The Great Security Hoax

The Great Security Hoax

How secure do you think you and your loved are?

  1. Absolutely, 100% secure- free from any risk of harm or misfortune.
  2. As secure as one can reasonably be (which is pretty secure really), secure from anything bar an act of God (which is unlikely because I’m a clean living person and right with the Big Guy).
  3. Not all that secure, I recognise the potential for disaster is ever present.

Which one of these three options, or some gradient between them, do you believe? I’m guessing number 2 (pretty secure). I think it would be difficult to live your life truly believing that the possibility of disaster is ever present.

And yet rationally you probably recognise that the third possibility (not secure at all) is the most accurate description of your level of personal security. You are no doubt aware of friends, family members or acquaintances who met with a Black Swan Event.

From Nassim Taleb describing a completely unanticipated event which changes everything, like the discovery of Black Swans after centuries of believing all swans were white, or 9/11 for that matter. An event which prior to its occurrence seemed impossible, or all but (Taleb, 2007/2010, The Black Swan).

We all know people personally who have been cut down in their prime by some or other misfortune, we read about it every day, we see it on the television.

Imagine living in Sendai, Japan, on 10 March 2011. The earthquake-tsunami hit on the 11th March killing over 10 000 people and destroying Sendai amongst many other areas in the north west of Japan. What do you think was going through the minds of the citizens of Sendai on the 10tha tsunami could strike tomorrow this could be my last day on earth? I doubt it.

The thing of it is, it’s all but impossible to live with that in mind. So what do we do, we pretend we’re secure- that a cataclysmic event will not befall us, changing everything instantaneously. And most of us pretend this so much and so long that after a while we believe it- we have the illusion of security.

In a sense we live our lives much like the pig in the movie Babe, who lives with the farmer’s family blissfully ignorant of the fact that he is being fattened up for his impending slaughter. Ignorant of the fact that that the last 700 days of his lifetime which were spent frolicking around the farm happy and content that all is well with the world have no bearing on the events on day 701 when he is to be dispatched and form the piece de r’sistance on the farmers lunch table (ibid).

If you really take the time to think about it this is a quite incredible situation. We live in a state of conscious illusion. Admittedly we do this so well that the conscious becomes unconscious, and we truly believe the yarn that this story has a happy ending. Well may be it will have a happy ending if dying in your sleep is your idea of a happy ending, but God knows it just as well may not.

Still we might say, well life is for the living or some such inane truism ‘ meaning really what the hell are we to do about this information. We live and we live as well as we can for as long as our destiny dictates.

The thing of it is we don’t. We do something much sillier than that.

We take out retirement policies, we take out insurance, we go to the gym, we eat healthy food, take our vitamins, wear our safety belts, we save money. Why do we do these things? Because we believe that they improve our chances- they keep us secure for longer.

Well maybe they do…it wouldn’t have made much difference to the people of Sendai on March 11th 2011. But okay maybe that’s unfair, I mean that stuff happens- but it not going to happen to me or you right?

In the death of Ivan Ilyich (by Tolstoy) – his friends leave the house (where Ivan is dying a slow and somewhat agonising death) slightly embarrassed at their friend mismanagement of his affairs- fancy allowing himself to end up in this situation- dying! Fortunately they are far more organised and in control to allow such a thing.

I hope you’ll forgive me making this point, I realise that death is somewhat macabre and not something we really want to think about. But what is worth thinking about is this illusion of security we have, and how much work goes into shoring that illusion against any potential threat. And marketers, whether they are selling insurance, assurance, financial management, airline tickets or hand soap, are constantly exploiting our insecurities. They exploit them by selling us the opposite- security, but the security is an illusion, it’s simply not real.

Further than that we invest so much of our energy into creating a secure future for ourselves and our loved ones, in the belief that this guarantees a happy outcome- it doesn’t.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we all become anarchists or pay no mind to the future.

I’m not suggesting for example that you emulate Henry Millar who was visited at his home one day by a door to door insurance salesman. Henry being a maverick was in the habit of saying yes to any door to door salesmen- not that he had any intention of paying the premiums down the line. But as he was signing up for the policy, the salesman feeling obliged to play his part could resist saying,

‘Yes Mr. Millar you are doing the right thing, just think of what will happen to your family in the event of your untimely death.’

To which Henry replied, ‘What will happen to my family?! Do you really think I look like the kind of guy who gives a f***k what happens to his family after he is dead!’

And with that sent the insurance salesman packing!

Simply that the choices we make are not made with the mistaken belief that what was, is what will be. The truth is none of us know what tomorrow holds. The potential for a Black Swan Event is ever present. Now it needn’t be cataclysmic, although that’s what I’ve focused on in this post, it could equally well be wonderful.

The future is unknown. The realisation that you do not, and cannot, know what tomorrow holds is scary, but it can also be very liberating. The question this then leaves is what can we hold onto if not the future- do we have anything that is secure? Even beliefs are not secure so try not investing too much in them either. Knowledge changes and as it does so will your beliefs.

A difficult question to answer, but if there is anything that is secure it must be an inner truth, a relationship with yourself, your higher being, of God possibly. Whatever it is, it is this inner truth that has the potential to steer you through the tumultuous waters of the future. So spend a little time on yourself, on your inner truth, on what you truly believe and care about. What makes this life important for you besides what you have acquired in the external world, be it material goods or relationships. Find the kingdom of heaven within you, that I think above all things has the possibility of permanence. And in that sense it can offer a security which is available in no other way- no matter how many times you wash your hands with super extreme, anti bacterial, anti fungal hand soap !

Until next time,

Stephen

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