What Is Security? (Part 1)


Such an interesting question to ponder: What is security? My hunch is that it is the same for most people. The ability to attend to our basic survival needs for food, clean water, clean air and shelter, of course. Then there are our needs for psychological security: the need for love, the need to belong, to feel safe, to have purpose, to make meaning of our lives, as well as to serve others. Western society’s cult of individualism puts that last need on the back burner, but we see it emerge time and time again in the event of a crisis. People pull together in extraordinary ways. They put their needs after the needs of others, they show generosity on unexpected and unusual levels; they share, support and cooperate. Like the Gazan doctor whose hospital was being bombed – although encouraged to leave and save himself, he stated that he did not spend 14 years doing medical training only to abandon his patients. “Who will care for them if I am gone? Do you think my life is more important than theirs?” he questioned. This level of service to others is surprising in Western society, not so much in other parts of the world where serving the collective is fundamental to being. He did not survive, but he had the security of knowing who he was and how he belonged in the world; he will be remembered as a noble human being.

Underpinning physical and psychological needs are our identity needs: we want to be secure to be able to be who we are as human beings. Those identity needs may be around gender, race, ethnicity, religion, ableness, and more. Identity needs drive much of our behavior, they shape our values and how they play out; they are generally non-negotiable. They just are.

One way of looking at it is this: our interests (needs, concerns, fears, hopes, expectations) drive our behavior. They change over time, depending on our situation. Interests, which might be physical/concrete, procedural or psychological, are based on our core values, which usually don’t change; they get laid down early on in our development. And our identity runs even deeper, it goes to the fundamental nature of who we are.

By imagining our physical world on the basis of outdated ideas of sovereignty and nationalism, we have narrowed our identity focus, shrunk it to borders and territories, and in so doing, we have lost sight of our common identity as humans on one small planet. We share many more similarities than differences with our global community.

We are in a time of great insecurity right now, because our world is changing so rapidly. On a primary level, are we struggling with issues of physical security in an age of climate crisis. Last year was the hottest year on record since 1850, when the age of fossil fuel-burning began. We saw record droughts, record forest fires, record floods. We learned that Canada is especially vulnerable to global warming and in fact our country is warming faster than one would “expect” of a cool, northern country. The “why” of this is carefully explained in a recent article by Gordon McBean, retired Professor of Geography & Environment, Western University (The Tyee, 16 January, 2023). We have major issues with affordable housing, with the cost of food, with clean air. We have a health care system that functions amazingly well for how under-funded it is. Our service of Empire and our capitalist economic structure have created unimaginable levels of inequality between rich and poor. All these issues relate to our physical security.

On the level of psychological security, our individualistic social structure has led to an unprecedented emphasis on autonomy as a positive value. Here’s a small example: instead of deeply valuing intergenerational connection & support, Western culture has asked: “Is your adult son/daughter still living at home?” While by no means all people feel this way, we have a near- epidemic of people living alone, both young and old, who are isolated and lonely. How well is autonomy working for them, as fundamentally social beings? It can be hard for us to ask for help. We are supposed to be able to do things on our own, to be self-reliant above all.

And then on the level of identity needs, many of us hold a deep connection to the idea of being Canadian. And how easily do we sit with that idea when that involves “freedom convoys”, embeddedness with the US military, our own military buying armed drones and angling for huge increases in spending? And now we’re angry not only at Russia, but China and India. Fear of others and unquestioning alliance with the American Empire does not add to our sense of security; in fact, it keeps us on edge and needing distraction from its overwhelm.

We can find security in our lives; it will involve changing our relationship to ourselves, our economy, our environment, our global community. We are at a crossroads of choice right now. Which way will we head?

(Next week: part 2)