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Why People Won’t Protect Themselves


I’ve been promoting encryption for quite some time, and one of the things you can’t miss in this business is that most people have a psychological aversion (and a strong one) to protecting themselves.

Not only are the products I sell affordable (less than a dollar a day for serious, professional-level protection), but I repeatedly tell people how they can get free encryption if they’re willing to work at it. And yet, just a small percentage ever choose to protect themselves. They will allow themselves authorized protection, sometimes even protection from major corporations (semi-authorized), but they will not protect themselves on their own volition.

Until they get hurt of course.

Truth from Diverse Sources

One of my early lessons was to take truth wherever I found it. I took it as a proud moment when I once learned something from a smelly, drunken bum on a train platform. (I’ve never been able to do that since, but it did happen once.)

So, let’s look at a couple of diverse sources on this. First, this passage from the 1974 film, Death Wish:

Kersey: What do you call people who, when faced with a condition of fear, do nothing about it?

Son-in-law: Civilized?

This is precisely what has happened to the “civilized” people of the West. They have been trained never to protect themselves, much less defend themselves. That’s the job of the state, the police… the authorized. You and I are not permitted to do those things, and over time this has set down deep, unconscious roots.

As a result, “civilized” people have a mental block against self-protection. Something in them will not permit it.

I began to grapple with this in 1982 after reading a passage in the Psalms. The passage talked about executing judgment… but about an individual executing judgment, not God. As I read the passage and applied it to myself, I had a strong reaction and realized that I was emotionally blocked from doing what the passage called for.

That got my attention, and over time I’ve worked to remedy the problem.

A third source was a passage from Marshall Rosenberg (no relation I’m aware of) that we used in FMP #72:

[W]e have inherited a language that served kings and powerful elites in domination societies. The masses, discouraged from developing awareness of their own needs, have instead been educated to be docile and subservient to authority.

This brings us closer to a solution. Now let me adapt this quote to our subject:

We have inherited language and expectations that serve the elites in our dominance-based societies. We have been educated to be docile and subservient to authority… to hand all judgment to authority and not act on our own volition.

That’s a sick, twisted set of concepts, but that’s also the way most people think. Western man has been trained never to use his or her own judgment. And by our generation, it’s gone so far that a large percentage of people are trying to remain permanent adolescents.

And to be clear about it, this “hand all judgment to the ruler” training has been imposed upon us since there have been rulers. Rulers by definition monopolize the use of force. And to do that well, the populace must, in the name of security and order, be trained never to protect themselves. As historian Will Durant put it,

[T]he state, in order to maintain itself, used and forged many instruments of indoctrination – the family, the church, the school – to build in the soul of the citizen a habit of patriotic loyalty and pride. This saved a thousand policemen, and prepared the public mind for that docile coherence which is indispensable in war.

So, let’s admit that we’ve been conditioned to be docile… then let’s do something about it.

Ignoring Snowden

We’ve been conditioned to be eager to run for help but unwilling to protect ourselves. And that’s just stupid, because evil does exist in the world and because our “authorized protectors” are neither benevolent nor omnipotent. (They are, in actuality, the most common threats.)

Granted, violence is stupid, barbaric, and often solves nothing. But cryptography isn’t violence. Yet people are still afraid of it. This is, if we’re to be honest, why so very many people found ways to ignore the revelations of Edward Snowden.

If they took Snowden’s revelations seriously, they’d have to face a lot of threat, and that would rationally require them to protect themselves… and they have been trained never to do that. So, rather than accepting such discomfort, it was easier to follow the distractions fed through mainstream media and ignore the truth.


So, we’ve been trained not to protect ourselves. And I understand this all too well, because it probably affected me as much as or more than it did you. But we don’t have to stay that way.

So, if something doesn’t make rational sense, we should go about to change it. And the way to do that is to act.

Talking and complaining get us nowhere. Only acting changes us.

* * * * *

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* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

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