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LOCKS & KEYS

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I have a memory of a saying, probably in a language other than English, from the dim and dusty reaches of my childhood. I don't remember the words, but the meaning has remained crystal clear. "As soon as someone invents a new lock, someone else will invent a key to open it."

Isn't that obvious?

I have a lock on the door to my house, but I know, of course, that if someone really would want to enter, for whatever dark purpose, it would be easy to jimmy the lock, or slide open any of the windows. Or kick in the door.

Our entire nation--the world--seems to be locked into the idea that better locks give us better protection. Yet, anyone looking at how we live our lives must see that all these multiple, ever more sophisticated locks, don't do much to protect, only make us more paranoid. Thinking "security" makes life unnecessarily difficult and complicated. We talk about protecting our liberty, but it is our freedom we sacrifice.

In times past--and not that long past either--we lived much less stressful lives when we never locked our doors; we knew all our neighbors. And we accepted that now and then "sh*t happens." There is no security in life. People die, get sick, there are wind storms that lift tiles off the roof, frost breaks water pipes, lightning strikes, someone goes crazy. Perhaps we called it bad luck; we wore amulets to give us luck. And, of course, we wrapped our water pipes with insulation and secured our roofs as well as we could, but there was never a guarantee. Insulation gets old, or rats eat it; pipes rust. Things get old; we ourselves get old. Life is dangerous to your life, we used to say. We accepted the risks and enjoyed glorious sunrises.

I remember the first insurance salesman that tried to sell us life insurance. I remember my awe at the thought that "life" could be insured. Then auto insurance, health insurance, flight insurance. I learnedt that Lloyd's of London insures literally everything and anything (for a price): the face of a movie star, the ride in an experimental balloon, the colors of a painting.
A little thought should make clear that insurance is just another way to make money. Very rarely does what they pay out comes close to what thy bring in. It is, on the whole, a lucrative business.

What insurance could not protect us from was bad intentioned humans, who used their creativity to think of ever more sly ways to do harm. It takes only one apple with a razor blade inserted to make us suspicious of all apples. It takes one bottle of poisoned pills to make us seal all bottles of anything in layers of plastic, more and more difficult to remove. It takes only one shoe in which someone has hidden a knife (or whatever dangerous thing it was) for millions of people to have to take their shoes off when passing through the security checks at airports. In America it is almost impossible to buy food, or anything else for that matter, that is not sold sealed in plastic.

There must be a thousand new laws designed to protect us. And if laws and law enforcers do not help (enough) we build walls. The Russians started that perhaps in a divided Germany. No, the Chinese made a wall around their country thousands of years ago. Israel built a ten foot concrete wall to... what? Separate Palestine from Israel?. Now the United States is going to build a wall to keep "illegals" out (a 700 mile wall along a 2000 mile border with Mexico; and then, of course, there is the border with Canada, and thousands of miles of sea coast--walls?). In the Middle Ages the aristocracy (in other countries we call them war lords) built castles that were fortresses, surrounded by a wall and then a moat..
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Does all this protect us? Perhaps it just makes us feel safer.

I remember a stay in a long house once (in Borneo). A whole village in one house. Each family, or group of people (they weren't all "family" I was told) has a space, but there is very little to mark this space from the the next. There is little or no "privacy," that something we now call a Right. In a conversation with the head man, one of our party of visitors asked whether they had ever had dividers, or screens. The head man laughed. Yes, someone had tried that, but it made other people suspicious of those people. What do they hide? The screen had been removed after a day.

Why our need for locks, doors, walls? Is it because we acquired more and more stuff, spent more and more money buying the latest gadgets? We had so much invested that we got panicked? Or that some of us got much richer and others got poorer? Is it the difference in wealth that has created more desperate people? Reagan assured us that wealth trickles down. Well, if it does, it trickles mighty slowly. We used to count a few millionaires, now we count billionaires, but people in the wider and wider lower reaches of the pyramid have to work two or three jobs just to eat. Is that why we need locks?

America prides itself on being the richest nation on earth. America also has the greatest percentage of people in prison, the largest number of citizens without health insurance, the greatest chasm between rich and poor, and the poor are multiplying much faster than the rich. We certainly are the nation that spends the most on arms of all kinds, and we don't hesitate to use our military clout to meddle in the affairs of other nations. For greed, or for security? Or just hubris?
World war two is now more than half a century behind us, and in that time there are an amazing number of countries in which we have effected "regime change". Is it remarkable that some, perhaps many, of them remember and resent?

There is a strange human trait: if one person fears (whatever it is he fears) and invents a lock, a fence, a moat, a rifle (originally invented for hunting for food, then converted to self-defense, so-called)--others also have to have that new lock. Fear is contagious.
Once one manufacturer invents a "tamper-proof" closing for his bottle of aspirin, other manufacturers must follow, even improve the design. Now every container is sealed with at least three seals.
A rustic wooden fence is laughable today; now we make fences of steel mesh, barbed wire, razor wire.
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And so we have come to today's world with fortified boundaries (of course, planes fly over invisible lines drawn on maps). We plant land mines. The arms race has never even slowed down, probably because it is immensely lucrative and hidden from prying eyes. If one country has a "nuclear device," another will want one also, and another and another. Isn't that obvious?

Can you think of any ending other than unimaginable disaster?

Certainly, I can imagine a calm head slowly, carefully, making friends, shaking hands with neighbors, reaching out. And also, at the same time, getting rid of his own nuclear devices. That will take time. But where are the calm heads in a time of mass hysteria? Evidently it takes only one ruler to fan the fires of fear with ever more elaborate "security" measures, devices, warnings, and threats.

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robert wolff lives on the Big Island, called Hawai'i
his website is wildwolff.com

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