09 October 2012
I’ve always felt that I would approve of any kind of hunting as long as it was 50-50 between man and beast. Tricky to organise, I know, but it must be obvious that a bloke in a red coat on a horse going mano-a-mano with a small pride of lions would be more fun than the rigged charade of fox ‘hunting’.
It is risk that grips us, or perhaps I mean uncertainty. Risk is calculable up to the point it runs into uncertainty. As there must be very few stats on the outcomes of men in red coats on horses versus prides of lions, we cannot really induce our way to a risk calcuation so the outcome would be genuinely uncertain.
It is Felix Baumgartner’s jump that has inspired these thoughts. I had a little, boyish thrill when I first read of Felix, but this turned to a shrug when I realised it was a Red Bull stunt. Red Bull promotes itself as the deliverer of excitement, a coded way of claiming their drink is a stimulant drug. It all comes across as snowboarding, eurotrash nonsense. In fairness, the sight of any corporate logo these days sucks the fun out of stuff. We just know it’s all insured, discounted, risk-calculated to the eyeballs.
David Blaine, with his latest, million vote number, is the same. Does anybody really think he would die? Perhaps he was really leaping into uncertainty, but one suspects not, one feels not.
Evel Knievel had his logos, I suppose, but it all seemed different then. This guy was plainly an inspired idiot. Here’s an informative graphic of his injuries, he really was not kidding. Evel nearly died from hepatitis C, contracted from one of his numerous blood transplants. I’m not sure whether the diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis that finally finished him off in the town of Clearwater – a poet to the last - had anything to do with his chosen career, but, by then, he had done more than enough.
There are many Evels out there. I’ve spent quite a few hours on YouTube seeking out the great idiots of uncertainty. I like the ones involving explosions. Johnny Knoxville did a fine job of being a Jackass for a while, but, like all TV, it quickly palled. I once leapt into the uncertain with him in LA, but he took the risk of playing me at pool and lost.
The point is we need idiots to make the leaps we daren’t because of fear or couldn’t because of the oppression of obligations. The leaps, it hardly needs saying, are all to (Kierkegaard’s actual word, not ‘of’) faith. The faith is probably pagan, the belief in dignity in the face of a dangerous and uncontrollable world, in, above all, dying well. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb – who has taught me all I need to know about risk and uncertainty – always says, if you are about to be executed, shave. Now that, like Evel, is class.