Safety and Security and Nature Metaphors

Sure, in that order, too.

Safety, I want to say is a state of not having to worry. Safety would be the certainty that one could fall asleep out of doors and wake up intact, so, in a time and a place where unreasoning predators have been banished, and the human beings around you practice a live and let live attitude and have enough to eat that you are not seen as a resource they must exploit. Some lucky few in the history of our species have enjoyed this state, mostly the wealthy and well guarded, to be sure. I think this is my vision of the liberal utopia, and while it’s mostly been a privilege item, I believe this is the liberal vision that we hope to extend to all people.

Something like that. I want to define safety as again, not even having to worry, because all who can touch you are friendly or at least reasonable.

Security is best stated as the proposition that it’s a good life if you don’t weaken, meaning that the only measure of safety available in the world doesn’t rise to my definition above, because any safety requires the ability to fight. Security I define as détente, as deterrent, a peace only possible because we can damn well war as good as they can, a peace and safety where we’re afraid of our own, our fathers, our leaders, because their first priority becomes antisocialization, making sure we can fight. True safety under this arrangement of deterrents is only possible when all your enemies are dead, and so that is always the extreme dream at the far end of thought for those whose livelihoods depend on keeping us “secure.” I’m sure all involved are conscious of the self-perpetuating nature of this game, that our defenders are their attackers and vice versa, but what way is there to get off of this wheel?

One way to view the many nature metaphors we hear, capitalist and anti-capitalist imaging about wolves and sheep being almost all that come to mind, it’s so prevalent – might be as a form of nostalgia, meaning we often look to nature or to the past for solutions, it being very good and Earthy wisdom that there is nothing new under the sun, that things weren’t always so strange and bad as they are today, and things were “better back then.”

I haven’t pondered the conservatism of that attitude, the details of why we think it so much, that the past was better – but that’s where I want to stop the world and get off of that train of thought and onto a new one.

I think morality, a better life, the possibility of getting off of the security hamster wheel, these things aren’t in our past, and I don’t see as the other critters that walk, swim, crawl, etc., have a roadmap to them either. It’s something I say in nearly every blog, I think, but I’m trying to dedicate this one to just this proposition: we need to invent this good stuff. No, we didn’t just have it a minute or a few centuries or millennia ago, and no, the chimpanzees aren’t going to teach us what “altruism” is. This stuff only exists in our heads; if we want to see it in real life, we have to invent it, we have to envision it, plan it, build it, make it all happen.

The utopia, nobody’s utopia is going to be found in our animal past. It’s not hiding somewhere to be uncovered, it’s waiting to be built. The search for the “roots of altruism” is driving me spare. To explain it with costs and benefits is to explain the very opposite: altruism is doing something for someone else, by definition, and all these definitions alter the experiment, like quantum stuff. The choice to do something for someone else is invisible, just in someone’s head, a fleeting thought that comes into existence and fades out without a trace, as thoughts do. Steven Pinker said as much somewhere, that much of what humans do they do with this free-floating “thinking module” that can apparently be applied to any sort of problem, including hypothetical and future situations that no particular evolutionary past might explain. Surely this module of the brain evolved for material purposes, but it’s what does math and all sorts of abstract stuff that isn’t all mission critical for every human, and this is the part that we must use to create our moral world, any utopia at all, ever.

Now, I know there’s a lot of thinking, a lot of philosophy says we can’t.

I also certainly understand that asking seven and a half billion people to simply do better is no answer at all. I’m not arguing against people not knowing everything and making mistakes and screwing up their lives and maybe the lives of many others before they learn more about things, that is clearly as inevitable for us as it is for all else that walks, swims and crawls through the muck. I think I’m in the big game, in the conversation, and I’m arguing that at least our educators and public figures could stop with forever siding with our baser selves, could stop with forever with this nature nostalgia, with this myth that we ever did figure out how to live and just forgot or something. With this myth that somehow whatever we’re already doing and have forever until yesterday is somehow supposed to change things for the better. A return to a natural state is not the goal, it can’t be, Elon Musk wants to go to Mars, for one thing, and if I had to guess who was going to get their way, him or me, well.

If we try to build a moral world, a rational world, the most good for the most people and the least evil, it ain’t back in the garden.

I think we’ve proven that we can destroy this place, so it seems less impossible that we could manage it, doesn’t it? No-one would have dreamed we could accomplish that a few centuries ago, and look at us and our bad selves, now right at the precipice! We could if we understood enough to want to, if we understood that this nasty ape “following his heart” is really what got us here, that being “social,” and reinforcing one another’s natural evolved feelings is not the path to the utopia but the eternal path to war.

It is my personal stance that the “unreal,” invisible world of our thoughts is where some rationality may be found, and that morality will require rationality, but that we must learn to separate the social from the cerebral. One example of such would be not ever saying things like “my country, right or wrong.” It’s the right or wrong part we need to start focussing on. Not so much the “my” bit, the social part. Being social is what makes us secure, of course it is.

But it doesn’t make us safe.

 

Jeff

Nov. 28th., 2018

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