Two Rules for Happy

It’s been quite couple of weeks. There were two more events at work that left me numb with exhaustion and despair — and more illness, both as a result of people bringing their novel diseases into the very small and not notably well-ventilated shop in which I work and as a result of that exhaustion and despair. I was more than willing to just give up on humans. Let them wipe themselves out. Why bother trying to prolong the misery this useless species spreads in it wake…

But I recovered, physically and emotionally (which I am increasingly convinced are the very same thing). I recovered my senses enough to remember that it’s not all humans. Only a ridiculously small subset is causing all the misery. I recalled, as well, that the misery and mess caused by this minuscule group still needs to be cleaned up even if we are on the road to annihilation. We don’t get to throw our hands in the air and just leave our disasters for others to cope with after we’re gone. We — humans generally, but that very small group most of all — need to clean up after ourselves. Then we can go extinct… or maybe just change. But even if it’s “just change” I’m sure quite a lot of human culture — especially of the misery-inducing variety — will no longer exist after the clean-up.

In any case, as a result of all this misery, I’ve added another rule to my religion. Bringing the grand total to two. Or more precisely, two and a half, two and a corollary. There is harm none, and its inverse help as much as you are able. (Because not giving aid is the same as causing harm.) And the new one: make what you need in life.

Generally, I am not fond of umbrella solutions. I don’t believe there is one path forward for everybody everywhere. Especially the everywhere part. Rules need to grow from specific soil and the communities — human and otherwise — that live under them. But these two are rather universally useful. Simple, but powerful, and easy to tailor to local situations — because both “harm” and “need” are defined locally.

Harm is much more difficult to define than need, especially in EuroWestern culture because we inflict so much harm we’ve become inured to it. We’ve lost the ability to perceive a normal living state. Eating, and therefore killing plants and animals, is not causing harm. This is the normal living state, plain biology. It sucks to be prey, but there is no malevolence or waste in normal predation. And all things become prey eventually. So while eating involves taking other lives, it is not harmful. Eating sustains life. 

Harm is taking away the ability of others to eat — or meet any need. Harm is damaging and destroying life. Harm is interrupting the cycling of nutrients and well-being and love between beings. Harm is arrogating more than you need for yourself. Harm is waste.

Make what you need eliminates waste and makes it rather difficult to spread harm. It reduces the potential for harm in any system. It reduces resource use. It drastically reduces required labor. It nearly eliminates money and money’s attendant hierarchies. It undermines all notions of scarcity. You don’t work for money to pay someone else to meet your needs for you — starting a vicious progression of escalating labor, increasing inequality, and decreasing welfare all around — you work to meet your own needs and just that. Make what you need truncates all of the harmful waste. Make what you need creates a life in which your needs are met — a life of abundance! Everyone will find that their needs are met. No more scarcity. No more money. No more wasted lives.

There will be a need for trade because not all people have the skills, tools and knowledge to meet their needs and few regions have all necessary resources. But there would be no directing of needs. No control. No hierarchies. No parasitically useless class of human who does nothing to meet their own needs — indeed, does not know how! — but coerces others to do that work. There may be needs that one person can’t meet on their own, and for that communities will need to cooperate. But that’s still “meeting your own needs” if “you” is defined as a broader organism than just one human body. However, this cooperation, this larger organism, does not require a head that directs the work of the rest of the body. (Which is actually true of your own body… the brain is just one organ among many that directs and regulates the rest of the body. For that matter, the body is composed of many other non-human microscopic bodies which are not under direction from the brain at all, all cooperating to be one human body.)

We in EuroWestern cultures have a very difficult time understanding that most of the world — including our own bodies — is a cooperative venture. We don’t understand cooperation, true egalitarianism. We do so like to tell others what to do. And we can’t even call this proclivity to order others to be about our own bodily work a form of laziness. Laziness isn’t much concerned with controlling others. Control takes too much effort. No… it’s not laziness; it’s our culture of kings. We believe fervently in the superiority of some people. These kings have the right, the intellect, the wisdom and ultimately the power to demand and inflict and coerce. The fable we tell ourselves is that benevolent kings make demands for the greater good, but this is simply not true. Demands from those in power benefit only those in power — and the benefits are generally limited to increasing power, not much of anything else that might increase their bodily welfare or happiness. Demands from those in power increase power over to the detriment of all of the rest of us. The myth confounds us, obscuring all the damage done by power over. The idea of a benevolent leader ruling all for the good of all keep us under their rule… 

In our culture, the idea of religion — to bind — becomes equated with control from above. Coercion. Regulate. Regimentation. Regis. King. But religion comes from relegare which is not from above but from within. Binding of oneself. Ruling oneself. You may bind yourself to a person — a king, a god — but mainly religion binds to an idea, the rule itself. Even when it is a god or a king, that person embodies the idea. Any binding to that person is a bond with the idea that person represents. The rule. Rules are very different things than being ruled. Rules are greater and more binding than kings and gods. Rules are the ways and means, the way we are beings. For every being, even gods and kings. This means there is no ruler in any system of rule. There is only the rule. There is only the binding, the religion. There is no god. Or king. Or regulation. 

