Beware of Hazard

Security                             -                      Freedom
Certainty                           -                      Uncertainty
Known                               -                      Unknown
Order                                  -                      Chaos
Controlled                          -                      Uncontrolled
Rational                             -                      Non-rational
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).

In its insatiable need to ask more questions and solve more problems, the rational-materialist-utilitarian mindset is always moving in one direction: towards perfection by way of efficiency ... and away from danger, dirt, and death.  

In attempting to control something we divorce it from its context - cut its connections - and also do the same to ourselves. Both object and subject are de-worlded, placed into the desiccated 'free space' of science.

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

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

Too much social security and equality breed individual restlessness and frustration: hazard starvation and variety starvation. The nightmare of the welfare state is boredom.

The higher the standard of living, the greater the need for variety. The greater the leisure, the greater the lack of tension.

[John Fowles]
The Aristos, p.118

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]

The libido domanandi is a Latin term that can be roughly translated as “lust for domination.” The lust for domination is, for Augustine, the driving impulse of fallen man and his society (the city of man).

“Therefore I cannot refrain from speaking about the city of this world, a city which aims at dominion, which holds nations in enslavement, but is itself dominated by that very lust of domination.”

This lust for domination, as what drives life—or more accurately from Augustine’s view, destroys it—is motivated by service to the self and want to control everything: control what is good, control what is “fact” or “true”, control how others behave, control who receives laurels and praise, and so forth.

The ramification of the libido dominandi is, ultimately, objectification. Man begins objectifying others, and the world, as an object to control and be controlled. Johann Fichte and Georg Hegel used the language of the Other. Karl Marx used the language of commodification. Herbert Kelman uses the language of depersonalization. Martha Nussbaum calls it instrumentalization.

[Paul Krause]
'Augustine’s City of God, XI: Understanding the Libido Dominandi'

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

"Is it not enough to render him harmless? why punish him as well? To administer punishment is itself dreadful!'- with this question herd morality, the morality of timidity, draws its ultimate conclusion. Supposing all danger, the cause of fear, could be abolished, this morality would therewith also be abolished: it would no longer be necessary, it would no longer regard itself as necessary! 

- He who examines the conscience of the present-day European will have to extract from a thousand moral recesses and hiding-places always the same imperative, the imperative of herd timidity: 'we wish that there will one day no longer be anything to fear!' 

One day – everywhere in Europe the will and way to that day is now called 'progress'.

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
Beyond Good and Evil, 201

You want if possible - and there is no madder ‘if possible' - to abolish suffering; and we? - it really does seem that we would rather increase it and make it worse than it has ever been! 

Wellbeing as you understand it – that is no goal, that seems to us an end! A state which soon renders man ludicrous and contemptible - which makes it desirable that he should perish! The discipline of suffering, of great suffering - do you not know that it is this discipline alone which has created every elevation of mankind hitherto ? 

That tension of the soul in misfortune which cultivates its strength, its terror at the sight of great destruction, its inventiveness and bravery in undergoing, enduring, interpreting, exploiting misfortune, and whatever of depth, mystery, mask, spirit, cunning and greatness has been bestowed upon it - has it not been bestowed through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering? 

In man, creature and creator are united: in man there is matter, fragment, excess, clay, mud, madness, chaos; but in man there is also creator, sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divine spectator and the seventh day - do you understand this antithesis? And that your pity is for the 'creature in man', for that which has to be formed, broken, forged, torn, burned, annealed, refined - that which has to suffer and should suffer? And our pity - do you not grasp whom our opposite pity is for when it defends itself against your pity as the worst of all pampering and weakening? - 

Pity against pity, then! 

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
Beyond Good and Evil, 225

The modern world exhausts and in doing so it makes everything rigid or turns it into a diffuse blob […] There follows on from this also a spiritual and intellectual rigidity, the orientation of the ideologue, of the social activist, but also of all our intellectual class right and left, as of those who work in the corporate world and in most of the military. 

