Saturday, December 23, 2006


Another way to think of Security is to call it Survival. What we want to secure most is our own lives.

Consider a paraphrasing of Maslow’s idea of a Hierarchy of Needs (most basic first):
· physiological needs (air, food, water, sleep)
· safety needs (protection, order, stability)
· social needs (friendship, belonging, love).

But Security is about more than just survival – survival is mostly about the first level, and we desire Security in order to preserve ALL of the above.

Stability: Stability represents security; when things are stable and predictable, we feel safer. And stability really *is* important – even critical – to our existence. Even when it’s not a life-or-death issue, Stability almost always means greater efficiency.

Imagine if there were no conventions for meeting strangers, no standards for communication, no agreed-upon rules of public conduct or dress. We would waste trillions of man-hours every year trying to figure out what we wanted from one another, whether our intentions were hostile or friendly, and so on.

A stable political/social context means we can grow crops without worrying that bandits will steal them.

Stable, predictable social customs allow us to interact more safely with others – even strangers. We don’t have to handle every encounter with suspicion and mistrust.

A stable environment means we don’t have to spend time and energy constantly analyzing and re-evaluating our surroundings and protecting ourselves against unknown dangers.

We fear chaos; while we may chafe at constrictions on our individual behaviour, we are absolutely in favor of order and control when it comes to everything else – we want the people and things that form our world to be predictable.

Knowledge: Knowledge is power, knowledge is survival – we must know – if we don’t, we may die. Water is wet, rocks are hard, fire is hot, tigers will eat you.

Certainty: But we want more than just knowledge – we want to be *sure*. We can’t afford to say “Maybe today fire won’t burn me,” or “Maybe today I can breathe in the lake,” or “Maybe *this* tiger is a vegetarian.”

To quote David Gerrold – or at least, one of his characters – again (from his novel A Rage for Revenge):
“Whatever circumstance we’re presented with, we make a decision about it. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Yes or no? Is this a threat to my survival? Or not?
If something unknown presents itself, we’re hard-wired to treat it as a threat until proven otherwise. Everything that your mind does – that whole conversation in your head, no matter what it’s about – that’s the mind considering its decisions for survival.
…this places an incredible burden on the mind to be *right*. Because in the mind’s view, the alternative to being right is being dead. The mind equates rightness with survival and wrongness with dying. …we, as individuals, have to be *right* whatever we do.”

The familiar, the known, allow us to relax a little. Change takes effort, and it makes us stupid – we used to know how to operate in our environment, now we don’t. We used to know what’s safe, good, desirable, enjoyable, and what is threatening, dangerous, unpleasant. If things change, we can no longer be certain. At the most basic level (as Gerrold points out), uncertainty can be fatal: if you don’t know how to treat a particular food item, or animal, or social situation, you may die.

We fear the unknown. In fact, our fear of the unknown or the uncontrolled is so great that we will go to virtually any lengths to avoid it. We stay in abusive relationships, bad neighborhoods, dead-end jobs – anything rather than risk the unknown.
“Better a devil you know than one you don’t,” we say.
Night is scarier than day, not because it’s more dangerous but because it’s mysterious.
We fear insane people, not because of what they’ve done, but because we’re not sure what they *will* do – they’re not bound by the rules, they are unpredictable.

And we crave moral, emotional, and intellectual certainty, for a number of reasons besides survival:
Thinking and learning take energy; self-doubt is unpleasant; we want emotional peace and rest, not angst, unease, disquiet.

Our very language reflects our desire for predictability: consider the words Unreliable, Inexact, Indefinite, Unfaithful, Duplicitous, Deceitful, Ambiguous, Vague, Imprecise, Hazy, Unsure, Unclear, Indistinct, Uncertain, Flaky, Confusing, Doubtful, Inconsistent, Unpredictable, Shifting, Fickle, Traitorous, Betrayal, Infidelity, Perfidy, Disloyal, etc etc etc.
What do all these negative words have in common? The fact that something was not *predictable* – someone said one thing and did another, or something behaved one way one day, and another way the next.

The traits above make us feel disapproving, uncomfortable, angry, annoyed, afraid. We are displeased with things that cannot be predicted, contained, controlled – and with good reason – we know that an inability to predict future events can result in loss, injury, or death for us.

Consider some of the qualities we admire in others: Consistency, Loyalty, Honesty, Integrity, Honor, Decency, Morality, Constancy, Fidelity, Devotion, Allegiance, Trustworthiness, Frankness, Candor, Truthfulness, Reliability, Dependability, Steadfastness, Sincerity. These terms describe things that ARE as they seem; they imply a resistance to change and conformity to an established code; in a word, they mean *predictability*.

We cling tightly to the comfort of the familiar, we fear and resist change, and we place a tremendous value on predictability, because of our basic instinct that predictability=security: the unpredictable is dangerous, the predictable is safe.
We’ll endure all manner of difficulty, we’ll tie ourselves into philosophical knots, we’ll even give up loving relationships rather than relinquish our sense of Certainty about things.


At Sat Dec 23, 06:48:00 AM PST, Blogger unca said...

----Imagine if there were no conventions for meeting strangers, no standards for communication, no agreed-upon rules of public conduct or dress.-----
Kind of like it is now, you mean?

At Sat Dec 23, 10:21:00 AM PST, Blogger SoozeSchmooze said... changing careers here?? going into counceling..??
looks like you are getting your education for it anyway..good of you to share... :)

At Sat Dec 23, 11:05:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

not changing careers, sooze, unless i find another one i'm qualified for.
unca, i take your point about the lack of conventions now relative to the past. but i suggest that there are still a lot of things we do and expect that we may not realize, especially in formal settings. but even among, say, teenagers, where it looks chaotic, there are actually rules and conventions -- they're just different from what we're used to (and, granted, not as rigid).

At Sun Dec 24, 06:30:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

Hey, at my age it's my job to say this kind of stuff. Somebody has to. "Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way; what has happened to kids today?" -- [line from a song in "Bye Bye Birdie"]


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