It becomes confusing because we think we make the rules. But really we don’t. We find them. Rules are not made; rules are discovered. We don’t dictate how the world works. We fit ourselves into the working world. Rules are the mnemonics that humans use to remember what worked in the past. Rules are ways to transmit that knowledge to the future. Rules are ways to understand what is happening right now and better adapt oneself to that — whatever that is. Rules are our ideas of how to be in the world. Rules make us. Rules emerge from us being us. And when we follow the rules, when we bind ourselves to these ideas, all we are doing is agreeing to do what works best, to be as we should be, to be the best we can be.

These are all freighted terms, I know. Who defines best and should and agree and we? But they are freighted only within our language system in which rule is bound up with power over. If we discard control from the rule, if we look at the idea not at the ruler, and if we apply the rule to our place and time and community, we find that there is a should and there is a best. These qualifiers emerge from place and time and community. So nobody defines best. Best is whatever it is wherever it is. Best is what meets the most needs and causes the least harm. Best is when each and every being in a system is happiest, healthiest, most whole, most vibrant, most full of life. Which is the opposite of power over, where life is merely a resource and no being is ever happy.

We had to create a notion of eternal life just to tolerate this system of control and unhappiness. We waste so many lives in this system. The only justification is a promise that there is more than what was wasted. So let’s do away with that foolishness right now. There is no more. When your body dies, you die. You end. You are no more. There may be some element of consciousness that gets recycled with all the material resources that make up your body. But that little bit is not you. It is not your feelings, your memories, your dreams and desires. It is not your way of being. It is not you any more than your hand is you (and probably it is a good deal less of you than your gut). The complex being state that is you will cease to exist. This is its only time. So don’t bloody waste it!

Make what you need in life!

You notice that I have not — ever — defined need. That is up to you. That is your rule. That is what is best for your being state nestled into what being structure your find your-self. Maybe your first need is to find a better, happier, healthier community of beings… But I suspect that most people, human and otherwise, can create happy wherever they are with whoever is around them. That’s the miracle of life, emergence, that it works so well to make so many so very happy in all these kaleidoscopic ways. 

But it does not work at all when it is controlled from above. You can’t force emergence. You can’t coerce cooperation. You can’t dictate life. You can’t regulate happiness from outside. Happiness emerges from within a system that is… well… happy. Balanced. Healthy. Whole. Working. Being the best it can be. Happiness is lived. Happiness molds the rules. Happiness does not abide rulers at all.

We are such vain beings, thinking we are the only beings who think and deeming our thought superior to all other things. How are we not embarrassed by the idea that we can control others, that we can force other living beings to live in ways that make them miserable, wasted? What are we to make rules when we can’t make life? Who are we to arrogate happiness to ourselves?  And why do we never notice that when we rule we never achieve happiness? We are idiots… drooling infants trying to imitate Mom… trying to eliminate Mom so that we are the most important things in the universe.

Well, happily Mom still exists and loves us still… though maybe she is having doubts about some things. Which is metaphorical speak for “we’ve broken the rules and now there are consequences”. But fortunately, there are always ways to bring yourself back into alignment with the rules. Maybe not your culture. Certainly not the culture of power over. But, while we can’t save our society, we can save ourselves and a good many other beings that had nothing to do with the rule breaking except being broken. We can create a real society — a community — where each self is embedded in a cooperative community of living, each doing whatever is necessary and no more. 

There is no wealth in this community. There is abundance. There is no scarcity. There is comfort and security. Everyone has what they need because they create that life. They work, they do, they are that life. And they do nothing else. What luxury!

Now, one of your needs may be to sit on your duff and contemplate the sunset. That’s on you. You’re going to have to negotiate with your own body to make that work. You do not get to make someone else feed and shelter your body while it sits and contemplates and does nothing to meet its own needs. You figure out how to take care of yourself and sit on your duff. And believe me, without the waste of working for wages, there is plenty of time for contemplation after you meet your own needs. Even elaborate needs. 

