The Illusion of Security

By , July 26, 2014

Lately, we’ve been discussing risk. The other day as I stepped off the trail to relieve myself, I asked Aly to keep an eye out for trouble. When she asked what kind of trouble she should look for, I thought about it a moment, and decided that “trouble” would be someone else coming along the trail and being embarrassed by seeing me. “Trouble” did not mean angry moose, hungry bears, falling rocks or trees, or any other form of physical danger. Apparently, those weren’t as much a concern as making someone feel uncomfortable.

That neatly nutshells our attitude toward risk. We’re pretty casual about it.

This doesn’t mean we ignore or disregard danger so much as that we accept that it surrounds us, and move on with our daily lives in spite of it.

Modern humans, and I suspect, Americans in particular, have become extremely risk averse. We strive to eliminate risk from life whenever and wherever possible. The common cry becomes “If we can keep just one more person from suffering this [highly unusual, improbably rare] fate, it’ll be worth it.” The resulting laws, rules, and social pressures provide the illusion of security, and perpetuate similar restrictions on activities and habits in the name of safety.

Long ago, I came across a quote that I can neither reproduce or attribute, but which changed the way I looked at the world. It said, in essence, that security is a mythical state, unknown to any creature on earth, but clung to by humans. Since there’s no such thing as real security, it’s senseless to try for it. I decided to make myself and my family as safe as I can, but not to spend unnecessary time and energy worrying about it. I would also endeavor to avoid falling into the trap of believing myself or my loved ones to be secure.

This has been most liberating, and may be the basis for our willingness and ability to make the life we have here on the “homestead.” I touched on this in one of our earliest essays on this blog, Living on the Edge: Security Through Insecurity. Once we accept that none of us will get out of life alive, we’re free to make the most of whatever time we’re allowed.

This is why we shrug off well meaning advice that we carry firearms or bear spray constantly as we move through the forest. It’s why we go ahead and add fish to our compost, accepting the risk of attracting bears in order to get more nutrient-rich soil (see Bear Busted). We also brave slick rocks to get to the water to fish, crab, and launch boats, walk through forests where falling trees are common without wearing helmets or hard hats, eat wild mushrooms, and more. We accept that whatever precautions we take are likely to prove inadequate, or even unnecessary, as our end will come as it will, when it will, despite our best efforts, possibly in the most mundane ways (see A Stupid Way to Die).

If we worried more about our safety, we’d be paralyzed by the potential disasters we face. When we look around at our countrypeople and see how joyless many of their lives are, how over burdened by the strife of pursuing the illusion of security, we feel sorry for them. And, we want none of that.

Perhaps the old pirate saying, “A short life, and a merry one” makes more sense for us?

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