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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Risk-Free Existence

The moral decay of our once great nation is not about parties. It arises from the fantasy that we can eliminate all risk from life.

While eliminating risk is what everyone wants to do, and what everyone works to do, it has its limits. We can save, and invest - but the bank could fold, the business could bankrupt, the jar of gold coins could be stolen. These failures can be because of bad luck, or bad choices.

We can go to school to try to learn the right things, we can buy insurance, we can be careful about what we hedge and what we risk. But all life is risk - every single day you might trip, have a heart attack, be hit by a bus, get robbed at gunpoint and shot dead. You cannot plan all risk out of life, and trying to do so causes us to commit grave injustices against others and to make everyone profoundly unhappy.

The only truly risk-free life would be, disembodied brains, encased in layers of steel and concrete, somehow fed by a source similarly protected from the outside - protected from every conceivable threat. But what kind of life is that?

A life without risk, is a life without the joy of success. It is a life without the possibility of happiness - for happiness is not sitting plugged into a machine, encased in concrete, protected from everything. Happiness is achievement of your goals. The very idea of a goal, presumes risk - risk that you may fail.

To some, making life's decisions is scary. It is risky. They seek to eliminate this risk by having others make their choices for them. They delegate making their choices to their parents, to their teachers, to their spouse, to their Union Boss, to their political leaders, to their religion. They don't want to have to choose; if they have to choose they might fail.

Why is failure so hard for people? Nobody wants to be a loser. But so what, big deal! Put it in perspective. If you're not dead, count your blessings - you are already a hundred times better off than almost every one of your ancestors. But perspective is precisely what we lack.

This fear of failure is so great, this desire to eliminate risk so powerful, that our nation has now instituted laws so that everyone can be a winner. No business need bankrupt, we'll bail you out! Noone need do menial work, everyone can go to college and be an intellectual! No homeowner need default on a loan, the government will make the bank eat it!

Our savings are not enough security, so we make the government guarantee them. That guarantee is not enough so we buy insurance, but that is not enough so we make the government guarantee THAT and make it so that we can never lose it. But that is not enough - and if someone could make a machine to actually suck the life force out of others and put it in to you, we would demand that the government use it to redistribute life itself.

But all this does is make other people bear the consequences for your failure. It doesn't eliminate it. It just makes you think you didn't fail. It protects you from the reality of your bad decisions. It protects you from having to feel bad - at the cost of making others suffer for your mistakes, or for your bad luck. What gives you the right to punish others to protect you from your own choices, from your own feelings?

And so what? What's the big deal anyway? Grownups have feelings - grownups deal with them. Grownups make mistakes - grownups learn from them. Humans alone among animals have the unique capacity for reason which lets us truly choose, and truly learn.

It is only children and the mentally damaged who cannot deal with their emotions, and who can not learn from their mistakes. Who refuse to learn from their mistakes, who instead insist on living in a fantasy that is not the real world, a fantasy universe created and sustained on the toiling backs of others. Parenting is supposed to prepare children for the real world, to provide an environment they can survive in long enough to reach maturity, to make their own life choices. But something happened over the past 50 years, perverting that safe harbor into something that they now expect to last their entire lives. Everyone is now their parents, millions of them - we now need never grow up, because the law makes these others take care of us.

We have become a nation of children, trying to each live in a risk-free concrete bubble, trying desperately to avoid having to correct the mistakes we make, or even to feel anything bad at all. For these, freedom is freedom from having to make the choices of life.

Whatever the hell that is, it's not human. A life chosen by others, protected by others, guaranteed by others, is not your life.