Living in 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.  




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




"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