A not so serous attempt at figuring out the morality of extreme sports

Well, as we know, a submersible imploded on the way to tour the Titanic a few weeks ago. And much like everyone else, I, too, was on board with all the memes that mocked all the billionaires who died in a novel new manner that was previously unknown to us, pushing the boundaries and innovating boutique death experiences after having mass-produced it for all of us in the most mundane ways possible. But at the same time - the very same day that the submersible went missing - my mother and I were watching Free Solo - which to her had a similar issue of Alex Honnold engaging in a dangerous task. Which seemed almost silly in a way to prove something to himself, but the problem was that I was forgiving of Alex, but not Stockton Rush (the CEO who designed the little submarine) and Hamish Harding (one of the passengers who died on the submersible). Why was that?

For those who are not familiar with the Free solo movie:

The event was horrible that other folks were affected by the submersible implosion - some seasoned adventurers, some amateurs, but a horrifying tragedy nevertheless for the families of those involved. But (there is always a but) imagine this being only him by himself venturing to the bottom of the ocean and a similar fate awaiting him. Would I have made memes and laughed about it? Yes. The collective force of the internet (although it's unlikely to have been significant news similarly) would also mock Stockton. The fact that he did endanger the lives of others is not the reason why we ridicule those taking this risk. With that, let's move on to some other popular theories I have gathered from my friends about why we mock those who attempt these seemingly irresponsible tasks.

One was, that it was a group of billionaires that died in the accident. Given the common enemy of the masses - the billionaires- is it reasonable to mock them for being rich alone? Schadenfreude of sorts, that we can all enjoy collectively. But here is the catch: I don't remember folks laughing at Michael Schumacher for his accident (he is pretty rich, not Billionaire more than halfway there). As far as I remember, there were cries of sympathy amongst most folks following the tragedy, at least a proportionately more significant number of folks. (Perhaps Baye’s effect of having more Formula One fans as opposed to Deep Sea Exploration fans is something to be talked about.) Apart from the general hypocrisy - would it not make sense to also think about billionaires as people? Who are, at the end of the day, more flawed than the rest of us? Certainly more insecure, I can agree with that, but people still wishing on another person's death does seem wrong. (This portion was funded by the Big Billionare Industrial Complex. (If a billionaire sees this, please sponsor me; contact details at the bottom of the page.))

Ego is another explanation. The argument follows that the men involved in these activities almost exclusively do this as an ego boost to fulfil their selfish desires. It's a fragile sense of masculinity that the men wish to preserve and engage in to pull this off. The moral failing lies in subjecting those who are close to you to suffer because of these selfish desires. I like this explanation more than the other one because the friend I posed this to created an argument that works for Alex, Hamish and Stockton—even Michael when I think about it (generally more consistent). However, there is an issue with this; in this view, the daredevil partners or close relatives were cited as evidence of their selfishness. In the case of Alex - I do not blame him; he communicated well with his family, and his mother (at least based on the documentary) seemed to have made an uncomfortable peace with this risky passion of his. As for his girlfriend, now wife, I am unsure if the argument holds because she met him at a climbing event, and he seemed to have made it very clear that this was an essential aspect of his life. She might have opted out of the relationship if this was too stressful. (I am citing these pieces of evidence from the Free Solo documentary). It would appear that a similar condition holds for Hamish Harding, too. His family knew of his rather adventurous antics and could have intervened more strongly at any point in the past or chosen their mental health from a seemingly toxic individual who engaged in rather selfish acts of self-grandiose. (It’s they who are responsible for their mental health.)

An offshoot of the ego argument is motivation. For Alex or Michael, it was their passion and their job. They make a living off this, whereas Hamish Harding does not. The part that fails to convince me is that an arbitrary degree of passion separates those who engage in these activities. Michael and even Alex could give up their profession, and perhaps they would be okay (Sure about Michael, unsure about Alex, but he says he's made enough money as a dentist, which is quite a lot, $340K annually and can easily break into the millions). But again, what about those who climb without any financial motivation, just for the sake of it - should their accidents be considered unworthy of notice? There seems to be this threshold, which many of the folks I discussed with seemed to elude. There is a definite (albeit the definition varies between people) point when folks think that “There was so much to live for”. I disagree with this; does the person born without anything have nothing to live for? Should they just give up? Or the other extreme, once you have a certain amount of stuff, you should horde it all up like a dragon in a cave? And what about those who cannot judge clearly for themselves, for example, folks suffering from depression? There always was something to live for from the moment we were born; maybe that reason manifests in different ways, but there always is a reason.

