In a society that’s incessantly pulling all sorts of rights out of its hat, the right to not suffer is the father of them all. We feel entitled to keep our jobs, our health, our home and our leisure, demanding in fact to be carefree. We don’t want our lifestyle to depend on how hard we work or how much we save, and neither do we want our wrong decisions to have any consequences. In our delirium, we feel we have the right to know the future or even to decide when life should start (that of others, of course) and also when death should come (usually that of others as well). In brief, we want the security that we will be able to avoid pain. The problem is that, in life, pain is as undesirable as it is inevitable, and security, in the words of Helen Keller, is “a superstition that does not exist in nature”. However, man persists in his chimerical search for the security that will keep him free from suffering. Citizens demand that from their ruling classes, who promise ever more extravagant rights and certainties, constantly fleeing reality and truth. And in this hysterical, unbridled race to reach an evanescent security, liberty is thrown into the dust like a bothersome burden.
The free man must be responsible for his behavior without being able to blame anyone else when things go wrong. He must live in discomfort and uncertainty and accept the authorship of all his decisions. This is hard. That’s why as soon as the sweet illusion of freedom gives way for the bitter taste of responsibility and effort which that very freedom bears with it, man revolts against the latter. Some 3500 years ago, the Jewish people, having been oppressed for generations by slavery, was freed by Moses, who took them out of Egypt in order to lead them to the Promised Land. But just a few short days after their last minute’s escape from Pharaoh’s claws in the Red Sea, as the harshness of the desert started to put a dent in their spirit, the Jews forgot the humiliations, whippings, hardships and indignity of their slavery, cursed their freedom and blamed their liberator for freeing them, to the extent that Moses was nearly stoned: “Why did we not die at Yahweh’s hand in Egypt, where we used to sit round the flesh pots and could eat to our heart’s content!”. The security of a hot meal and a loaf of bread seemed worth more than the recently recovered freedom.
It goes without saying that throughout History all power seekers and power holders have taken good note of this story. They have come to realize that all they need to have the people surrender their liberty is to promise them security: a certainty – liberty – in exchange for a promise – security; an extremely valuable good in exchange for a chimera. And over and over again, the people have fallen into the same trap.
Today, under the disguise of a promise of physical security, governments treat each of us as if we were suspected criminals and not free citizens with rights: they record our conversations, intercept our mails, take our fingerprints and as many pictures as they deem necessary, do body searches and leave us half naked when we travel as if it were business as usual, and ruthlessly hunt down as traitors those who uncover these practices.
As far as economic security is concerned, totalitarian communism was an extreme of this barter: the people lost their liberty and never found any security, except for the certainty of being poor under a merciless tyranny. The fraudulent Welfare State proposed something similar (do you believe that the wording of Social “Security” is casual?): it promised a paradise of “free” pensions, healthcare and education in exchange for giving up our freedom to save (thus relieving us off the uncomfortable responsibility of doing so). We surrendered our savings to the politicians, those incurable squanderers, well known for anything but respecting either their word or other people’s money! And now that, even after burying us under a mountain of taxes and perpetual debts, public money is scarce and nearing extinction, where is the promised security to be found? We must understand once and forever more that security is not only liberty’s enemy, but an impediment to prosperity. In fact, security and prosperity are antonyms.
The 2008 financial crisis was mostly caused by politicians and central bankers wanting to avoid the suffering caused by economic cycles. Due to the irritating fact that pained voters tend not to reelect incumbent governments, what better promise could they make than that of trying to end recessions and live in a plateau of permanent prosperity? We still believe the charlatans who, in politics or in central banking, assure us that they can get rid of the uncertainty that terrifies us so much. We long for a control that simply does not exist, and these are the consequences: perversely, the chimeric search for security brings much more suffering than what it pretended to avoid in the first place.
In 1891, Pope Leo XIII prophetically forewarned us in his wise Encyclical Rerum Novarum about the evils that are now upon us: “To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently – who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment – they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present”.
We have to accept insecurity and pain as something inherent to human nature and promptly mistrust anyone promising the opposite, in the conviction that that promise only seeks to fool the unsuspecting. An economic and political system focused on avoiding the inevitable, promising an inexistent security, is due to fail and headed for poverty. That’s why we should make peace with the reality of uncertainty and suffering and not try to escape from both. Only from the deep acceptance of these realities, will the trembling, fragile ember of hope that has always raised the human being up from his falls catch fire again. The history of man is the successful story of a flexible adaptation to an ever changing, ever insecure environment. As a country, we should look suffering in the eye, without fear, and dedicate all our energies to adapting to the new reality instead of continuously running away from it.