A Memorial Day Popeye: Life Competence And Climbing Everest

I’ve been tempted to write this post for more than a decade, but the picture above, of the line to reach the summit of Mount Everest stretching out like the ticket line for an Avengers movie, was the last straw. As Popeye said, “That’s all I can stand, cause I can’t stands no more!”

The operative words are life competence and narcissism. Climbing Everest requires and American to pay around $65,000, not counting travel and related expenses. It also involves risking one’s life, as the many perpetually frozen corpses on the way to the top vividly illustrate. And what, exactly, is one pretending to accomplish by reaching the top of Mount Everest?

I will defend to the death one’s right to spend one’s own money and time any way an individual pleases, as long as he or she isn’t neglecting a duty or harming someone in the process. Agreeing that people have the right to waste their time and money—and precious residence on Earth—in pursuit of phony achievements that in truth achieve nothing is very different from pronouncing it right and good are not the same thing.  If the only way you can claim that your life has meaning is to climb Mount Everest, you have flunked Life 101. Asserting that climbing to the top of a big mountain—with the assistance of paid guides who will literally drag you there if necessary—is admirable, a mark of character, and something to regard as a substantive life achievement is the height of delusion and narcissism—the Everest of delusion and narcissism, in fact.

See, climbing the highest mountain peak is a metaphor for rising to a challenge that is worth rising to, not a challenge itself. The first explorers who reached the top of Everest accomplished something. The 6, 561st climber to do it wasn’t an explorer, he was a tourist. If someone wants to visit Disneyland, that’s fine, but it’s nothing to boast about.

An achievement is building something, fixing something, helping someone, creating something, changing something, giving something, growing something, making a life other than your own, a community, a family, a nation, a culture, a little bit better, richer, more civilized. What does trying to climb Everest contribute to anything but the list of stupid and pointless deaths? That $65,000 could start a business, save a life, send someone to college or a trade school, feed hungry children, or save abused animals. If someone tried to impress me by saying, “I climbed to the top of Everest!,” my reaction would the same as if they said, “I once won a hot dog eating contest!” except that I would add, “Ah! You’re an idiot, then.” At least the hotdog eating contest didn’t cost $65,000 to enter.

Our culture has somehow become so perverted that it cannot distinguish real , meaningful achievements from phony ones. Kim Kardashian became a rich celebrity and made her whole. slutty  family celebrities along with her because she made a sex tape and has an unusually large and shapely butt. At least her tape and her butt entertain  and give pleasure to others: these aren’t great contributions to the culture, but they are contributions. Kim is more worthy of respect and admiration than someone whose claim to respect is climbing a mountain.

Today, Memorial Day, we honor men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation and the values it represents, not to fill in a “bucket list,” not so they could boast about it or bolster their self-esteem, but because they understood the difference between what matters in life,. and what, in the end, is trivia. Those rich mountain climbers are the victims of a sick culture that no longer makes that distinction. My father led us to the top of El Capitan in Yosemite, because, as a father, he felt it was hsi duty to enrich the experiences of his children. Every step he took was painful, because a hand grenade had mangled his left foot during the war. That climb was an achievement, and he never boasted about it to anyone.

Recognizing these artificial heroes for what they are is part of the trail down the mountain to a society that knows what is a genuine achievement, and what is only grandstanding and self-indulgence.

Déjà Vu: In D.C., It’s The Brooklyn EMTs All Over Again. How Can This Happen Even Once?

"Hey, I'm ready! Just go through the proper channels, and I'm On it! You can count on me!"

“Hey, I’m ready! Just go through the proper channels, and I’m On it! You can count on me!”

I guess it’s a sign of longevity that some ethics stories are recurring so exactly that I can handle them with previous posts. I never wanted to see this one repeat, however.

In 2004, two EMT’s let a pregnant woman die in front of them without offering aid, because they were on a break and wouldn’t abandon their coffee and bagels to save a mother and her unborn child. (They were suspended and yet kept their jobs.) Over the weekend, in Washington, D.C., a 77-year-old man, Medric Cecil Mills, collapsed across the street from a fire station. The man’s daughter ran across the street to seek help, and the firefighter she spoke to explained that he couldn’t respond until being dispatched and instructed her to call 911. The man died.

[A black humor note: when 911 was called and a rescue vehicle dispatched, it went to the wrong address.] Continue reading

Flashback: “What Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax Can Teach America”

The Late Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax

[Not many people were checking in on Ethics Alarms when I wrote this post in response to yet another example of bystanders choosing to do nothing when a human being was in peril. Some of the comments to the Alameda post, those making excuses for the 75 faint-hearted or apathetic citizens in that city who would rather gawk at a tragedy than try to stop it,  caused me to recall the essay, which explores related issues.  I wrote it, but I had nearly forgotten about the story; when I re-read it today, I got upset all over again.Here, for the second time, is “What Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax Can Teach America.”]

The one with the premium-grade ethics alarms bled to death on the sidewalk. The people who never had theirs installed at all took pictures. Is this the way it’s going to be? Continue reading

Flashback: “Ethics Test at McDonald’s”

Background: The McDonald’s beating and video story reminded me of another ethics essay arising out of a McDonald’s incident, one that I was personally involved in. This post first appeared on The Ethics Scoreboard in 2006, and reading it again, I realized it was one of the first times that I used the ethics alarms imagery that became the basis for this blog. The incident that inspired the essay still troubles me. I wish I could blame McDonald’s for the callousness that my 2006 experience and last week’s incident in Maryland exposed, but unfortunately, our problem relates to the Golden Rule, not the Golden Arches. Here is “Ethics Test at McDonald’s”:

Life gives ethics tests like pop quizzes. You often get no warning, and if you’re thinking about something else, you might not even realize the test is going on. Continue reading

What Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax Can Teach America

The one with the premium-grade ethics alarms bled to death on the sidewalk. The people who never had them installed at all took pictures. Is this the way it’s going to be?

Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was a Guatemalan immigrant who lived in Queens, New York. His life was a mess; he was destitute, ill, and had no job or likelihood of getting one. When he saw a knife-wielding man apparently assaulting a woman on the street two weeks ago, however, he knew what his ethical obligations were. He rescued her by intervening in the struggle, and got stabbed, badly, for his actions. The attacker ran off, and so did the woman, who didn’t check on Hugo after he fell, and  never contacted the police. She also neglected to say, “Thanks for saving my life.” Continue reading

Ethics Alarms and the Brooklyn EMTs

The astounding indifference to both human life and their duties displayed by the EMTs in yesterday’s incident in Brooklyn relates directly to the title of this blog. Why…why…didn’t their ethics alarms go off when they knew that a young, pregnant woman was fighting for her life a few yards away? What could have dulled their senses of duty and humanity, disabled them, to this extent? Continue reading