Tuesday, December 18, 2007


A few years ago a famous utility company that used to be a national provider of energy by pipes rather than wires, had an advertising campaign with the slogan Don't you love being in control!

I have in the past been accused of being a control freak - I don't really know if this is true. However I do think that most of us live our lives with the illusion that we are in control of them.

I call this the modern-western illusion.

We enjoy physical security that is unprecedented in our history. Britain has not known a war at home for over 60 years now. Despite what the tabloids keep trying to tell us, we have historically low crime rates - certainly our streets are very safe compared to what many people would have known two-three hundred years ago. The police force is a good thing. We have in general significant financial security. I do not want to minimise the struggles that many people face - I know they are real, but if all else fails, we do have a welfare state. We have excellent health care and because of improved living conditions and nutrition, we lead generally healthy lives.

All of these things give us the illusion that we are in control. That is not to deny that they are all good things that we should fight for and never give up. However, they do tend to blind us to a simple truth - that life is precarious.

The African knows his life is precarious. The Englishman living 100 years ago knew his life was precarious. Death is and was a normal part of life. It is not for us.

Don't misunderstand me, every death is a tragedy (ask not for whom the bell tolls...) but human life hangs by a thread. None of us know what's going to happen next. None of us know if we will be struck down by illness.

The problem with the western-modern illusion is that when we discover how little control we actually have, it comes as a massive shock.

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