Promote Insecurity!

 

We often crave things that are bad for us. We have long known this to be true in the physical realm: eating too much food is not good.

But we also have a deep and innate desire for security – a stocked freezer and a well-provisioned bank account. We want to be able to live our lives without worries, to keep all our fears at bay.

The problem is that all the evidence we have suggests that people do not, as a rule, excel when they have nothing to worry about. It is adversity that tests the soul, insecurity that forces us to grow and improve and change. Popularly, “necessity is the mother of invention,” or as the English so pithily put it: “Needs Must.”

The best waiters are those who know they have to be excellent, that there is no easy “fallback” option. This is why the Torah forbids the priests to have any landed inheritance: they are in a service industry (to G-d and man), and service requires certainty that in order to make a living, one cannot treat customers poorly.

It is loneliness that makes us reach out to form relationships. When Adam and Eve are punished after eating the fruit, they are condemned to a state of need: Adam needs to make bread, and Eve needs her husband. It is this altered state that makes them work, create, grow, and learn how to coexist.

By contrast, the snake is told he will eat dust. But there is no shortage of dust! The snake is not lonely or needy; he has everything he needs. And so, of all of them, the snake is the most cursed, because he actually lives a static life. Adam and Eve, on the other hand, grow and change and create.

The snake is the DMV employee, merely punching the clock and going through the motions. People who are inextricably bonded to the welfare teat and trust fund babies have this in common with the snake: they do not have true insecurity, and so they are, as a rule, consequently useless as productive, creative human beings.

In those times when people manage to create their own sense of security, it is much like consistently eating too much: there is a long, albeit often slow, decline. Companies and bureaucracies work the same way: in desperate wartime, anything seems possible, and the incredible becomes commonplace. But in comfortable and secure bureaucracies conducting a “war” on ISIS or procuring the warfighter for the next century, Parkinson’s Laws apply: everyone is always busy, and nothing gets done. This is why disruptors disrupt: established entities do not crave or embrace insecurity; they do everything possible to reduce uncertainties, even at the cost of missing out on enormous opportunities. Insecurity is a necessary precondition for human innovation and ingenuity.

Of course, sometimes the cure can be worse than the illness. By itself, insecurity is the petri dish for some singularly bad organisms. It is insecurity that leads to blind obedience to strong leaders, to tribalism and eventually villagers with torches and pitchforks. It is insecurity that drives the demonization of the strange and the unknown, the metastasis of our welfare system, the infantilism of every citizen, the creation and seeming-permanence of Obamacare, even when it has been shown to be awful. It is insecurity that leads single women to predominantly vote Democrat.

Indeed, our fear of insecurity often perversely leads to far worse outcomes: people are irrational. We are more afraid of loss than we are excited about gain. So a poor “health insurance” is preferred to a far better (but more varied and yet-undetermined) actual health care. Most people elect strongmen or nanny states run by self-appointed “experts,” because the alternatives are just too frightening. Indeed, at this point it seems clear that even the majority of the citizenry of the United States has tipped away from any pride in rugged individualism, into a reflexive need to create security, a sense of safety at any cost at all. “Safety First.”

From a religious perspective, insecurity leads people to seek and embrace helplessness, a fatalistic belief that since G-d (or the gods) run everything anyway, nothing we do really matters. “If everything is in G-d’s hands, then I can slide into mediocre passivity.” There is even an atheistic version of the same belief: “Since we are so much smaller than the universe, our lives don’t really matter, so I might as well just seek to enjoy myself as much as possible in the time that I have.”

I think that the vast majority of the world chooses this defense mechanism in some form. But as Mao showed us so vividly, just because most people go in a certain direction does not make it a good idea.

For me, the Torah presents us with a colossal and daunting challenge: G-d made the world, and handed it to us to finish. In the Torah, insecurity in all of its forms (mortality, loneliness, thirst, hunger, suffering etc.) is given as a spur for us to seek better relationships with G-d and with man. Adam and Eve are told to go and improve the world.

But this is harder than ever today, when we have so very much wealth compared to our ancestors. The unique challenge of the modern world is to help people find meaning even when our material needs are satisfied; we are lousy at raising children in luxury. Why should we seek a relationship with G-d when our incomes seem to be disconnected from any divine favor?

Insecurity is a necessary but not sufficient precondition for achieving meaning in our lives, for doing great things. G-d is not our nanny: He is our partner, helping each of us to see what it is we must do. But it is we, not G-d, who have to make the choices, who have to have the courage and will to do the heavy lifting.

There are 29 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    So often I hear people say, “Life is hard!” But isn’t that the point? I completely agree that we cannot grow unless we have the courage to test the unknown, to leave the familiar behind, to create something completely (at least to us) new.  We do need time to rest and reflect–thus, the Sabbath. But we are called to do so much more. Those who hold back don’t realize what they are giving up. Or maybe at some level, they actually do. And that’s when self-hatred sets in: I don’t have the guts to risk, so I’ll blame someone else.

    Thanks, iWe, a great post with much to chew on!

    • #1
  2. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    iWe great post.

