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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stupidity (sociological extensions of Darwinism)

It's interesting how fine the line is between stupidity and legend, and how often 'success' delineates the boundary.

Jeb Corliss is a prime example - pioneer of the wing suit.  If he'd crashed into a mountain on his first 'flight', or ended up in a dozen pieces when he hit this ledge (, many people would have chalked it up as the inevitable outcome of a really dumb decision.  But as it stands, he survived, has made countless more successful jumps, and is widely heralded (by those in the outdoor industry) as something of a visionary, pushing the boundaries of what was previously thought possible.

Idiot and Legend are really just flip sides of the Darwinian coin - they are the different labels that we give to people when they try things that seem ridiculous, impossible, or just plain stupid - things that have never been done before or in some cases have never even been attempted.  Things that conventional wisdom and the the collective thinking of risk averse society suggest will meet with certain failure. 

And when the person fails, dies, or gets injured - these elements are affirmed and the coin lands on the idiot side.
200+ mph?  stupid or the stuff of legends?

But when the person doesn't - when they succeed, and then especially if they succeed again and again - conventional wisdom is forced to re-write itself.  We learn about the world and ourselves.  The coin shows Legend.

I was reminded of all this as i watched a great movie with my kids this morning - 'the worlds fastest indian'.  In particular i was struck by how nicely my thoughts on the subject are summed up by dear old Teddy Roosevelt, so i'll let him close for me:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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