Monday, May 09, 2005

Real Security

In the face of any disaster scenario, of what are we afraid? The first thing that comes to mind is the safety of those we love. Here in San Francisco, in the back of everyone’s mind lurks the question, “when is the next quake coming?” In truth though, San Franciscans do not spend very much time thinking about it. (Hmm, that would make an interesting diary on collective denial). After the safety of loved ones and ourselves, let’s face it, we are afraid of losing our things and perhaps the niche in society we have made for ourselves. The more stuff and status we have, the more we have to lose. The vagabond friend crashing on your couch has nothing to lose but his backpack when the quake takes your house. He will say something like, “Whoa, dude. Sorry about your house,” and be off to Seattle. You will have lost the fruits of many years of hard work. You will likely have to find a new neighborhood to live in. If your place of work was destroyed, you will find yourself hunting for a new job. Paradoxically, it seems the more affluent we are, the more disaster has the ability to claim us. Moreover, what is the pursuit of affluence about anyway? Aside from the societal jockeying-for-position aspect, is it not about creating a cushion of security?

In 1971, Marshall Sahlins wrote an excellent essay on the meaning of affluence. Here is one excerpt. [Emphasis mine]

“There are two possible courses to affluence. Wants may be "easily satisfied" either by producing much or desiring little. The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way- based on the concept of market economies- states that man's wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although they can be improved. Thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that "urgent goods" become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, which states that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty - with a low standard of living.”

Later, he says of our hunter-gatherer ancestors and present day cousins...

“a pristine affluence colours their economic arrangements, a trust in the abundance of nature's resources rather than despair at the inadequacy of human means.”

We can be secure without being affluent. There is much that we can work with using our own bare hands. What is this sense of security we can develop for ourselves that would survive any disaster; where we could lose everything and fear not about starting fresh? I think it is in cultivating skills, specifically, basic skills, that we can gain this sense of security. Learning how to build a canoe, or a bow, or solar water condenser may have no practical value today, but having taught yourself how to make them, imparts a sense of well being, a sense that, “Yeah. If I ever need this, I know how to make it.” I am student of a Filipino martial art known as Escrima Serrada. It is a very practical form of hand-to-hand self-defense. Will I ever need it? Maybe not, but I know that against the average mugger, I will fair very well. That skill gives me a sense of security that the affluent have to pay dearly for in the form of bodyguards.

With the potential chaos ahead, defend yourself by learning a skill. Learn how to fish, especially with a homemade fishing pole. When you get that fish, learn how clean it. Then prepare it and have it for dinner. Learn what edible herbs live within your area and then go find them and eat them. You will sleep well. You will be proud of yourself, even if you make six figures at your day job.


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