Article in Society / Philosophy / Philosophy of Mind
A consideration of how acknowledgement of the needfulness of all forms of life, including ourselves, reveals the needlessness of human conflict and radically changes our understanding of evolutionary processes, allowing more compassionate and sustainable ways of life to emerge.

Needfulness, Neediness and Needlessness

Perceptions at the source of human compassion and conflict

By Alan Rayner

Ever since I was a young child, whose first 8 years were mostly lived against the terrifying backcloth of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s, I have had the feeling that human conflict is the tragic outcome of an utterly needless way of thinking, which alienates our human identity from its natural neighbourhood. Over the years, this feeling has stayed with me and grown within me, culminating in my efforts to develop a philosophy of ‘natural inclusionality’. This philosophy is based on the understanding that all distinguishable forms are flow-forms, variably fluid, energetic configurations of intangible space throughout tangible figures and tangible figures in intangible space. That is, all of us consist of two distinct but mutually inclusive kinds of presence – tangible and intangible. Tangible presence is resistive to movement, and so can be sensed directly, whereas intangible presence can neither resist nor be resisted by tangible presence. Intangible presence is therefore receptive to the flow of tangible presence, but can only be dynamically and permeably configured by the latter; it cannot be cut, occupied, confined or moved around in the way that rationalistic logic, science and mathematics presupposes. Our bodily selves have both finite (measurable) and infinite (immeasurable) aspects: they are distinct but dynamically and spatially continuous. Hence the notion of any thing, by definition absolutely opposing any other thing, the notion ultimately at the root of human conflict, cannot hold true in Nature.

‘Plain Brotherhood’ – oil painting on board by myself (1999)

My childhood feelings that human conflict is needless, which have found expression during my adult life in the logic, language and art of natural inclusionality, have continually been opposed, however, by a very powerful idealistic force. This force resides both within me and throughout the rationalistic human culture that surrounds me.

Internally, this force is represented by an unforgiving, utterly intransigent ‘judge’, ‘parent’ or ‘critic’, who draws support from the double standards of a culture riven by the conflict between individual and group interest. This judge, known to Freudian psychologists as my ‘superego’, holds me solely responsible for all that happens within my influence. He requires me to be perfect both as a supremely self-sufficient individual and as an altruistic member of the community. He torments me with guilt, blame and shame whenever I fail to live up to his expectations, which is rather often. He gets me down and destroys my confidence.

I have desperately tried to get my judge to see that his guilty verdicts are founded upon an unrealistic perception of our selves that despises human needfulness as ‘neediness’, an ‘inadequacy’ or ‘deficit’, born of human ‘weakness’. I argue that it is our vain (in both senses of the word) efforts to eliminate needfulness in our needless (unnecessary) desire to be needless (without need) that has us indulge in the inhumanity of war, eugenics, capitalism, communism and genocide, whilst claiming to have God, Darwin or Marx on our side. I base my case upon the principles of ‘natural inclusionality’ as a way of reasoning that I think is consistent with human sensory experience (i.e. ‘evidence’) and makes consistent (non-paradoxical) sense. But my judge is disinclined to listen, seemingly preferring the rhetoric of the case for the prosecution, which cross-examines me from both sides of but doesn’t include the ‘fence’, which is where I sit petrified of being judged ‘not good enough’. Perhaps I and others like me need to find a way to turn down the judge’s volume control, and discover the receptive source of peace and creativity within the fence that includes each compassionately within the other’s complementary influence, not as poles apart.

Deep in the heart of natural inclusional principles is an acknowledgement of needfulness, but not neediness as a fundamental condition of life. Needfulness is associated with spatial receptivity, and is a natural source of deep compassion for self and other through acknowledging that every bodily form has an intangible core towards and around which energy gravitates and circulates. The receptive influence of this core extends continuously throughout and beyond its energetic boundaries, always thirsting for more energy, more life. Neediness, by contrast, is a rationalistic notion of unilateral dependence upon others, interpreted as a ‘deficit’ or ‘negativity’.

