All Commentary
Saturday, August 1, 1964

In Defense of Security


Mrs. Sargent, active for many years in the field of personal counseling, is a free-lance author from Springfield, Missouri.

We are constantly reading and hearing about security. Banks, in­vestment firms, insurance compa­nies build advertisements around the virtues of saving—for secur­ity. The liberal politicians and union heads plan their policies around an appeal to man’s urge for security. Psychologists and counselors make use of the word in discussions of emotional sta­bility. Security has become the frantic obsession of our age.

No one has a good word to say about insecurity.

Yet were it not for insecurity the human race probably would never have advanced beyond the mentality of the caveman.

It was his insecurity that prompted primitive man to find and invent instruments of self-protection and develop methods and tools for increasing his food supply. It was insecurity that led him to restrain an instinctive sus­picion and distrust of his fellow men and to unite with them for greater safety and well-being.

Insecurity in some form is be­hind most of the progress man­kind has made. Curiosity and am­bition are strong driving forces in human nature, but the tension of insecurity is frequently needed to prod men into action. If “neces­sity is the mother of invention,” insecurity is surely its father. Probably more work efforts and more ingenuity of ideas have been inspired by insecurity than by a comfortable environment and a life free of trouble.

It is the feeling of insecurity, not the ease of security that chal­lenges a man to strive for pros­perity and to prepare for the un­certainty of the future. Even the man of wealth who (apparently) would have no financial worry rec­ognizes the need to protect his in­terests and prepare for possible reverses of fortune. Insecurity is not a comfortable or contentment-creating sensation, but it is one of the inevitable tensions of life. And it is this very discomfort that prompts whatever efforts we make to improve conditions.

What do we mean when we speak of security?

The dictionary gives the follow­ing definitions: feelings of or as­surance of safety or certainty; freedom from fear, doubt, care, danger, or anxiety—a quality of being safe.

Is it possible to enjoy all of this safety?

Freedom from physical danger can be fairly well assured by the protective forces of the community in which we live and by our own common-sense safety precautions. This sort of security is attainable, or at least enough of it to elimi­nate haunting fears of danger. We do not dispute the desire for this aspect of security which, after all, is but a normal expres­sion of man’s self-protective in­stinct.

As promulgated today, the as­pect of security most frequently emphasized relates to economic conditions and the psychological effects of financial well-being or want. The apparent aim of those who beat the drum for security is for a security that would remove all anxiety about the present and future. Such emphasis upon secu­rity is grist to the mill of the so­cialistic schemers and welfare statists. While the motives of some of these idealists may be sincere, they are encouraging the pursuit of a false goal when they picture a life of continuous ease. The power-hungry men who wish to build an all-powerful govern­ment deliberately arouse fear of insecurity and sell their programs under the guise of providing im­mutable security.

The Absence of Challenge

But is security immutable?

If, by security, we understand a permanent or continuous state of well-being, a life devoid of prob­lems or obstacles, we are ascribing to security a permanence impossi­ble to realize. Neither the capital­istic system nor the welfare state has been able to achieve this, nor are they likely to in the future be­cause neither can eliminate change and uncertainty from life.

That tomorrow will come is a certainty. What it may bring by way of circumstances or events is an uncertainty. We may go along day after day in the same routine of existence, but any day an event may occur—with or without our personal instigation—which breaks into the pattern or which brings about a change in our af­fairs. It happens to someone, somewhere, every day.

To achieve and maintain an ideal state of economic security we would have to eliminate all un­certainty, all chance and change from life. We would have to deny what history and experience teaches—that uncertainty is al­ways with us. The changes and uncertainties of weather which af­fect the produce of the earth, and the market fluctuations of busi­ness are the obvious examples. All the political programs conceived to offset these fluctuations have in practice merely created new prob­lems and different kinds of anxi­ety and uncertainty.

When put to the test of logic, the idea of employment security is found to be equally irrational. In­dustry and business are too much affected by new inventions, new methods and by market fluctua­tions to ensure work opportunity to the entire employable popula­tion. The government may create jobs through bureaus or other make-work projects, but they can­not absorb all of the working classes.

All of this would appear to be so obvious to the intelligent reader that it is hardly necessary to state that security as an economic con­dition cannot be realized for soci­ety as a whole. Whatever degree of security it is possible for the individual to attain will be mainly through his own foresight and ef­forts, assuming that he has free­dom to work out his own destiny.

Every Choice Involves a Risk

That insecurity is a powerful driving force in motivating hu­man action would be hard to dis­pute. It is the awareness of inse­curity that impels our plans and preparations for the future. We take out health and accident in­surance, not as an assurance of good health or safety, but to be prepared for the possible unex­pected emergency or misfortune. The desire for prosperity, while motivated by the urge to enjoy the advantages and comforts of living, also prompts most of us to save or invest part of that prosperity for the future so it will (we hope) continue to be available.

People face insecurity to accom­plish a possible good. The early pioneers crossed the plains and mountains facing insecurity every mile of the way but went ahead courageously because they envi­sioned a new and better life at the end of the journey than the one they had left. It is doubtful that they thought of their adventure as a search for security, but they surely must have been aware of their insecurity.

Every man who establishes a new business or expands one al­ready in operation takes a risk, however well he has allowed for emergencies or unexpected costs. But he knowingly and optimis­tically faces the insecurity of the situation to achieve his objectives.

Many farmers have begged for removal of government controls. They prefer their freedom to op­erate without restriction, with the insecurity of nature’s whims and market fluctuations, with possible falling prices, to the false security of government subsidy with its controls and restrictions.

Psychologists often blame inse­curity for deviations of personality and neurosis of various types. But it is only when a feeling of inse­curity becomes a gnawing fear that it threatens emotional bal­ance. This the layman does not al­ways understand.

There are various causes of in­security tensions; lack of money is but one of them. At the same time having plenty of the world’s goods will not always ensure emo­tional stability. Many wealthy and famous persons have been driven to intemperance or suicide by feelings of insecurity which grew out of an unsolved personality prob­lem. Behind the problem was the individual’s failure to recognize or handle his own private insecu­rity.

As we pursue the analysis of security and its counterpart, inse­curity, we are led to the conclu­sion that the effect of either will be determined by the mental atti­tude of the individual in his reac­tion to circumstances. Whether the mental attitude brings about the circumstances, or the circum­stances create the mental attitude we will leave to the metaphysi­cians to debate. Our purpose here has been to show that insecurity will always be with us—with the individual—with society as a whole.

Insecurity is a normal factor of life. As a condition of life, or as an emotion, it serves a purpose. It can be an incentive or a challenge. Seen in proper perspective, it can be a blessing in disguise.

 

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Benjamin Franklin

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a lit­tle temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.