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103 - On The Greatest Threat - Moral Letters for Modern Times

You are never closer to danger than in the presence of your fellow humans.
103 - On The Greatest Threat - Moral Letters for Modern Times

If you pay too much attention to the news, you would come away worried about all the wrong things. Will you be caught up in a twister, carried away by a flash flood, or struck by an errant bolt of lightning? And that’s just from watching the weather channel. Other channels of doom will tell you to live in fear of dying from lead-poisoned water, radon-suffused earth, and second-hand smoke-filled air. Then there are the industrial accidents, derailed freight trains, and collapsing bridges you must assiduously avoid.

That such things happen is undeniable, Deuteros. That they are rare indeed is never mentioned, and you could be forgiven for placing wrong odds on your chances of encountering misfortune in such a newsworthy manner. We do not talk of the greatest danger to people, that which is immeasurably more likely to rain down upon us than a piece of space debris falling from the sky. “What is this great danger,” you ask? It is our fellow people.

You are never closer to danger than in the presence of your fellow humans. When provoked by the tiniest of slights we are something to behold. And we do not need to be angry to be destructive. Our capacity to do capricious harm also knows no bounds. Did early settlers not shoot hundreds of millions of buffaloes to death out of nothing more than boredom, leaving carcasses to rot across the western plains? Carrier pigeons once flew in the billions across the summer sky, hurried now to their graves by the wanton destructiveness of humankind. If we were better judges of the truly dangerous, we would free all the animals in the zoo and relegate the human visitors to locked cages for the safety of all.

You cannot eliminate your danger from this source, only reduce it. Be aware that any provocation risks being too much, because it is viewed through the eyes of the recipient. You may think you are being amusing or that your insult was but a little thing. Murderous rage has sprung from a wayward glance, the corners of the mouth turning down at the wrong time, to say nothing of an actual encounter with someone prone to violence.

You are safer in the company of the dead, which is one reason I tell you to have your philosophy books about you in great numbers. When safely tucked away in contemplation of ancient wisdom you are less likely to give offense to the living. Though you give offence even by your absence, because we are annoyed by everyone who stands out. “What, the world is not good enough for you that you feel it necessary to withdraw into seclusion?”

You will be misunderstood in the presence of your fellow person, and you will be misunderstood alone. But at least you make yourself less of a target when you quietly study, and that is something.

Be well.

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