The judgmental gall of rationalistic idealism has been – through definitive denial of needfulness – to pervert this natural condition of life into perceptions of neediness or selfishness associated with the abstraction of self- or group-identity from its contextual neighbourhood. The abstracted self or group is perceived as a ‘whole’, whose perfection and eternal preservation depends upon its total integrity or ‘completeness’. Any gap or ‘weakness’ in the boundary of this ideal form is perceived as a defect, which ensures its ultimate demise. Hence we urge ourselves – and my judge urges me – to become self-contained and self-sufficient through building a defensive wall against the insurgence of ‘others’. Those with strong walls are perceived paradoxically as ‘fit’, yet ‘selfish’ and those with weak walls are perceived as ‘needy’, yet ‘giving’. A false dichotomy is made between ‘fit but nasty survivors’ and ‘weak but nice losers’. Love is squeezed into a rationalistic, fenced in no-man’s land between competitive and co-operative enterprises Hell-bent on ‘success’, yet each predicated unrealistically upon the autonomy, and corresponding sole responsibility of individual or group.

By contrast, my natural inclusional acceptance of needfulness in self and others as a natural condition of life brings with it a calming influence – an unconditional capacity for love and care that doesn’t question the virtue or heritage of what calls out for help but is receptive, respectful and responsive to it. Where protection is needed, then, so far as is energetically possible, protection is given. Where sustenance is needed, then, so far as is energetically possible, sustenance is given. Boundaries open and close – but never absolutely – as energetic interfacings in correspondence with circumstances, so long as life continues and receptivity remains in the stillness of space everywhere. Strength is needed to sustain distinct identity, weakness is needed to enable flow: these qualities are mutually inclusive, not opposites.

The inescapable truth, for me and everyone else, is that Nature does not and cannot perfect things by completing them. Only a creature fearful of its depths of uncertainty desires such a perfect end by whatever means it deems necessary. To complete anything is, by definition, to stifle its capacity to participate in natural energy flow by receiving, holding and passing on in an endless game of ‘pass the parcel’ (not ‘passing the buck’!). No individual identity can bear sole responsibility for what its cultural neighbourhood dictates, just as no such identity can forever dictate its cultural neighbourhood through its own will to power: a living, caring being cannot be an impregnable fortress that doesn’t suffer a gape, the source of deep love and vulnerability in its boundaries. To admit our vulnerability – my vulnerability – is to allow love to permeate and restore our souls at that very moment when all seems most dire, in the midst of depression.

By accepting and caring for our needfulness not as inadequacy but as inevitability – vital to the very possibility of life and love – we can, with deep joy, both give and receive succour in the process of giving and receiving succour. We discover within and amongst us a deep evolutionary kinship that is common to all, everywhere, regardless of provenance.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to come to terms with a lifetime of tension spent living with an intransigent, culturally entrenched aspect of my self that has made no allowances for my human needfulness. To make allowances is the very basis of evolutionary creativity whatever the imperialism of ideological perfectionism might have us believe to the contrary. Whereas natural inclusionality can allow for the occurrence of ideological perfectionism, by understanding its origins in the need to develop protective boundaries, it is unable to accept it as the dominant force that it seeks to be. This ‘non-acceptance’ enables resistance but not outright opposition (rejection) to intransigent, hard-line definition and in its turn may, if heard, enable this definition to relent, just as my own pride has ultimately to give way to my need for care.

I suspect that my personal experience of the tension between my forgiving and unforgiving natures relates strongly to that of culturally and psychologically suppressed or estranged people everywhere. I would love my experience, and the natural inclusional logic and language that has emerged from it, to come to the aid of a humanity that has divorced itself from its natural neighbourhood and so sown the seed for desperate and unnecessary conflict within its midst.

‘The War of the Pots and Kettles –and the need to bury the hatchet’ – oil painting on canvas by myself (2004)

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About the Author 

Alan Rayner
Dr Alan Rayner is a naturalist who uses art, poetry, fluid mathematics and careful science to enquire and communicate about the evolutionary

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