15 March 2010


"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." -- Helen Keller

Recently I sent the above quote to a number of email correspondents. Clearly the word "security" means different things to different people. Here is a sampling (anonymous) of the replies that came back:

~~ Yes. And for verification, read The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts .... Odd. Now I work for a company doing "software security."

~~ say what...

~~ I don't know about that. I figure I have a better chance of surviving Afghanistan if I stay out of there.

~~ Now that is thought provoking ! I, in my own little world, would like to think that there is security. However, in light of my time here on earth and experiences, I know all too well how vulnerable we all are and how fast life can change and cease to exist as we have known it !

I'm inclined to agree with Keller's quote. Granted, security is relative, and one risks it by running out into traffic (or traveling to Afghanistan). It seems to me that security is not black or white, present or absent. Rather, it exists along a continuum between, say being 99% secure (100% being dead), and 1% secure (0% also being dead?). So, are the extremes defined by (at one end) a police state, and (at the other end) anarchy? Or are they defined by monotony vs. adventure, as Keller suggests?

Further, there is the dualism of external, physical security and internal, emotional security. One may be physically safe, but not feel safe. One may also feel unsafe, but be physically safe. It seems to me that physical security is corporeal, and never fully assured. Emotional security, in contrast, is a state of mind under one's control, therefore as assured as one wishes to make it. It is analogous to identity. I am me, complete and inviolate and unassailable, right up to the moment of my physical death. Does my identity (soul, spirit, personality) persist after my body's demise? I have no definitive answer, nor does anyone else -- if they claim differently, they're trying to sell you something.

My hunch is that physical death is identity death as well, food for the fishes and worms and microbes, furthering the cycle of life. On a primitive level, the thought of an afterlife is appealing, as is reincarnation (though I would hate to come back as a fungus, or as Carl Rove. Still, I'll be content to have my molecules remix with the planet .... if only it were possible to watch where they travel next.

In a parallel vein, recall the mis-quoted phrase often attributed to Benjamin Franklin -- "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Old Ben (or whoever the author was) was seeing things in stark, black-and-white terms. No continuum here, though the moral stand is clear. Or is it? Hmm.

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