The essentials of life

Humanity must find ways to make itself more humane and less human.

Image Credit: Janaka Maharage Dharmasena/iStock

What are the essentials of human life? According to scientists,  there are 25 chemicals—the Big 4 (oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen), plus the six major elements and numerous trace elements. But I’m really not talking in those terms. Traditionally, philosophers have spoken of fire, earth, water, metal and wood as essentials. But that leaves out a lot. I’d like to encompass the physical and psychological needs of human beings. I don’t think that my list is original, but I am trying to come up with one that people have a right to demand so that they can live productive and harmonious lives.

I would say air, water, energy (which includes both heat and light and cooling where necessary), shelter, nature, sustenance (food), transportation, communication, health, cleanliness, community, pleasure, and learning. I have seen lists which include sleep and sex, but to me these are subgroups of pleasure and health. Similarly, I think that clothing is a subset of shelter along with housing.  Drink is part of water and sustenance. Community encompasses a lot of things. In fact, having a good community is probably what allows learning, pleasure, sustenance, and others, but since those things can be achieved by oneself with one or two friends, I think they are separate.

You’ll notice that I don’t name money or power. I think that these are controlled by community. We actually don’t need money in a physical form if we have a community which allows us all the other things we need. Similarly, a proper community can distribute power in a way that benefits all.  Unfortunately, humanity has rarely achieved such a community.

Pleasure includes such diverse things as art, music, games (which includes sports), sex, and discussion (which is also part of communication). Travel is part of pleasure and also of transportation. Architecture is part of shelter, art, and community. Law is part of community. The internet is part of communication but also part of learning and  community.

What shall we say of religion, philosophy,  politics, or war? The first two are part of learning but also of community, and the latter two are part of community. Community is very important, because it determines whether we have war or peace, a sharing society , or one dedicated to power struggles.  

Let’s look at the concept of the “job.” A job is an activity which falls into several categories, depending on what it is supposed to achieve. But there is nothing in the list of what is needed that requires the amount of work or the achievement during the job to affect the needs of the jobholder. In fact, we should realize that in the future many jobs may not be needed by the society because artificial intelligence and robots may be doing. Yet human beings will still have their needs, and our community should find ways to meet those needs even if we do not need the particular skills of certain people.

What has been happening in the past 40 years is an increase in productivity which can meet all the needs of humanity, but the community system allows a small number of elite to enjoy an excess share to the detriment of the others. The only solution to this is to rectify the wrongs of our community. We could re-think our economic system to share more widely, or we could simply slaughter the poor or the wealthy as has been done in the past.

We have had years of warfare all around our planet. The attempts to eliminate this costly and treacherous activity (such as the United Nations) have failed. The greed and racism within our peoples do nothing to improve our lives. It is really time to band together and eliminate these sorts of traits.

We are now enmeshed in a fight against a dreadful disease. But it is not the worst thing that faces us. Our societies are arranged so that we destroy nature, make the air and water toxic, and give inadequate sustenance, shelter and health to many. We could all find greater pleasure in life if we did not have to worry about such things. Humanity must find ways to make itself more humane and less human. 


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