must first exist, at least in the mind (if it is the end goal and not yet in existence). Once the existence of a necessity is manifest if only in the abstract, then the necessary nature of the necessity is evident, but only, I propose, if tied to a prerequisite desire that must also exist. Allow me to explain.
Let’s take as an example the most basic existent necessities: food, clothing, and shelter. I was taught beginning at an early age that these three things are necessary (existent if only in the abstract) for sustaining human life (the desired existent). I would propose that only one of these things is necessary to sustain life, depending on the geographical location of the human in question: food. If one lives in a tropical area where the temperature remains a constant, clothing and shelter are not nearly as necessary. You may argue that rainstorms are also a constant in the tropics, and that exposure to rainstorms without adequate clothing or shelter could lead to pneumonia. Perhaps. Therefore, let’s take the same human, put him in a desert, and give him naturally dark brown skin (and based on this information, I do not consider that a bigoted statement). Shelter and clothing are less and less necessary. Food, however, is a constant with humans all over the planet.
But what is the basis for the necessity of food? It is the desire for life and nothing more. If I am preparing to kill myself at the end of this week (Don’t worry. No such plans this week.), food is not a necessity. How can something as basic as food go, in an instance of thought, from being an absolute necessity to something that has little to no value? Clearly, the desire of the individual for living leads directly to food being a necessity.
Therefore, I propose to you that there is no such thing as a necessity that is not first premised upon a desire. I have mentioned in another article about going without food for an entire day for various reasons. What’s interesting to me is how the brain plays tricks, and how pervasive and rather annoying some of those tricks can be. Since like all humans I am a creature of habit, I am used to satisfying this “need” as soon as I feel the pangs in my gut. The pain itself, at least for a day, is actually miniscule, but the psychological ramifications are much harder to ignore. Therefore, we oftentimes eat for peace of mind, which has little to do with sustaining life; it has much more to do with sustaining perceived quality of life. This is where most of our personal “needs” are revealed to be “necessary” based merely upon desires, oftentimes unexpressed and inchoate.
This is also where hot fudge sundaes make their grand and glorious entrance. A hot fudge sundae is not often considered a necessity, although we don’t always correctly divide needs from desires. If the brain isn’t bugging me to satisfy minor hunger pangs, but rather is focused for whatever reason on the thought of that sundae, then in order to completely satisfy the mind (and not the body), a sundae must be eaten. In that sense, the desired sundae becomes a necessity, but it will never be necessary for any other reason.
If I am trying to lose weight, the sundae will not help me. Now I have competing desires. On the one hand, I want to indulge; on the other, I want to stay thin. I can’t do both. Now I have to make a choice. Unfortunately, neither necessity is necessary by itself. Each comes with a foundational want. They exist side by side in the same mind, along with their attendant desires. When the choice between the two desires is made, only one necessity is employed. The other necessity vanishes, even though the desire might remain, because the choice has been made against that want.
You see how mercurial necessities can be? Yet we hear from so many sides of so many arguments – political, social, religious, and philosophical – about how “we need to,” “we must,” “they have to,” “you should,” ad infinitum. These are all conclusions about what is necessary. What we hear far less often is upon what premises these needs are based:
“We have to continue to stand up for the rights and the well-being of LGBT people.” – Hillary Rodham Clinton. Really? Why? What happens if “we” don’t? Why is the option of not standing up for “the rights and the well-being” of guys like me unacceptable? What is the outcome? Is anybody interested in hearing what this woman’s desires are, the ones upon which the “have to” is based? I’m not. You can’t believe a word that comes out of her mouth. I think the world has had enough of whatever this woman’s foundational desires are.
“In order to help people, we have got to start with our youngsters early, and the welfare reform effort, the re-authorization, must support effective teen abstinence programs.” – George W. Bush. You wanted to help people as president? Then why the war? Would it not have been helpful to 9/11 families (many of which have “youngsters”) to have a Grand Jury investigation into 9/11, since there’s a Grand Jury investigation into every other terrorist attack, including acts of war like Pearl Harbor? What exactly are you going to start with “our youngsters early”? Why does the reauthorization of the sclerotic and largely unresponsive welfare industry need to support teen abstinence? Where does the desire for sex come from, and why are teenagers, who are fully sexualized human beings, treated like they are not? If you want them to stay away from one another’s bodies, why are they herded into giant playpens all day long? What the hell do you want, sir? Don’t answer that.
“We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability – to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities.” – Barack Obama
“In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists, who would seek to destroy America and our allies we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink.” – Sarah Palin
I don’t even want to know about the desires behind those two quotes. What appalling statements they are, to any life-oriented ears.
All four of the individuals quoted have revealed themselves to be quite violent in thought and speech, if not action (although signing laws and voting on bills, two simple, seemingly non-violent actions, have done a great deal of violent damage). Yet, on this land mass, millions of people agree to the “necessity” of one or more of the outcomes that no doubt result from the unspoken desires of the political actors above. Not a single one of these “have to” statements can be considered a necessity until the primary desire is first acknowledged, and all other possible avenues explored. Then all who hear these statements need to agree that this is also what they desire. Good luck.
In the meantime, I will reveal to you what I believe to be the foundational desire of each of the above statements, as explicated by the current governor of New Jersey, concerning the hot-button issue of state-sponsored gay marriage vs. state-sponsored straight marriage: “In our state, we’re going to continue to pursue civil unions... I am not a fan of same-sex marriage. It’s not something that I support... I believe marriage should be between one man and one woman... I wouldn’t sign a bill like the one that was in New York.” Now, in this statement, Chris Christie didn’t say “must” or “have to,” but he did attempt to speak for millions of people who live within the arbitrary confines of New Jersey, in the same way as the above four blowhards, when he really cannot successfully claim to do so:
I don’t like _____.
I believe in _____.
Within a certain geographical area where I would like to live, we will _____ whether you agree or disagree. Capisce?
At least Christie let us know what his foundational desire is (although not upon what conclusions it is based). Regardless, these politicians climb to the podium, spout this drivel, and win the hearts of millions of voters. What on earth do the voters desire who vote for all of the above? I shudder to think. I also agonize over the realization that foundational wants will continue to be overlooked by so many, in favor of obsessing over so-called necessities.
But that’s the world we live in. Once you get away from the inherent nastiness of political discourse, taken in its entirety, it’s an amazing place. One thing that continually fascinates me about this planet and our existence on it is an unanswered question that has haunted me since losing my religion, abandoning my belief in God, and which leads to more unanswered queries: Since I know that the universe exists, will I ever know if the universe is necessary? If so, what is the foundational desire? If not, then why do we have one? You see, when I’m tired of listening to political prattle, this is where my mind goes. I can’t help it. I think it has to; otherwise it might hear another quote from the next Sarah Rodham Christie clone and induce vomiting. Nobody needs that.