They’re stiff and constrained because, in short, they live in utter fear, fear that they will lose something […] Our politicians are all like this, and quiver in fear of the spanking hand. Everyone was already so tired of their robotic platitudes, that they repeat out of timidity and because they’re all owned; which is why a man like Trump, who seems not to care, and to find joy in this flouting and energy in this outrageous loosening - he seduces. 

The modern world is a killjoy, in short. 

But the ancient Greeks were quite different […] What they admired was a carelessness and freedom from constraint that would shock us, and that upsets especially the dour leftist and the conservative role-player.

[Bronze Age Pervert]
Bronze Age Mindset,  p. 116-7

If the goal of human society was to save lives, we would not go rafting, or mountain climbing, or even get on the highway. We know that intuitively, but despite that we’re suddenly paralysed by the strange illusion that safety and protecting our bodies is the only value that matters. 

[Safety] cannot be our only guiding value. Safety cannot be accomplished at the expense of every other value which constitutes human experience - values like community, exchange, adventure, risk-taking, and especially worship.

We have to be more aware of what a human being is and not let that go to the side in a society that is built only on one single value, that of safety or security. A human being is more complex, has other values and purposes, and some are actually more important than our safety.

[Jonathan Pageau]
‘The Blindness of "Following the Science”’

I thus come to the cheerful conclusion that life, including economic life, is still worth living because it is sufficiently unpredictable to be interesting. 

Neither the economist nor the statistician will get it 'taped'. Within the limits of the physical laws of nature, we are still masters of our individual and collective destiny, for good or ill.

But the know-how of the economist, the statistician, the natural scientist and engineer, and even of the genuine philosopher can help to clarify the limits within which our destiny is confined. The future cannot be forecast, but it can be explored. Feasibility studies can show us where we appear to be going, and this is more important today than ever before, since 'growth' has become a keynote of economics all over the world.

In his urgent attempt to obtain reliable knowledge about his essentially indeterminate future, the modern man of action may surround himself by ever-growing armies of forecasters, by ever growing mountains of factual data to be digested by ever more wonderful mechanical contrivances: I fear that the result is little more than a huge game of make-believe and an ever more marvellous vindication of Parkinson's Law. The best decisions will still be based on the judgments of mature non-electronic brains possessed by men who have looked steadily and calmly at the situation and seen it whole. 

'Stop, look, and listen' is a better motto than 'Look it up in the forecasts'.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p.200

In another early essay, misleadingly entitled “The Will to Believe," James explored the shortcomings of science with the same insight he had brought to the shortcomings of art.

The scientific worldview, he argued, seemingly so "healthy” and “robustious," so "rugged and manly" in its respect for facts, actually concealed a childish desire for certainty.

The longing for deliverance from doubt, enshrined in the epistemological tradition of modern philosophy as the distinction between certitude and mere “opinion," had to be regarded not as the beginning of wisdom but as the product of a "weakness of our nature from which we must free our selves, if we can.”

Science, at least as it was construed by the Cartesian tradition of philosophy, had inherited the attitude of those who longed to live in a risk-free world.

It betrayed an "excessive nervousness" in the face of possible error. Verification, that much-vaunted principle of modern science, was a technique merely for avoiding error, not for wresting truth from chaos. "Better risk loss of truth than chance of error, - that is your faith-vetoer's exact position.”

It was a position that could never serve as a guide to the conduct of life. The "agnostic rules for truthseeking” laid down by "scientific absolutists” betrayed a timorous state of mind, an unwillingness to act, a suspension of judgment that ignored the whole field of religious experience and its testimony to the power of faith.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p. 289

The disenchantment of the world, according to Cox, delivered mankind from “dependence on the fates” and “expelled the demons from nature and politics.” 

Tribalism took root in fear and superstition, which would inevitably diminish as man became master of his destiny.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.384-5

Although the Enlightenment liberated mankind from superstition and subservience to authority, it dissolved any awareness of the natural limits on human powers. It gave rise to the dangerous fantasy that man could remodel both the natural world and human nature itself.

