A Culture of Paranoia

The Western ‘Developed’ world likes to think its got everything right. It is, ultimately, ‘ahead’ of everyone else in the world. In some ways this assumption is understandable; although it is still arrogant. Western Europe, North America and so on have comparitively colossal amounts of wealth and resources at their disposal. They are able to offer support to even their poorest, to a luxurious standard by comparison with the most impoverished nations on Earth. Yet the titans of the financial industry, the companies on which this wealth and power is largely built on, deal in the business of offering peace of mind for these already cushioned citizens. They might call it the business of pragmatism, although you could just as easily call it the business of paranoia. What am I talking about? Insurance.

It is literally everywhere. You only have to look at the names on the skyscrapers around you to be reminded that insurance is business; BIG business. How many people know someone that works in insurance? It’s an entire wing of human endeavour with the sole aim of catering for the (individually) unfair nature of probability. At first thought this can seem a noble task, and undoubtably in some cases it is. However, this should not make it big business; not the massive, global juggernauts that we see second only to perhaps banks (with which they are sordidly interconnected). No, I think the reason they are so significant is that we have been conditioned to worry, disproportionately, about What Ifs.

What if you crashed your car? What if you lost your job? What if you ordered a pizza and it didn’t turn up? There’s being prepared, then there’s just pointless worry. It seems there’s hardly an eventuality in life you can’t get insurance for. You’ve got your building insurance, contents insurance, car insurance, pet insurance, income insurance, life insurance, investment insurance; heck, there’s usually an insurance insurance on top if you really want it (no claims protection premium, anyone?). And after you’ve paid the monthly cost of all of those, you might even have a bit left to enjoy this lifestyle you’re fighting so hard to preserve.

“But!” you may pragmatically protest, “what if one of those things went wrong? What then? It would cost me etc etc!” I challenge you to add up the amount you’ve been spending on myriad insurance policies over, say, a year. Yes, that is a lot of money. I’d dare to venture that, unless you’re particularly prone to disaster, it may even be sufficient to cover the unforseen you’re paying for. And in any case, insurance is often no guarantee that you will actually get help in certain quite legitimate circumstances. This is, however, beside the point.

We are conditioned to believe everything will go wrong, under the misguided assumption that this will leave only pleasant surprises and therefore we will be in control and as a result, happy; where in most cases it simply leaves us in the state of perpetual fear of possibilities. We appear to have forgotten how to take risks. The Insurance business thrives on convincing people that there is danger worth paying to avoid; that much is a given. Whether there is or not is irrelevant, at least to the making of money (if anything, genuine risk leads to payouts and therefore is detriment to profit). And like all capital-steered entities, the effects that make the most money are what consequently shape and define it, just as the circumstances that kill or feed an organism determine that organism’s form. In other words, morality is not greatly profitable and, in business terms, makes one an inferior competitor to those more shameless enterprises.*

The effect this mentality has on our lives is self-evident. We are safety obsessed: Safety First, Safety is Our Primary Concern, Health and Safety Regulation etc. At first this makes sense: above all, staying alive is something we must do first and foremost for anything else to be of use. But it is wrong to confuse prerequisites with objectives. We may need to survive, but surviving is not the point. It’s not what we’re here to do. What we’re here to do is up to us, of course, but the following of that purpose is the real core for which keeping alive is only a necessary part. The practical result of this is that we, as a culture, strive to prolong our lives at a higher priority to improving them.

So while we should be wise and look after ourselves, remember that safety isn’t what life is about. Take some risks, forget the insurance for a change and party like it’s 1799!

(*) This is of course offset by the effects of a trustworthy reputation; but such effects are far from reliable.

8 thoughts on “A Culture of Paranoia

  1. Wow Alex, what sparked that off ? Bet you feel better for that !
    Did Lou have a H&S induction for latest job? AND no pictures this time !! Cheers, have a beer.

  2. Just an unrelated entry to the travelblog, hence no pictures! I have several unpublished ones just sitting on the shelf (you can even filter the entries to a category you want with that box on the right).
    As for Lucy’s induction, not so much yet. We hope to get the blog up to date before we come home =)

  3. Mmmmmm……very well presented……..I reckon if you change Insurance for almost any commodity you’ll see that the art of Selling is actually the blood & heart of life as we know it. For us its just a matter of balance.

  4. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to tar all insurance with the same brush, as indeed many do get that balance right!
    I guess I just find it a bit suspect that so many of the world’s very biggest companies got as super-rich as they did doing it. But then saying that, it’s only as odd as those that got there through internet advertising.

  5. Well Alex, that was some essay but I just about followed it. I really had to comment on the Insurace entry, having a brother that has worked hard and done quite well out of an afore mentioned Insurance Company [no names needed]
    5 years ago we took stock of all the insurances we had on this, that and the other and realised that had we saved the money and anything had gone wrong we could have purchased new items anyway, so we cancelled them and so far so good. NOW THAT REALLY HAS PUT THE CAT AMONG THE PIDGEONS, I expect everything will go wrong now.

  6. Hi Betty,
    Now you mention it, I also have a brother that worked in insurance, and they are of course both top blokes! My issue lies more with the way people respond to the industry than with the industry itself; I’m willing to bet the screwy companies are only a minority.
    Intrigued to hear you’ve tried doing without the ones you don’t need; I’m sure you’ll be okay. I went for 4+ years quite happily with neither house nor contents insurance (and car was only third party because of the law). But amongst backpackers in Oz, I feel like Mr. Play-It-safe! It’s inspiring being out with people that don’t worry so much about what might happen and just get out there and do things!

  7. And this is pretty much why after leaving RBS I vowed never to work in insurance again. The majority of total loss cases (where repairing the car is uneconomical) resulted in people feeling cheated and having to fight to get the amount that their car was actually worth.

    Another interesting point to note is that when RBS started getting into serious trouble a few years ago, the insurance division was keeping the rest afloat – though I admit that’s just something I heard while working there, not something I actually have evidence for

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