Living in Hazard






Security                             -                      Freedom
Certainty                           -                      Uncertainty
Known                               -                      Unknown
Order                                  -                      Chaos
Controlled                          -                      Uncontrolled
Conscious                          -                      Unconscious
Man                                    -                      God




In attempting to eliminate hazard, or accident, we also attempt to eliminate God.

Hazard is, by its nature, something that is beyond our control. It comes from the realm of the unknown. Our back is forever turned to it, and it is always creeping up on us.

A quest to eliminate hazard is a quest to make the unknown known - to map out every part of the terrain, and leave no peak unconquered, no depth unplumbed. It is the victory of conscious over unconscious; of knowledge over mystery.

In exerting control (or the illusion of control) we guard ourselves from the unknown. But if there is no identifiable cause - a node that we can isolate, an agent that we can lay blame upon - then we are forced to accept the presence of hazard, of randomness... and the limits of our ability to control.

Explanations light torches in the darkness of chaos; provide remedy to anxiety. 'Because' is a spark thats starts a fire.

We have a need for stories (sense-making) that orient us, that tell us where we are. The truth-value of these stories can, at times, seem irrelevant; what is important is the existence of the story itself, and the comforting effect it brings. Perhaps the story will lead us to ruin, or perhaps it will lead us to a more positive outcome; regardless, what is important is that right here and now we have something to cling to - and something is mostly better than nothing.

Instead of attempting to eliminate hazard, we can instead attempt to encourage resilience. The random cannot be planned for but it can be prepared for. So whilst we cannot define best-practice procedures to be followed in the event of an as yet unknown scenario, we can define a set of useful heuristics to follow instead. The difference is in the level of abstraction: we shift from the specific (do these things in this order) to the abstract (improvise using these guidelines or principles).




Only the blind can fail to see the irony of the situation the human species brought upon itself when it tried to master its own fate and to eliminate accident.

It bent its knees to History; and History is a cruel God.

[Czeslaw Milosz]
The Captive Mind, p. 211




Bert: [...] In our society we seem to want to protect ourselves from risks.

Hillman: I learned something from Malidoma Somé. He brought up one time how amazed he was with the idea of insurance in our world, that when some peculiar thing happens, we don’t think of "the invisibles" or fate or destiny, or meaning, or what could be going on.

We think, instead, of calling the insurance adjuster. We think of making a claim. We don’t think that we’ve been visited by "the invisibles," but that this may even be a chance to make a little money.

Insurance insures us against the "invisible" world. 

That’s a remarkable thing. I think Malidoma saw something crucial. Insurance is really a giant umbrella against the incursions of the unexpected.

Bert: As you talk of character and risk, the image that comes to my mind is that of Joseph Campbell, "Follow your bliss."

Hillman: Aha! Of course, Michael Meade has made it clear that doesn’t just mean going through life smiling like Forrest Gump and eating chocolates. Meade points this out by pointing to a passage from Campbell that has to do with passion and adventure. You don’t know what you’re going to get into when you follow your bliss.

That’s what we’ve lost in our culture now. We’re an "air bag" society that wants guarantees on everything that we buy. We want to be able to take everything back and get another one. We want a 401-k plan, and Social Security.  

The whole arrangement of our life is built against the incursions of the unknown into our life.

Bert: And it’s the incursions of the unknown in our life that create the magic, fuel our passions.

Hillman: They challenge us, too, and in that sense keep us alive.

Bert: Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem: "Our role in life is to be decisively defeated by greater and greater Beings."

Hillman: That’s extraordinary, isn’t it? And youth won’t bear this kind of dull thing, the way we carve out risk-free lives where nothing happens, and of course they become absurdly violent and ritualistic. Because something else must be given to youth.

[James Hillman]
with Bert H. Hoff
Online interview, you can find it here
.



A god who revealed his will, who 'heard' us, who answered our prayers, who was propitiable, the kind of god simple people like to imagine would be desirable: such a god would destroy all our hazard, all our purpose and all our happiness.

Hazard has conditioned us to live in hazard.

All our pleasures are dependent on it. Even though I arrange for a pleasure, and look forward to it, my eventual enjoyment of it is still a matter of hazard. Wherever time passes, there is hazard. You may die before you turn the next page.

In order that we have meaning, purpose and pleasure it has been, is, and always will be necessary that we love in a whole that is indifferent to every individual thing in it; and the precise form of its indifference is that the duration of being and the fortune during being of each individual thing are fundamentally but not unconditionally in hazard.

What we call suffering, death, disaster, misfortune, tragedy, we should call the price of freedom. The only alternative to this suffering freedom is an unsuffering unfreedom.

Unknowing, or hazard, is as vital to man as water.

[John Fowles]
The Aristos, p. 17-18, 26



Control is what civilizations do. 

Perhaps it is what they are. Perhaps it is their central story. If we can control the world, we can protect ourselves from the darkness it contains. We can protect ourselves from what lies under the ground, in the tombs. Who doesn’t want to be protected? But who, in the end, can ever be?

[Paul Kingsnorth]
'Finnegas'




Rather than enabling the development of peoples and individuals so that they can aspire to secure themselves from whatever they find threatening and dangerous in worldly living, the liberal discourse of resilience functions to convince peoples and individuals that the dream of lasting security is impossible.

To be resilient, the subject must disavow any belief in the possibility to secure itself from the insecure sediment of existence, accepting instead an understanding of life as a permanent process of continual adaptation to threats and dangers which appear outside its control.

[Brad Evans & Julien Reid]
Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously, p .68




To paraphrase Danny Kahneman, for psychological comfort some people would rather use a map of the Pyrénées while lost in the Alps than use nothing at all. They do not do so explicitly, but they actually do worse than that while dealing with the future and using risk measures. The would prefer a defective forecast to nothing.

Positive advice is usually the province of the charlatan. Bookstores are full of books on how someone became successful; there are almost no books with the title What I Learned Going Bust, or Ten Mistakes to Avoid in Life.

Linked to this need for positive advice is the preference we have to do something rather than nothing, even in cases when doing something is harmful.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 367-8




[…] Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs had a built-in respect for the limits of knowledge. There is a treatise by the medieval Arab philosopher and doctor Al-Ruhawi which betrays the familiarity of these Mediterranean cultures with iatrogenics.

I have also in the past speculated that religion saved lives by taking the patient away from the doctor. You could satisfy your illusion of control by going to the Temple of Apollo rather than seeing the doctor. What is interesting is that the ancient Mediterraneans may have understood the trade-off very well and may have accepted religion partly as a tool to tame the illusion of control.

You cannot do anything with knowledge unless you know where it stops, and the costs of using it.

Post-Enlightenment science, and its daughter superstar science, were lucky to have done well in (linear) physics, chemistry, and engineering. But at some point we need to give up on elegance to focus on something that was given short shrift for a very long time: the maps showing what current knowledge and current methods do not do for us; and a rigorous study of generalised scientific iatrogenics, what harm can be caused by science (or, better, an exposition of what harm has been done by science).

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 369-70




If you are not a washing machine or a cuckoo clock - in other words, if you are alive - something deep in your soul likes a certain amount of randomness and disorder.

There is a titillating feeling associated with randomness […] I myself, while writing these lines, try to avoid the tyranny of a precise and explicit plan, drawing from an opaque source inside me that gives me surprises. Writing is only worth it when it provides us with the tingling effect go an adventure, which is why I enjoy the composition of books and dislike the straitjacket of the 750-word op-ed […]

If I could predict what my day would exactly look like, I would feel a little bit dead.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 62-3