As Alex puts it in one of his interviews, a counterpoint to this would be that it perhaps makes no sense to judge or assign a value to the task. People celebrate you for making it back alive in cases (where he solo’s El Capitan), but folks would comment and ridicule you when it goes wrong. In the case of the Titan Submarine, had the hull not imploded, the CEO would have been hailed as a hero for designing a new type of submersible made out of carbon fibre. He did do a bunch of dives in the same submersible that didn't implode (I am not letting him off the hook, though; compliance checks would have still gone a long way, but it's impossible to know what engineering or bureaucratic or a mixture of both, were challenges he faced there (This too is funded by rich donors (Rich donors pls reach out))).

Also, to quote Alex, nobody goes up to the wall knowing they will die. They walk up to it, knowing that they will live—the commitment to climb despite knowing that the rock face might kill them. The case to be made here is one of hope and belief, and I am confident that not in this text but elsewhere, I could very passionately make the point that we would and should have the courage to do things that, at surface evaluation, seem entirely ridiculous. People risk so much to fall in love, for example. Do they go in knowing that they will break up? Do folks get married knowing they will get a divorce? Some do. I’m sure most consider the possibility, but there is a commitment to believing it will eventually work. And somehow, those beliefs aren't ridiculous; they are seen as ideal aspects of a person. In contrast, those who take precautions by signing prenups are often scoffed in certain circles.

I re-read the last paragraph, which hints at celebrating someone like Alex or Stockton (They didn't pay me (yet)). But I am not; I do not think Alex does it for the fame, and I do believe that Stockton got into it to be on the front pages of papers (Definitely some delusions of grandeur from his interviews). There may have been a fragment of a dream somewhere, but that's not enough motivation to do so. No. This whole post is not about them but rather about us as observers who have chosen to unite in judging them. To have done this grand act of climbing a cliff, venturing to the bottom of the depths, or even something mundane has not changed who anyone was to begin with. Maybe it marks the Shaupenhauerian “Will to life” coming to fruition in this one instance, but has it made this individual a different person? I could argue that the “Will” existed even before, and this person followed this particular thread of will to its logical conclusion, which is excellent, but why discriminate against the different types of choice? Are we even in a position to discriminate against these other wills to life? If you answer yes, please see a therapist as soon as possible (I'm setting up for a joke, which I have in mind about two sentences from here). Otherwise, here is my theory on why we feel comfortable doing so. I think it is because we can collectively come together to judge somebody, to quell our anxiety. I suppose this happens everywhere: Conservatives consider the liberals to be snowflakes to quell their anxiety that their apparent no-nonsense treatment of life is just. Liberals, in turn, impose almost a religious and dogmatic love for therapy (lol) on the conservatives, reassuring themselves that the mental expenditure on kindness shall not go to waste. The funny thing is that both of those are apparently rational ways of cooperating in societies. With the Liberals, it's almost akin to a Grim Trigger strategy in a cooperation game where the moment one has transgressed, folks are cancelled and relegated to the therapy wards. On the other hand, conservatives play a tit-for-tat strategy, exploiting each other and justifying their actions by pointing to the conservative institution that must be preserved. Im teasing this argument out from this book Its a decent read and is quite compelling in its arguments in certain places.

Anyway, maybe this compels no one, and we still wish to continue mocking the shitty design of a submersible where you visit the Titanic and watch it through a screen. A SCREEN. I get that there is the depth thing and stuff, and you can't have a glass/acrylic shell, but a screen is too much, apart from Stockton's motivations. I am disappointed about the design from a tourist aspect of the submarine. So if you would like that experience for no cost and perhaps the larger drama that unfolded around the submarine, you might want to check out this game Here are some other fun links about the the whole escapade Discussing motivation and the societal cost of engaging in reckless activities :

A recap of the submersible incident
The cost of extreme travel
Why are people like this?

TLDR: The game (Just click this to be directed to the website)

Until then keep Shenagening!

Send a message or subscribe!