Security and the Drunkard’s Principle

Over the past few months I have made the claim that we are now living in the Golden Age in terms of professional growth in the security services as well as martial arts and self-protection instruction. A cursory glance at a media outlet of your choosing over the past few months has shed light on the burgeoning fact that our society is unraveling. This is not a political statement. Rather, it is an observation based on real events that continue to unfold in real time. 

Admittedly I receive quizzical looks as to how I can make the claim that martial arts and self-protection instruction can be entering a Golden Age. With the continuing onslaught of Covid-19 and the path of destruction it has left on businesses that require human interaction, this sounds absurd. Quite the contrary, actually. What is required now is innovation and creativity. As martial artists, we are going to have to adapt to new ways of thinking while embracing old traditions. In the past, martial arts were passed along in very small groups, and in some cases they were passed down from a teacher to a single student. In this case, the old ways have become the new ways. Artists, as in martial artists, create new ideas and ways of thinking. It is time to rise to the occasion. 

The security profession is no different, although it is based on a broader spectrum in terms of its audience and scope. Civil unrest in areas such as Portland and Seattle have shown that social injustice and perceived wrongs experienced by certain groups are festering boils that sooner or later will rupture. In such cases, no one is safe based on the particular worldview or ideology they may hold. Violence is raw. It has no conscience. Once unleashed, it has to become what it is at its core, which is a beast with an appetite for destruction. Your business may believe firmly in the cause that has led to the mauling your city block is taking. You may live in a neighborhood that is peaceful. Your neighborhood may be gated giving you a sense of security. You may even hold dear to the principles and beliefs of those who have come to the conclusion that injury and destruction are the only ways to have their voices heard. But your home and neighborhood, as a symbol of the roots of social and economic injustice, have painted a bullseye on your back. Your beliefs are of no consequence. You are what they see, not what you think you are. 

This short illustration is becoming more and more applicable by the day. We now live in a country in which the most sacred trait that makes us what we are individually and collectively has been called into question. Whatever your political stance may be, the current drama that is unfolding regarding the security of our electoral process is only a symptom of the disease that is ravaging the body of America. It is a cancer of the worst kind that is metastasizing at a rate that if no cure is soon found will devour the flesh from the bones of what is left of America. 

This leads to a question that has an obscure answer. Why do we need security and self-protection in our lives? The aforementioned dialog lays out the answer in a clandestine way. Indeed, we can ascribe the need for security in our personal lives based on needs for peace of mind, the protection of our families and our treasure, and basic survival. From a professional perspective, security can have impacts on business continuity and reputation management. But these reasons are superficial. To uncover the most correct need for security, we need to understand the Streetlight Effect. 

The Streetlight Effect is an illustration of a type of observational bias that occurs when one is searching for the truth in complex circumstances. The Streetlight Effect is credited to many traditions and scholars, most notably Abraham Kaplan in 1964. The Streetlight Effect and its association with the search for truth and meaning are also known as the Drunkard’s Principle as told through a humorous exchange between a police officer and an intoxicated man. 

To illustrate the Streetlight Effect, a publicly intoxicated man is said to come under scrutiny by a police officer. The drunk is seen searching for something under a streetlight. After a few moments, the officer approaches the man and asks if he has lost something, at which time the drunk states he has lost his keys. After a few moments of searching with no success, the officer asks the man if he is sure that he lost his keys in this location. The man retorts that he did not lose his keys in this spot. In fact, he lost them in a park some distance from this spot under the streetlight. Incredulous, the police officer asks why he is searching this area when he lost his keys somewhere else. The answer is so simple that even the drunk man understands it. He is searching this spot because that is where the light happens to be. 

This story illustrates two points that are crucial to understanding life in general, and personal safety and security specifically. First, this story unfortunately points out the lazy nature of people. Although inebriated, the drunk man chose to ignore what he knew to be true and engage in an exercise of futility instead of confronting the problem in realistic terms. The police officer is just as guilty. At the onset, he could have saved time for both himself and the drunk man by asking the most important question first. Second, the truth that we all seek is most often right in front of our eyes.

This bears restating: The truth that we seek is often right in front of our eyes. Previously, I posed the question as to why we need security in our business and personal lives. We listed reasons such as peace of mind, business continuity, and the protection of those we hold dear. These are important ideals and goals, but at a grass roots level they are indicative of the Streetlight Effect. We tend to look where the answers are easiest to find, and they are not shrouded in darkness. 

So then, why do we need security?

Because we do not trust our fellow man. We need security because we live in a world full of fallen, sinful, flawed human beings that have the potential to do things that are dishonest and harmful. We require protection and the desire to learn self-protection skills because although we know all people are not inherently evil, there are those among us that if left to their own devices will cause us harm. It is akin to allowing bears to roam freely in your home. It is true that there is no direct evidence that any or all of the bears will cause you harm. But the potential based on their nature provides enough evidence that warrants caution. We need security because our human intuition has instilled in us the notion that there are dangers in this world that must be deterred, detected, delayed, and defeated. 

Security is not paranoia. Security is not elitist, nor is it a paradigm that makes statements separating “us” and “them.” At its core, security is a preventive posture. It seeks to prevent, rather than cure. At its core is the recognition that evil walks among us. Accompanying that evil is a basic human instinct of caution. Trust cannot exist without distrust. It is up to the individual to determine whom to trust and whom to distrust. The role of security and self-protection is to allow us the peace and freedom to make that decision. 

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