Extreme environmental games and class privilege

Ok, I’m happy that French sailors managed to rescue Abby Sutherland, but the whole thing annoys me, and with reason, from an environmental justice perspective.

I quote Bill Cosby quoting his father when confronted with his son terrified from riding on the roller coaster his father told him not to get on: “Who put ya on the goddamn thing in the first place?”

So you go hiking by yourself and you wind up in trouble and you have cut off your hand? Woo. Get a book deal out of it and expect the rest of us to see you as a brave survivor (ok, fine) instead of some idiot who went hiking without a buddy. Who DOES that? Walk away from your family and stroll, completely unprepared into Alaska, starve to death and have Jon Krakauer write a book about you because you’re so interesting. We care about you if you starve, given how you have courted starvation. The homeless people hungry outside the door? Nah. Too prosaic.

Here’s Mr. Sutherland’s brilliant justification on why he let his daughter do something so ridiculously stupid for the thrill of it:

“I never questioned my decision in letting her go,” he told reporters Friday. “In this day and age we get overprotective with our children. If you want to look at statistics, look at how many teenagers die in cars every year. Should we let teenagers drive cars? I think it’d be silly if we didn’t.”

link: Young Sailor Is Rescued – WSJ.com

Overprotective? Overprotective is refusing to let your 16 year-old ride public transit. Over-protective is swooping into their schools to try to browbeat teachers into giving your kid an A when they’ve earned a B. Saying no to an unsupervised solitary sail around the world? No, not overprotective.

1) It’s stupid to sail by yourself, no matter what your skill level and no matter how good of shape you are in.

2) It’s really stupid to let your 16 year old kids sail around the world by themselves to try to break records so that you can spend your time basking in media attention.

3) Sixteen year-olds have parents to keep them from indulging in their “I’m invincible because I’m so special and the world has never seen anything or anybody like me before” routine.

4) Danger and risk are playthings among those whose class privilege protects them from the consequences of danger and risk on an everyday basis.

So by indulging in some sixteen year-old’s “need” to prove herself against nature, we nearly killed a French ship captain rescuing her. Of course. It’s just her due: she’s playing, he’s working, and there’s no romance or interest if the guy with the sweat on his collar dies on the water, but her risks, well, those are special special special!

4 thoughts on “Extreme environmental games and class privilege

  1. I gather you’re not a fan of Theodore Roosevelt. Nor Charles Lindbergh, Nellie Bly or Daniel Boone. Einstein attributed some of his creativity to the fact that his parents let him ride public transit by himself at a very young age, maybe six. Also let him avoid the German army draft by moving to Switzerland. I know these aren’t, strictly speaking, comparable cases, but what are the principles that allow one to distinguish between them? All best wishes.

  2. You’re right, Frank, I’m not a fan, except of Einstein. Riding public transit is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and kids should be safe there, with all of us looking out for each other in the public sphere. (See S. Huthinson’s book). Riding the bus doesn’t endanger anybody unnecessarily.

    Lindbergh? I’m sorry about what happened to his chlid, but no, I really don’t care about rich adventurers, big game hunters, or anybody else who is looking to play a fame game. Does anybody know the names of any of the nuclear engineers and workers from around the Soviet Union who knew they were heading into certain death and did so anyway in order to stop the disaster from getting worse? Whee, Sir Edmund Hillary is some sort hero, the conquerer of Everest (did it need conquering? Did it do something wrong? )

    What distinguishes? What’s the principle? If something is undertaken because somebody rich is bored, then screw that. Read a book. There’s lots of entertainments.

    • I was thinking of the younger, 1927 Lindbergh who did the flight to France. He wasn’t rich or bored. Neither was Bly (an impressive figure through a long varied life) or Boone. Roosevelt in South Dakota, however blustery, was recovering from the near-simultaneous deaths of his wife and mother. He said he would never have become President without his time there.

  3. Just because a person is struggling with loss, as in Roosevelt’s case, doesn’t justify unnecessary risk-taking; if you want to go risk your life for a thrill or to get your mind off something, that’s one thing. It’s another to have such poor judgment that you do these things without thinking about the risks and costs to other people to save your fanny when your little adventure goes pear-shaped. It’s understandable in Roosevelt’s case, feeling as he must have done, as many things are understandable, but it’s still one of those things that wouldn’t for example, get me to vote for one. There’s a difference between heroism and simple bad judgment. In Lindbergh’s case, the early flights weren’t just part of a fame game: he was a test pilot, doing something that was expected to and did lead other advancements in technology. Nelly Bly was a reporter doing a job. Those aren’t necessarily silly or unproductive risks, particularly given her willingness to put her body at risk to expose the bad treatment of the mentally ill. To equate her work with a kid from Thousand Oaks who wants to hold a record for doing something dangerous younger than other people strikes me as pretty specious. It’s like saying “Gosh, Gandhi took some big risks, too, are you judging him?” Um, no he risked his body for an important social end.

    Let’s look at this way: I am routinely confronted with “fat people should pay more because they are voluntarily incurring health risks.” First, we don’t know how voluntary it is, and second, isn’t the point of insurance is to even out the vagaries of physical advantage and disadvantage and personality, etc? Yet, risky groups of drivers pay more, and perhaps overweight people should pay more, and we justify both of these based on the desire to prevent moral hazard. So being a bad driver is risk that we penalize but taking on the types of risks that the Sutherlands did–and having professional sailors risk their lives to get you out at what could have been a terrible price if that boat of sailors had gone done in a part of the ocean at a time of year famous for killing sailors–isn’t moral hazard?

    If I were the wife of that French captain, or his children, if he’s got any of the aforementioned, I’d be good and pissed. He and his crew took on risk for an honorable thing, to save a young woman’s life; Ms. Sutherland and her family took on risk for wrong and dishonorable reasons, and their choices affected other people. If they had been out on the Indian Ocean to collect rare plants that would cure cancer, fine dandy. As it is, she was boating. No. Go to calculus camp with everybody else.

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