    So much truth and wisdom.

     

    • #2
  3. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins
    @MichaelCollins

    Or as the Bard put it:

    “But make amends now: get you gone,

    And at the pit of Acheron,

    Meet me i’the morning: thither he

    Will come to know his destiny:

    Your vessels and your spells provide,

    Your charms and everything beside.

    I am for the air: this night I’ll spend

    Unto a dismal and a fatal end:

    Great business must be wrought ere noon,

    Upon the corner of the moon

    There hangs a vaporous drop profound;

    I’ll catch it ere it comes to ground:

    And that, distill’d by magic sleights,

    Shall raise such artificial sprites,

    As, by the strength of their illusion,

    Shall draw him on to his confusion:

    He shall spurn fate, scorn death and bear

    His hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace, and fear:

    And you all know security

    Is mortals’ chiefest enemy.

    • #3
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @nandapanjandrum

    Wisdom…Let us attend!  In friendship, though, one can recognize G-d’s support as one strives.  I experience it daily! Thanks, as ever, for this!

    • #4
  5. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Insecurity promotes change.  There is no reason that change has to be good.

    • #5
  6. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    Insecurity promotes change. There is no reason that change has to be good.

    Agreed. And yet it is quite clear (at least to me) that stasis is not good.

    • #6
  7. doulalady Member
    doulalady
    @doulalady

    The Amish call this condition “fullness of bread”. During his homily at Mass this morning Father said a priest’s wish on being ordained should be to have his heart broken every day so as to remind him to place his trust were it most rightly belongs, not in earthly treasures but in G-d alone.

    • #7
  8. Snirtler Member
    Snirtler
    @Snirtler

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Thanks, iWe, a great post with much to chew on!

    Yes. Thank you for a post that, as usual, succeeds in being theological, political, management, and social commentary all at the same time.

    • #8
  9. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    I currently work for immediate physical money on 3 days a week. I don’t like it because it’s early in the day and the prep work (making lectures for teaching) is miserable. But I find that I’m less unhappy on the days I teach than the days I have nothing I have to do.

    A little over a year ago, when I went several months without gainful employment, (but I was still doing things for future gainful employment) I found I was much less happy than I was with a job that I didn’t really care for but I had deadlines and places I needed to be.

    Strange how human psychology works.

    • #9
  10. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    There’s a short economics opinion piece from 30 years ago that described this as the “crunchiness cycle.” Poverty causes crunchiness, that is, insecurity and immediate consequences of one’s actions. Crunchiness leads to  good decisions and wealth. Wealth causes sogginess, that is, security and immediate protection from consequences. Sogginess leads to bad decisions and poverty.

    • #10
  11. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Keynesianism / statist inflationism  is the same thing. The wealthy / Ruling Class  get asset bubbles, various forms of protected jobs (“protected class”), and K Street manipulations and then the poor and middle class get crumbs from the government in exchange for giving up agency. Anyone that is associated with Big Finance in any way does great. Rent seeking, dependency, and graft. Voting just compounds it. Then the money runs out. We have been doing this since Woodrow Wilson.

    Who isn’t guilty? Very few.

    • #11
  12. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    The reason this post even gets written is because we have been doing too much central planing for too long and no the GDP is stuck 33% lower than what it needs to be for people to have agency and a decent level of prosperity.

    • #12
  13. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Brilliant post.

    In my opinion this is why many very successful men really struggle with retirement.

    • #13
  14. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Excellent post. There is much wisdom there. I wasn’t sure where you were going. My first thought was toward politics and how the history of the last hundred years is to seek security, certainly not insecurity. I do think insecurity can lead to growth. However it will never be a winning political position.

    • #14
  15. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I think people would be less afraid of failure if they could see what was lying beyond it.

    Agents and other advisers who work with authors who are just starting out tell them to always have a manuscript out there somewhere being considered for publication. That way, when the rejections come, as they surely will, there will still be hope.

    I tried to bring up my kids with that thought in mind–reach for the stars, and remember there are millions of them.

    Great post. Thank you so much.

    • #15
  16. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    iWe (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    Insecurity promotes change. There is no reason that change has to be good.

    Agreed. And yet it is quite clear (at least to me) that stasis is not good.

    Stasis, in ancient Greece, was the situation where the city state was paralyzed by internal conflict.  It often led to the rise of a tyrant who ruled as absolute leader.

    We and our society need challenges to move us forward.

    • #16
  17. SecondBite Member
    SecondBite
    @SecondBite

    Has anyone else noticed that human population explodes the fastest where conditions are just barely livable?  Thank you for for the post.

    • #17
  18. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    I’ve been thinking about this all morning, and I’m going to have to qualify what I said above.  Being a project manager, I put on my risk management cap on while thinking about this.  Not all insecurities are prudent, perhaps maybe most are not.  Would people consciously choose to live in a dangerous neighborhood to save on housing expenses?  Would people consciously choose to give up their health insurance to save some money?  Would a nation not pay for its military taking on the risk of being invaded?  Living in safe neighborhoods, paying for health insurance, paying for a state of the art military are all acts of reducing insecurities.  There are probably a million different things we do on a regular, unconscious basis where we choose a secured, less riskier path than an insecure one.