That’s the amazing thing (or depressing, given how much time, resource use, waste, lives we’ve invested in this system). It takes so little work, so little time, so little resource use to do whatever you want, so much less than this system that forces others to meet your needs. (And then others must meet their needs, and so on and so on and so on until you get to the bottom and a whole lot of folks who don’t get anything of what they need out of life.) Even if your needs are elaborate, you will work less and use less of this world if you do for yourself. Say you want a house with plumbing. You may have to work at it for a while. You may need to cooperate with others who also want houses with plumbing. But at the end of the doing, everyone involved has what they want. No more investment necessary.

This is probably a silly example. Because very few communities are going to have the skills and resources to make houses with plumbing from scratch. But the beauty of making your own needs is that you have time to consider those needs and decide whether they are, in fact, necessary. Maybe it’s time to think about what a house with plumbing means. It is lovely to flush a toilet. It is not at all lovely to be on the receiving end of the flush. And all that work and resource use invested just to wash away your bodily wastes, away meaning forced on some other body. Maybe that’s not the best way to meet the need for cleanliness? Don’t get me wrong. I like plumbing. I just don’t know that it’s a need. It’s certainly not the best use of my time or this world’s resources. And I am very uneasy with the idea of using water to transport my waste to some place where other living organisms have to live with it…

So you see? These are the questions we begin to grapple with when we define need for ourselves and our place and our community, when we make our own lives. We may well decide we need toilets, but we’ll probably be cooperating with others quite a lot more to make toilets that don’t spread literal waste — harm! — on those who didn’t generate it. For the record, most humans have lived quite well with the world — cleanly and comfortably — without flushing. So we could do better. We could do best.

In any case, I suspect many of our plumbing systems are more or less doomed because we can’t, in fact, maintain them even with a good deal of coercion and material resource use. And that is another thing we must grapple with, though if we admit that we aren’t eternal, then it follows that what we build is similarly transient. Maybe we don’t put so much effort and material use into trying to create permanence in a world of change. Don’t expect anything to work forever no matter how much is put into it. There is no forever; and the more we try to pretend that there is, the more waste we generate. Especially for the distant communities in place and time who will have to grapple with that decaying waste.

But you see the power in my two rules now? Harm none and make what you need will eliminate that decaying waste. When there is no away in place and time — because none means none — and when you decide what you want to invest of your own life into whatever you want, then many things will just stop. At the same time, we will find that we can meet our needs with much less work, less time devoted to those things, less resource use, and no waste. Perhaps, there will be a shifting of definitions. We will redefine need, I’m sure, as we begin to do better accounting, as we eliminate away and recognize the damages that we generate. 

We pursue happiness in this system of control and power over and wasted lives. In a world in which we all harm none and all make what we need, we will actually make happiness. That’s what need means after all. Or maybe it’s the other way round: Happiness is having no unfulfilled needs. Or perhaps both ideas are reciprocal, defining each other in constant iteration. Need to happiness to need to happiness to need…

There will still be assholes and psychopaths. Humans are a flawed species. But there is much less room for them, much less capacity to spread harm in a system of abundance and fulfillment. Most people will live contented lives with little or no excess to both inspire and reward violation. The rodents will still try to raid the larder, but a happy and content community doesn’t breed many parasitic vermin. And when the odd ones spontaneously generate, a happy and content community is usually strong enough to contend with that issue (translate: beat it over the head with sticks until it goes away…). It should also be said that it’s very hard to take much from the larder when what is stored is stuff that meets actual needs and has no generic trade value. A rat can only haul off so much — and even rats won’t take food that’s just going to rot. Hopefully, humans can learn to be as smart as rats…

The two things that these rules cannot abide, however, are power over and eternity. It is impossible to harm none and meet all needs in a world oriented around status and hierarchy. It is impossible to banish waste and be happy in a world that looks to an afterlife for all rewards — or even compensation.

But these things are aberrations in the human organism… and they will die with this doomed culture. Human normal is happy and healthy and fairly egalitarian. We know this because here we are… and we wouldn’t be if our ancestors had fought each other tooth and nail over worthless status markers. I feel fairly confident in predicting that all the aspects of our culture that don’t fit into human normal will fall away as we begin to clean up the messes we’ve made, as we grapple with what is needed and wanted and what makes us happy. And that is what we need to be doing with this now — building communities of happy people that follow the rules and follow no rulers. A dom without a king… Happy people being the best beings we can be. Normal humans…

Harm none. (Help all you can.) Make what you need. 

And there will be no more exhaustion and despair… and likely a whole lot less illness as well.

©Elizabeth Anker 2022