Enlightenment transformed moral philosophy into social engineering, thus making it impossible for critical thought to serve as “mankind’s memory and conscience,” in Horkheimer’s telling phrase.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.446

While Lacan is criticized for constituting sexual difference on the basis of the phallic function and subjectivity on the basis of paternal authority, what the Lacanian project does provide for feminism is not the idea of a malleable culture, susceptible to human mastery, as distinct from a fixed nature that escapes it, but the more disconcerting idea that human mastery, of ourselves, of others, of nature and culture, is itself illusory.

Rather than the promise of a rational progress toward greater and greater equality, respect for individual difference, and universality, Lacan's insights, like Freud's, point toward the precariousness of identity and social bonds and to the instability of the drives that attach us to one another.

In addition to the distinctiveness of his method, focus, and insight, this willingness to grapple with the limits of self-mastery is one reason why Lacan has been taken as an innovative and amenable resource for some feminist theorists. In exposing the inadequacies of social or empirical accounts of sexual difference, identity, and the power relations built upon them, Lacan confronts the fundamental structures at the root of empirical socio-historical circumstances.

[Emily Zakin]
‘Psychoanalytic Feminism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[…] our scientific obsession with prediction is ultimately based on the illusion of control. The dream goes that if science can describe a system according to some theory or model, and if it can predict the outcome of particular effects, then it becomes possible to control nature.

This desire for control has come under particular attack from feminists who see it as the direct outcome of a paternalistic attitude toward nature. Ecologists are also uneasy with the belief that more and more science can be used to solve the world's outstanding problems by exerting ever more control.

Native science, for its part, is concerned with relationship, harmony, and balance in the movement of the sun, moon, and planets; the sequence of seasons; the arrival of the Thunder Birds in spring; the Four Winds; the movements of game; and the fertility of the land.

Scientific control of these phenomena would imply a distancing and separation from them.

The use of ceremony and renewal within Native tradition involves a different metaphysics. Ceremonies are held to ensure success in hunting, or in planting corn. In these ceremonies direct participation within natural processes is called for, along with acts of obligation and sacrifice. To hold a ceremony in order that the sun will rise tomorrow is different from the desire to seek a way of controlling, or exerting force, over the sun's movements.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.253-4

Wherein does Machiavelli differ from the Enlightenment tradition? Above all in his concept of Fortuna.

Machiavelli certainly believed as passionately as any thinker of the Enlightenment that our investigations should issue in generalizations which may furnish maxims for enlightened practice. But he also believed that no matter how good a stock of generalizations one amassed and no matter how well one reformulated them, the factor of Fortuna was ineliminable from human life.

[...] given the best possible stock of generalizations, we may on the day be defeated by an unpredicted and unpredictable counter-example - and yet still see no way to improve upon our generalizations and still have no reason to abandon them or even to reformulate them.

We can by improvements in our knowledge limit the sovereignity of Fortuna, bitch-goddess of unpredictability; we cannot dethrone her.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.109

To know how to affirm chance is to know how to play. But we do not know how to play, "Timid, ashamed, awkward, like a tiger whose leap has failed. But what of that you dicethrowers! You have not learned to play and mock as a man ought to play and mock!".

The bad player counts on several throws of the dice, on a great number of throws. In this way he makes use of causality and probability to produce a combination that he sees as desirable. He posits this combination itself as an end to be obtained, hidden behind causality.

To abolish chance by holding it in the grip of causality and finality, to count on the repetition of throws rather than affirming chance, to anticipate a result instead of affirming necessity - these are all the operations of a bad player.

They have their root in reason, but what is the root of reason? The spirit of revenge, nothing but the spirit of revenge [...] Ressentiment in the repetition of throws, bad conscience in the belief in a purpose.

That the universe has no purpose, that it has no end to hope for any more than it has causes to be known - this is the certainty necessary to play well.

Not a probability distributed over several throws but all chance at once; not a final, desired, willed combination, but the fatal combination, fatal and loved, amor fati; not the return of a combination by the number of throws, but the repetition of a dicethrow by the nature of the fatally obtained number.

[Gilles Deleuze]
Nietzsche and Philosophy, p.26-7