Chasing The Mirage Of Safety
"Certain concepts remain really vital, though. Every human being has a need for safety and indeed, this is good and right and keeps each individual organism alive and alert to danger."
People looked up at me for I had taken on a bit of an angry tone. Virtually everywhere we humans want safety. We crave it in our physical health, in our relationships, in and for our families and in our communities. To detach from this particularly healthful desire seems to be quite foolish and impossible whether you are a Buddhist, a Muslim, a physician, a spy, or an anarchist – somehow in your earthly shell you are living and pursuing a life that makes you feel happy and safe.
Let's talk about safety in the USA today.
George Bush is maintaining the platform that he is keeping America safe from terrorism. Top Democratic contender, Senator John Kerry, is also running with this same campaign message. Why? Because this particular issue is of utmost importance to most Americans. In the country as a whole, polls show that people still actually feel a real fear of terrorism. In Burlington, VT people fear that the winter will go on forever. It is my belief that in smaller, colder, and darker Vermont, the population can really think about reality and fear in a methodical and less emotional way. Vermonters in winter love to ponder "the story behind the story."
The issue of safety, then, is the theme of this column. In Burlington, safety means that you have a warm tent, apartment or house, thereby ensuring that you won't expire from the below zero temperatures. For the United States Federal Government post 9/11 it evidently means keeping tabs on every citizen. I had to laugh (but also tremble) upon reading an article on anarchism in that same ol’ Burlington paper, Seven Days. In the article by Ken Picard in the February 11- 18 issue, the author states: "A November 23, 2003, article in The New York Times referred to the places where anarchists and other protestors learn civil-disobedience tactics as 'training camps'. According to the Times, the FBI is now asking local-enforcement agencies to refer activities of 'anarchists and other extremist elements' to its counterterrorism squad." To me this situation sounds potentially dangerous for the kid with spiked hair who spray paints the letter "A" with the circle around it on a bus or on a wall – he or she may now be labeled a terrorist or enemy combatant and be whisked away in the night to a federal prison.
You can call me paranoid, but with the above example, we can also point to that same kid as being if not imprisoned, then at least being put on the US "no fly list" of the FBI. Suddenly that same kid won’t be able to fly home to visit granny for the holidays because of his spray-painting endeavors. Supposedly details of the entire U.S. population have now been input into a searchable database, so that each and every citizen can now be viewed as a file and observed. This practice sounds hauntingly familiar to the former Soviet Union where one half of the population spied on the other half. Under those conditions not a lot of work can get done because spying really isn’t a creative act, but an empty and undermining activity. I'm shocked that a capitalist system is now supporting communist practices as a way of providing for safety.
As a practicing Buddhist, I understand safety to be a concept and an illusion. One day we are young and healthy, the next we are sick and dying. In this sense, I can't imagine an entire new governmental wing that exists for "providing safety" through labeling more or less average Joes and Janes as potential threats to national security as a positive development. Oh well. One day Senator Joe McCarthy was all-powerful and healthy; the next he was in a hole in the ground along with his poisonous ideations. Such is the circle of life