Releasing people from the “burden” that comes with freedom in order to feel secure is an oft-repeated theme in the history of authoritarianism. A society that worships security is also a society ripe for tyranny. Our age can perhaps best be described as the age of cowards – given the fear, anxiety and helplessness most people display when faced with even trivial threats.
A long life is not always a good life! A so-called “safe” life without challenges and adventures is inert and leads to the death of body and mind in all that stagnation, repetition, boredom and stagnation. Such a person does not live, but only exists. When society elevates security to a position of first-order value, liberty is often demoted to a position of second-order value that can be trampled upon by those in power who throughout history have masked tyrannical intentions by claiming that they want to society more secure.
We are not a generation that marches bravely and heroically towards an uncertain future, but most people fear the future and prefer safety, comfort and easy living to risk, experimentation and freedom.
Or as the 21st century sociologist Frank Furedi writes: “Young people are socialized to feel insecure and overwhelmed by uncertainty, and as a result, a key feature of the current Western version of the person is their vulnerability. Although society still supports the ideal of self-determination and autonomy, the values associated with them are increasingly overcome by the message that emphasizes human frailty. And if vulnerability is indeed a key feature of the human condition, it follows that fear is a normal state…”
Preoccupation with uncertainty, fear of the future, conceptualizing oneself as vulnerable, weak and fragile is not a recipe for individual and social progress.
On the contrary, this lifestyle promotes mental illness and paves the way for authoritarian rule. In fact, the world would benefit if more people were willing to live just a little more dangerously.
As the historian Tacitus said: “The desire for security stands against every great and noble venture.”
However, not all societies place security as high on the value scale as the West does. Many advanced societies in the past considered certainty a secondary value and showed a remarkable ability to take risks in the face of an uncertain future and to display courage and heroism in the presence of dangers.
“Historically, some of the most prosperous societies—ancient Athens, Renaissance Italy, 19th-century Britain—were among those most oriented toward experimentation and risk-taking.”
By taking the opposite approach and showing a strong bias towards certainty, the development of human potential is not actualized but stunted. To develop at the individual level and progress as a species requires man to explore the unknown and experiment with new ways of interacting with the world, and this includes taking risks and facing danger.
When society elevates security to a position of first-order value, freedom is necessarily degraded to a position of second-order value, which can be trampled upon by those in power and who throughout history have masked tyrannical intentions by claiming that they want to make society more secure.
Things get worse if society socializes people to fear the future and overwhelms them with uncertainty. The masses will welcome it or openly call on authority to protect them, or as Furedi puts it: “Releasing people from the burden of freedom in order to feel secure, , is a recurring theme in the history of authoritarianism.”
A society that worships security is also a society ripe for tyranny. Namely, when the threatening clouds of authoritarian rule cloud the horizon, unless more people are willing to take risks and face danger in the service of values such as freedom, justice, peace and social cooperation, the grip of tyrants will only tighten or , as John Stuart Mill said: “A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, something that means more to him than his security, is a wretched creature who has no chance of being free unless it is created and maintained by the efforts of better men than himself.”
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the proponents of this classical approach to life and praised Pericles, the Athenian leader who in his famous funeral oration celebrated the Athenians with “indifference and contempt for security, body and life.”
To stand up to this modern world where, to paraphrase author Christopher Cocker, “…we tend to deprive ourselves of the fullness of our lives in order to support our smallness.”
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for politicians to pass laws that approve a bolder approach to life. We just have to live that way. We should see the uncertain future as a source of threats, but also as a new hope and opportunity, and we must consider taking risks as justified in defense of cherished values or as part of the pursuit of worthwhile goals.”
By demoting the security of our rightful place as a secondary value, we will cease to live as helpless pawns who must be petted by the authorities from youth to old age, and we will also regain the ability to shape the course of our lives.
Then we will be able to mature psychologically and become better equipped to face whatever the future brings, because as Nietzsche explains: “Danger acquaints us with our own resources: with our virtues, with our armor and weapons, with the strength of our spirit, and makes us strong. First principle: a person must be strong – otherwise he will never become strong.”
Although sometimes taking risks and flirting with danger can shorten your life, it is useful to remember that a long life is not necessarily a good life. A secure life without real challenges and adventures is inert and leads to the extinction of the body and mind in all that stagnation, repetition, boredom and stagnation – such a person does not live, but only exists. Or, as the Roman stoic Seneca put it: “… if a man has gray hair and wrinkles it does not mean that he has lived long – perhaps he has only existed for a long time.”
Moreover, helping someone to live more fully, to be bolder in taking risks and flirting with danger, can turn out to be a great benefactor to humanity. As long as the values that guide us and the goals we strive for are noble, courage encourages a caring attitude for the good of others.
Because, unlike the villain who is primarily concerned with his own security and who demands that others conform to his or her neurotic life, the hero is willing to risk his or her life and body in the service of values that move society forward or as says the moral theory: “If someone says that he means a lot to a person, the relationship with him, but is not willing to take risks on his behalf, he questions the truth of his care for that person. Courage and the ability to take risks have their role in a person’s life, especially in relationships with others.”
So if we want to live a fulfilling life, take care of our mental health and take care of the future of our society, we have to act boldly and not bow down at the altar of certainty.
Author: Rozeta Paskali