It’s Time to Throw Caution to the Wind!

Connor Bryan, Opinion Editor

I think it’s long past time that we recognized the greatest lie of our generation. There exists a six-word phrase that serves as one of the most insidious lies ever to be bestowed upon mankind. This phrase is inescapable and possesses the heart of almost every major American institution. That evil lie is: “Safety is our number one concern.”

Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, the cult-like worship of safety is an ever-looming threat. Safety has become the unquestionable value of contemporary American society. Any competing values, such as fun, freedom, or courage have all been classified as lesser, auxiliary values, only to be experienced after safety is guaranteed. The only way to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of safety is to accept that true safety does not exist. The worship of safety threatens our mental health, our freedom, and most importantly, our fun.

Let me start by clarifying exactly what I mean by saying that safety does not exist. The value of safety serves as a response to the existence of risk. Risk, unlike safety, is very real. Risk denotes a measurement of the potential danger inherent to any choice we make. Safety doesn’t exist because the term safety implies the existence of a choice, place, or behavior that mitigates all risk. In other words, the value of safety necessitates the existence of a world with no injury, no danger, and no death. This world does not exist. Man can meet his end at any moment, whether he is on the edge of the battlefield or in one of these so-called “safe spaces.” The worship of safety in turn feeds young children a diluted image of the real world.

The contemporary western world is safer and more prosperous than nearly every society to exist since the beginning of human civilization. The average child living in the western world will have more access to food, clothing, shelter, and medicine than nearly every other child throughout history. Despite the unparalleled material success of western society, children growing up in America and elsewhere are more anxious and depressed than ever before. This anxiety is because modern western culture has not found a meaningful antidote to the fear of death.

In the United States, we really haven’t found a cultural answer to our fear of death. For most of human existence, God(s) served as the antidote to death anxiety. The Enlightenment saw to the end of the use of religious authority to answer philosophical questions. As God(s) became a smaller part of the average American’s life, the shadow of death came to occupy a larger part of American thought. God left behind a void in the American cultural conscience that couldn’t be filled by science or secular values. Many postmodern philosophies, such as existentialism, have attempted to fill this absence. These philosophies conceded the idea that life has no intrinsic purpose and argued that man must build his own purpose in life. These philosophies have also influenced contemporary American language. Whenever someone starts talking about “living their truth” or similar phrases, they are drawing on existential influence. Unfortunately, these post-WWII philosophies have utterly failed to give modern American youth the purpose they so desperately crave in life.

To fill this void of purpose, Americans have bought up a new industrial complex based on the commodification of death anxiety. So-called anti-aging creams, supposedly miraculous diets, magical herbal supplements, and prescription pharmaceuticals created a massive industry that profited from the inability of the American mind to handle death.

Leveraging fear of death is also extraordinarily profitable in American politics. One famous example of this is the PATRIOT Act, a piece of federal legislation that vastly expanded the power of the U.S. surveillance apparatus. Relying on the victims of 9/11 and the fearful environment of the time, the government was able to pass legislation that granted intelligence agencies nearly limitless power to spy on the American public. Anyone who dares to question the PATRIOT Act is labeled as an enemy of safety and, consequently, a friend of death. Most recently, the same phenomenon can be seen in the catastrophic two-year-long response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every issue in modern American politics must be labeled as an epidemic, a pandemic, a disaster, or worst of all, a war that must be won. Every passing of life must be an outrage, something to be answered with wave after wave of new public safety policies. Every American death is carefully instrumentalized, fine-tuned and sharpened, all so that it can be sent into battle on the front lines of the American political debate. It could be said that the value of American life is measured by how we exit this life rather than how we lived it.

The only solution to this maddening worship of safety is to accept that a portion of our life will always be out of our control. All things that exist in this life are temporary and will one day exit this world forever. How then should we answer the phrase referenced at the beginning of this article, that “safety is our number one concern?” We can answer it with another phrase: “Memento mori,” which means “remember your death.” Remember that risk is everywhere. Remember that this body is temporary. Remember that danger can never be fully escaped. Remember that events will never transpire the way we want them to. We remember death in the hope that we will remember to live without fear. But living without fear requires purpose, something that’s in short supply in modern America.