Commentary  The only thing we have to fear…

On safety and risk

Our society is obsessed with safety. We surround ourselves with things, things, and more things, all to stave off insecurity. Yet we all face the ultimate risk – the inevitable fall into blackness – death itself. Our comfort and our things serve to distract us: “If I just have a house, if I just pay back this loan, if I just get this one thing, then maybe, just maybe I’ll have control.”

No, you won’t. We live and die by the dice. Society is the safest it’s ever been and we’re the saddest we’ve ever been; maybe they’re related. You see, surviving adversity is something which gives us strength. When there is no existential risk, we feel fake, like everything we do is unreal, and yet we’re still insecure because we still know we will die. Shhh! Don’t say that!

Look at how skillfully we have removed death from all aspects of our culture. Most of us live in cities, far from the natural world; we are removed from the birth/death cycle of animals. We eat meat, but I doubt a single reader has killed their own meal. Death is on the plate; life feeds off the death of other life. Vegetarians too, are often far removed from, or unaware of, where their food is grown. We are detached from the things which sustain us, and from our final end. We have sterilized our world. We have sterilized our sex. We hide our defecation, we hide the soil and remove the visual reminder of where our food comes from. We do all this to avoid our corpo-reality: the fact that we are all merely physical beings with a finite lifespan.

Despite these efforts, however, we are more insecure and obsessed with danger and mortality than any other culture. Like sexual repression, you cannot eliminate or repress the reality of death and danger. Our news and our media allow us to gorge on images of death while simultaneously keeping us warm, safe, and far away from them. We are sterilized,  zero-tolerance playgrounds where play is too violent, and Saw movies. With wide eyes we stare at the screen in bloodlust, but we cringe at having to squish an insect or kill a mouse. We cheer as UFC fighters pummel each other, but few of us have ever been in a real fight.

We talk a lot about love, but we are starving for it. Few of us are willing to take the risk of rejection, let’s make love safe instead! Matchmaking services abound, promising to find you your perfect soulmate, hassle and risk-free. We Facebook stalk people we’d be mortified to say hello to in real life. But love for another is born out of risk, the risk of giving oneself entirely to another human being, and the possibility of being rejected. True love exists as faith, the faith that the other will return the same sentiment, though they may not. When we love we put our very core and sense of self at risk, yet requited love is one of life’s greatest affirmations. Life’s most rewarding pleasure has the potential to be its most destructive too.

Sorry, my friends. There is no safe love and there is no safe life. Life and love, to be lived, must be lived dangerously, as Nietzsche said. I’m not advocating that we dismantle our justice system or destroy the social construct, but I am advocating a slight relaxation on our obsession with safety and risk reduction. Take some risks, fall in love, have an argument, hell, maybe even get into a fight or two! Our society is the safest it’s ever been and yet we cry.

Remember that we own nothing, and no one owns us. We are here on borrowed time, all of us. Everything is a rental, even your mind and body, so use them! Go and have some fun, take some risks, and create something. Ask out the person you like, risk rejection. Apply for that internship abroad, risk loneliness and homesickness. Take that extra course, risk stress. Write that shitty poem, risk a loss of pride. As an athlete, push for that extra second, risk pain. But most of all, take risks and ignore the sirens of safety that preach caution. We are all on death row, every single one of us, each waiting for the day our name is called. When your number is called, what will you have to show for it? The ultimate destination will be reached my friends – the only question is, how will you reach it?

Wyatt Negrini is a U2 Philosophy major. He can be reached at