Who Cares (or, Do You Give a Shit About Anything?)

Why not throw your garbage out the window?

I recently created a narrated slide show about climbing on Cerro Torre. (Link here, also embedded below.) It is not an exhaustive history. I selected a few climbs. If you want to know more about what I selected and why, read my post about creating the show.

A comment after the post got me thinking – it’s from a guy named Dave King, who used to race bicycles. The latest Lance Armstrong doping stuff just happened, and a pro cycling tour came through Colorado. Cool. Wait, riding a bike? For something other than utilitarian transport? Well, that’s about as silly as climbing. Or, shit, let’s think about it – baseball, fantasy football, golf? Golf? That’s the stupidest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever heard in my whole entire life. But people love it. Dedicate huge chunks of time and energy doing it, and play by certain rules. As with so many things.

Most of what we do makes little sense. Has no great benefit to anybody else. What, like working for that magazine, or for that real estate company, or that house-of-cards financial corporation that long-dicked the public means something, or is truly important? Bullshit. It’s as worthless to the world as climbing. Almost as worthless as golf.

But we do these things.

We play by certain rules, too. Or at least a code of behavior. We don’t throw our garbage out the window, even if nobody’s looking. Don’t huck our trash on the trail, even though it doesn’t matter in the global sense. We don’t nudge that stupid golf ball closer to the hole while our opponent is checking his stock portfolio on his iPhone(™). Most of us don’t, anyway.

I always thought people who littered their cigarette butts were pieces of shit.

We have things that we care about. That mean something to us. No matter how silly they seem to others.

Hell, even bowling has rules.

Perhaps the key is to maintain some perspective. So ya don’t pull your piece out on the lane.

Still, I wonder why and how people rationalize cheating. Here’s part of Dave King’s – the cyclist I mentioned above – comment:

“[R]iders will hold onto team cars on long climbs so they aren’t dropped or eliminated altogether from the race. I always wondered how they felt about it, later when they would finish with the pack or win a stage or place, knowing they had used ‘unfair means’ to remain in the race. Probably their minds had already justified it long before the act occurred.”

I wonder, too. Then again, I take a second and examine my own behavior.

Meaningless instance: When I boxed, I remember intentionally cracking an opponent with an elbow while fighting inside – I knew the ref was on our right, so I “missed” with a tight left hook and followed through, nailing him with my elbow – but that bastard was fighting dirty all along, kept hitting me low. He had it comin’. And hey, it’s a fight. [Tone being lost in the interwebs, I’m well aware of my rationalization.]

Meaningful instance: I care about the environment, yet I drive and fly all over, thus polluting the thing that I love. Ahh, but I don’t have any kids. Population is most certainly the root of our resource crisis. I can fly all I want. [Rationalization duly noted.]

Meaningful rationale: We have to draw some reasonable lines or we couldn’t exist. In the absolute realm, we are all hypocrites (at least anybody with enough of a pulse to have ever expressed an opinion on anything). In bicycling, people use fancy wheels, or whatever. Top riders dope in order to keep up with other top riders (what a can of worms that opens; lots of thoughts here). In climbing, we use some accepted aids that help us climb safely and efficiently.

Conversely, I find it moronic when people say things like, “If you used a car to get to the climb, then you have no right to complain about abandoned fixed ropes [usually left by the moron saying this].” Or, “If you’ve ever clipped a bolt, you can’t complain about the Compressor Route.” Right. Good one, Einstein.

It’s pointless to argue with those who lack a frontal cortex, or the critical thinking skills to discern between a breeze and a hurricane.

Within reasonable realms of life, I’m curious – what do you care enough about to do right? No matter how large or how small. What examples come to mind from others? Seriously, I’d love to know. There must be great, powerful, and hilarious stories.

Maybe things beyond the predictable stock answers (sorry, couldn’t resist, I’m getting jaded to the interwebs):

• Everybody will swear that their children are everything to them. (Regardless of how much you owe in child support and how often you leave them alone in the trailer park to drool over professional wrestling while you hit the titty bar…)

• Everybody will say that climbing doesn’t matter. Funny how often I see that on climbing posts, irony un-noted, or hear it from people who devote(d) so much of their lives to climbing that they scrounged for leftovers in Camp Four and considered performing unnatural acts down in the park for road trip money.

• Some old blowhards, who used to prioritize climbing but have since gained a few pounds and spent too much time behind a desk, will give that crusty snort and say, “Heh – well, I’ve done a laaawta climbin’, and I tell ya this climbing stuff you’re into don’t mean nothin’. One of these days you’ll find something that really matters [see first bullet point, above], and then you’ll…”

To be clear, I know that climbing doesn’t matter in the overall scope of the world. Don’t use this to shut-down your brain, though, because there is always a greater cause than the one you proclaim most important. Young people are dying of cancer. There’s genocide in the Middle East and Africa. Torture. People are starving. Unjustly imprisoned.

And still, most games, activities, and daily actions have rules or codes of conduct. Why? Much as with general life, they help maintain order. Give us a sense of structure. Maybe even of right and wrong.

Devout fishermen don’t fish with live bait, I’m told. Hunters don’t court their prey with a gut pile. (Yet they’ll tree a cat with dogs and then shoot it, which always seemed weird to me, though climbing surely has its nonsensical ways – my cousin hunted with his beloved coon dogs, and I always meant to get him to explain it to me (I love dogs, and I do stupid things, too, so I think I could get it), and also give him shit about not being more sporting, like, drop the dogs and the gun and stalk the cougar with a knife in your teeth, mano y mano, fair means, baby – to which, I’m sure, he’d laugh and reply, “I’m not stupid.” And he might add, “You should climb at your limit unroped, hippie – be more sporting.”)

Jim Erickson, a legendary climber in Boulder, still doesn’t use chalk, doesn’t rehearse moves, and doesn’t return to routes he didn’t onsight. Even in the gym. It’s just the game he likes to play, I guess.

Other examples abound. I’d like to hear some of them.

In a world of “progress” defined as continually making things easier to enable “success,” I can’t help but think that success isn’t always success, and failure isn’t always failure.

Seems to me that much of today’s world is uninspired, disillusioned. Commerce, consumption, apathy.

I remember an excellent article by Matt Samet, on the history of sport climbing in North America. He was talking about Jim Karn, a phenomenal climber also known for obsessiveness, his dark side, and throwing legendary wobblers. The great, understated quote from Jim years later: “At least I cared about something.”

I think it’s a wonderful thing, a privilege, to have something you love. Something you care about, even if it’s as worthless as everything else.