In spite of our concern that everyone be a citizen and a voter; in spite of our insistence that every human is morally equal, of equal concern and protection; and our ideal of a unity of all human beings, we are forced to admit that everyone is different. Not everyone can sing well, not everyone is strong or a good dancer, not everyone can draw, and not everyone is smart. We know this but deny it.
Another unadmitted difference it that of our taste for adventure. Some have a strong drive to take risks, to go somewhere no one else has been, to reach for the extraordinary, take dangerous adventures and even deliberately invite derangement by enduring extremes or taking drugs. This appears to be a universal potential that has arisen from the experience of inescapable imposed danger of all kinds. Rising to meet danger is a powerful arousal.
Other people prefer safety, will sacrifice much for the sake of security, even walling off anything that looks risky. This difference, in my experience, exists in animals. Some want peace and food; others want excitement. So this is a difference that arises from our mammal nature, meaning it is not easy to manage in a mammal-plus context like living with other humans. Most people approach this problem as a moral issue, urging rules and compassion. Some even believe that force or incarceration can be necessary.
But this is not another dichotomy. Some people want special conditions — maybe like people who are afraid of danger and crime but enjoy hearing about it — like those who never have sex but like porn. Or those who, like dogs, will kill when they are in a pack, but are mellow and friendly at home.
We are in a strange situation today when much of our “war” is seen on green satellite screens and destruction is enacted by drones with flamethrowers. Those destroyed are tiny figures, mostly unidentified. It is reported that the controllers who sit in comfortable chairs doing this work will need therapy. The disconnect from the natural animal function of combat is too sharp. There is no taste of blood.
Even stranger is our ability to kill thousands by suppressing action in the face of pandemic, or using budgeting to deny aid for people in mortal danger. Isn’t this logic-sociopathy, denying the nature of people who aren’t you or related to you? One would think that letting people die this way would prepare decision-makers to accept birth control or abortion, but instead they impose the death sentence.
In these two situations the adventure factor, the personal risk that boots the autonomic system into the highest levels, is simply missing. In theory this should tend to extinguish dangerous behavior, but it seems instead to expand it. If the landscape has not become broader, we travel further, higher, deeper.
“Risk-taking causes real changes in the brain, which might account for why risk-takers quickly seem to become adrenaline addicts. Major risks release adrenaline, which can lead to a quick rush, and dopamine, which causes intense feelings of pleasure.” May 7, 2013
“Risk-takers are incredibly curious about why things are the way they are. Curiosity for risk-takers is an innate instinct, and curious people have a hard time accepting the way that things are without thinking about the way things can be.” Dec 22, 2014
I am a serious risk-taker, though without much reference to violence or sex. Well, without much reference to life with Scriver on the rez in the Sixties. Being a Multnomah County deputy sheriff assigned to animal control put me in mild risk. Driving through winters as a circuit-riding minister in Montana was high risk. Defying managers was sometimes risky. Writing at this level this late in life is risky. Others have had no awareness or understanding of any of what I do. People are different.
In the Sixties I thought I was protected by traveling shotgun with Scriver. Only gradually did I realize how willing he would be to discard me or the real danger in the risks he demanded. He took just as many. We both existed in a tumult of responses to pouring bronze, chasing buffalo, hunting horseback in the Rockies. One of my brothers did something similar during his first years in the Marines, chasing rattlesnakes on motorcycles in the desert near Yuma and loving every minute of it. But when he was nearly called up into the rioting in Watts, he said his body reacted to the possibility at the level of trauma. The anticipation was a kind of combat porn, all the reaction without being there.
It’s a great irony that the most popular books and movies lately have been “apocalypse porn”, while the consumers ignore the apocalypse on our sidewalks, the rising suicide rate and heat. The effect has been to numb us to the REAL apocalypse of climate change, economic crisis over fossil fuel, and effects of pandemic. When I googled “risk takers”, the items were about whether a business hiring a risk-taker was doing something dangerous or if it might stimulate profit.
Few today set out in a wooden boat dependent on wind for motion. Maybe sails beat oars, but rowing is a matter of conformity, fitting in. In the beginning few survived even as crew on long voyages because of scurvy, bad water, bad food, force as discipline. Nowadays, to achieve that level of risk, people set out on small modern boats alone but with much equipment and enormous knowledge. When they survive — and we go all out to rescue them — they always seem like calm, resourceful people. Not scatterbrains. Except why would they do such a thing?
The riskiest things in this boring world is two-sided: defiant demonstrators willing to bomb and burn, and the “protectors” meant to control them with rubber bullets and truncheons. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gombe_Chimpanzee_War On both sides the clash is cloaked by the highest rhetoric, the most irreproachable ideals. Consequences in terms of individual lives are very high. I’m waiting — not eagerly — for a book by a quasi-military paid suppressor, a ninja, that explains what it feels like to have permission to attack those who purport to be legitimate. An element of obsessive defiance has got to be part of it. It’s a mammal-plus thing, a human physical response to life and the fact that we’re not all equal.