In an earlier blog review of Stoic Warriors – The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind, I looked at some of the issues facing the American military as society changes its attitude toward individual suffering.
For several years past, I’ve attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which is a spectacular assembly of films on mountain subjects — usually relating to outdoor pursuits, natural environments, and exotic cultures. There, I found the same male appetites for adventure, risk, and camaraderie … with many of the same grim consequences of fear, trauma, loss, and sudden death faced by soldiers. But there was a difference. A big one.
The trailer (below) for a recent year of the Banff film festival runs about five minutes. It does contain advertising but the ads are as interesting as the film excerpts for giving a feel for the festival and, by implication, for the prevailing social ethos.
After the jump, my views on the difference …
… between soldiers and “snowboarders.”
At the film festival, all the appetites, strengths, and weaknesses of young men (and women) are on display. What stands out however is that these achievements, risk-taking, and traumas are placed in an individual context — the emotions of self-validation and status. While exploration and adventure may take place in teams, the benefits are cited in individual terms. The broader social and political implications of such adventurous behaviour are fig-leaves by comparison.
It is particularly striking then how this particular subculture responds to the maiming, traumatization, and death of its adherents. And to the heart-break inflicted on friends and family. As mentioned in my original post, our culture paradoxically accepts risk-taking and trauma in service of a personal “high” or aggrandizement, in a way it never does for national service.
Blind? Climb Mount Everest. Double amputee? Take up ice climbing. Female? Compete with guys for danger and extremes. Crippled? Adjust your sporting efforts accordingly, and press on. Unable to maintain stable relationships? Next question. Killed? Shrug and turn away.
It turns out our society is quite capable of accepting the random crippling, traumatization, and pointless death of young men in the voluntary pursuit of risk … as long as the motivation is personal and trivial and entirely forgettable. Young people motivated by concern for others, in service to their country, and motivated by grander ideals, aren’t so lucky.