One of the things I talked about in my first book, a shorter and simpler version of which I published a few years ago, is that happenings in the world can be deterministic while also being unpredictable.
This is what chaos theory is all about. Complex systems are made up of causes and effects, yet in such a fashion that it is virtually (and maybe totally) impossible to know what they are going to do next.
An example I cited in my book is tossing a cork into a stream above some rapids.
Every movement of the cork is determined by the laws of physics, yet there is no way to predict exactly where the cork will end up a few hundred yards downstream, because a slight movement at any point in its journey can lead to big changes in its final destination.
Such is one reason why our longing for security, for predictability, for being assured that what we want to have happen actually will happen, is doomed to failure.
Another way of looking at security and insecurity is wonderfully discussed by Alan Watts in his book, "The Wisdom of Insecurity." I've written many posts about this book over the years, since it is one of my favorites. You can find those posts by using the Google search box in the right sidebar.
I'm making my way through Oliver Burkeman's book, "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking." This morning I finished a chapter called The Safety Catch.
It contains a nice summary of how Alan Watts looks upon our quest for security. Here's how the chapter ends.
To understand the final flourish that Watts has in store, think back to the end of the previous chapter and the challenge it presented to our assumptions about the nature of the self.
There we confronted the fact that there seems to be no straightforward place at which to draw the line between 'self' and 'other' -- and that the boundary itself, even if we settle on somewhere to draw it, is more of a meeting point than a dividing line. 'Self' and 'other' rely on each other for their very existence.
If that's true, it follows that 'security' is a mistake -- because it implies a notion of separate selfhood that doesn't make much sense. What does it even mean to separate yourself from an ecosystem that is, in fact, what constitutes you?
The point is not to 'confront' insecurity, but to appreciate that you are it. Watts writes:
To understand that there is no security is far more than to agree with the theory that all things change, more even than to observe the transitoriness of life.
The notion of security is based on the feeling that there is something within us which is permanent, something which endures through all the days and changes of life. We are struggling to make sure of the permanence, continuity, and safety of this enduring core, this center and soul of our being, which we call 'I'.
For this we think to be the real man -- the thinker of our thoughts, the feeler of our feelings, the knower of our knowledge. We do not actually understand that there is no security until we realize that this 'I' does not exist.
This extraordinary passage, once you grasp the point -- and it took me a while -- explains in the most complete sense why our efforts to find happiness are so frequently sabotaged by 'ironic' effects, delivering the exact opposite of what we set out to gain.
All positive thinking, all goalsetting and visualising and looking on the bright side, all trying to make things go our way, as opposed to some other way, is rooted in an assumption about the separateness of 'us' and those 'things'. But on closer inspection, this assumption collapses.
Trying to flee from insecurity to security, from uncertainty to certainty, is an attempt to find an exit from the very system that makes us who we are in the first place.
We can influence the system of which we are a part, certainly. But if we are motivated by this misunderstanding about who we are and what security is, we'll always risk going to too far, trying too hard, in self-defeating ways. Watts concludes:
The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the 'I' out of the experience.
...Sanity, wholeness and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate 'I' or mind can be found.
...[Life] is a dance, and when you are dancing, you are not intent on getting somewhere. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance.
This, then, is the deep truth about insecurity: it is another word for life. That doesn't mean it's not wise to protect yourself, as far as you can, from certain specific dangers. But it does mean that feeling secure and really living life are, in some ultimate sense, opposites.
And that you can no more succeed in achieving perfect security than a wave could succeed in leaving the ocean.