    Not that what iWe is saying is wrong.  What it comes down to is risk management.  Is the risk we absorb worth the potential benefit?  There are times when a riskier, less secure path makes sense.  If there is no established technology to satisfy my project’s goals, then it makes sense to take on a high risk solution.  But if there is a known, established technology to satisfy my project, then it would be imprudent to implement a high risk option.  The objective can be met without taking risk.  As anyone who has managed a high risk project, failure happens.  Is that failure catastrophic, say as facing a firing squad in North Korea, or have we put in place securities that can buffer your failure, say a promise from your employer to not be fired if you fail, or at least unemployment insurance to carry you to the next job.

    Now investors might say that you can’t get rich without high risk investments.  True, but what most investment managers tell you is to have a mix of safe and high risk investments for a balanced portfolio.  That act of balancing is an attempt to manage risk and minimize insecurity.

    Just as in project management, people ought to be conscious of risks in their decision making.   That doesn’t mean you don’t do insecure things, but you should be conscious of the reasons you take on insecurities, and you plan accordingly.

    Still there is wisdom in what iWe wrote.  Taking risks will definitely move you to a different place, and well worth taking if you are unhappy or unsatisfied.

    • #18
  19. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    iWe (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    Insecurity promotes change. There is no reason that change has to be good.

    Agreed. And yet it is quite clear (at least to me) that stasis is not good.

    Agreed.

    I am reminded of a video of Rabbi Daniel Lappin who explained that we are either improving or getting worse. We can never achieve stasis, and when we think we do have stasis, that we’re “maintaining” that’s when we’re getting worse.

    • #19
  20. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Manny (View Comment):
    Being a project manager, I put on my risk management cap on while thinking about this.

    Engineers manage and seek to reduce risks. Yet they do not have matching “reward matrices.”

    • #20
  21. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    This is why Income Inequality is good.  Each individual has the capacity to improve his or her Earnings (I prefer this word to Income), by improving himself or herself.  This is why the minimum wage concept is destructive of humanity-why improve yourself if the government simply mandates that you should be paid more for the work you are already doing?

    Oh, and Asimov knew this-that’s why the Spacer worlds declined and disappeared (except for Solaria with its constant change), and the Settler worlds multiplied and took over the Galaxy.

    • #21
  22. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    iWe (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    Being a project manager, I put on my risk management cap on while thinking about this.

    Engineers manage and seek to reduce risks. Yet they do not have matching “reward matrices.”

    Actually that’s not true, at least where I work. We try to have a portfolio of projects like an investment portfolio. It includes high risk, high potential return projects. Certainly individual projects assess the most reasonable means of accomplishing the objective, and often it includes high risk approaches when warranted. I think you mentioned necessity as a driver. Necessity drives projects as well.

    • #22
  23. NCforSCFC Member
    NCforSCFC
    @NCforSCFC

    Superb post.  I feel that I’ll be coming back to this occasionally for inspiration.

    • #23
  24. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    The problem is the government and the Fed is retarding opportunity now like in the 30’s. Riding people about this stuff isn’t ideal right now.

    • #24
  25. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @nandapanjandrum

    RufusRJones (View Comment):
    The problem is the government and the Fed is retarding opportunity now like in the 30’s. Riding people about this stuff isn’t ideal right now.

    RRJ, iWe is *reminding* , recalling, and encouraging…For himself as much as for others, I’m sure…

    • #25
  26. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):
    The problem is the government and the Fed is retarding opportunity now like in the 30’s. Riding people about this stuff isn’t ideal right now.

    RRJ, iWe is *reminding* , recalling, and encouraging…For himself as much as for others, I’m sure…

    I’m on the warpath about Ben Sasse’s schtick right now. His new book is a very misplaced political strategy if you ask me.

    • #26
  27. Songwriter Member
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    So often I hear people say, “Life is hard!” But isn’t that the point?

    I believe it was the Chinese who said (to this effect), “Once you accept that life is difficult, it ceases to be quite so difficult.”

    The inescapable burdens of life seem all the heavier to those raised to believe that “we deserve a break today” because “we are worth it.”

    • #27
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    I believe it was the Chinese who said (to this effect), “Once you accept that life is difficult, it ceases to be quite so difficult.”

    The inescapable burdens of life seem all the heavier to those raised to believe that “we deserve a break today” because “we are worth it.”

    Perfect, Songwriter.

    • #28
  29. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @nandapanjandrum

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):
    The problem is the government and the Fed is retarding opportunity now like in the 30’s. Riding people about this stuff isn’t ideal right now.

    RRJ, iWe is *reminding* , recalling, and encouraging…For himself as much as for others, I’m sure…

    I’m on the warpath about Ben Sasse’s schtick right now. His new book is a very misplaced political strategy if you ask me.

    Appreciate the context; haven’t seen Sen. Sasse’s recent work, so won’t opine, but wanted to support iWe’s premise, in particular.

    • #29

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