People in Colorado and around the world are trying to cope with this morning's horror in a movie theater in Aurora where a lone gunman, armed with numerous weapons and wearing a gas mask and flak jacket, killed at least 12 and wounded 50 at a midnight showing of the new Batman film. I learned of the shooting just as I was heading out the door to go to Rocky Mountain National Park and do some bouldering in Lower Chaos Canyon. Instead of listening to music, I kept the car radio tuned to NPR the entire drive, as reception allowed, taking in the details, including the suspect's booby-trapped apartment and careful preparation, all too reminiscent of the Columbine High School killings of almost 15 years ago.
I hadn't been up to the Park in almost a month, having spent the last three weeks in Florence, Italy immersed in a world that revolved around scholarship and art, libraries and museums. It felt good to hike up the familiar trail and breathe in the cool fir-scented air of the forest morning. The splendor of the canyon opened up to the west, gleaming gray and gold, and the bright blue sky was reflected in the still waters of Lake Haiyaha.
It might seem even more pointless than ever, I suppose, to walk into this high alpine canyon to climb little rocks, or try at least to climb them, and then walk out a few hours later. Even the beauty of the setting or the physical benefits of hiking and climbing cannot entirely obscure the absurdity of the enterprise of bouldering, especially in the context of a world that has apparently gone insane.
I wondered on the walk out, after getting thoroughly beaten up by my project, whether we all could stand to reflect more deeply on why things like climbing or art matter, whether we should as a culture stand up to defend what I would describe "good crazy" as opposed to its bad counterpart. Climbing to me, in its best moments is the epitome of good crazy, a peculiar quest to understand something deeper about the world we travel through. At its best it is an innocent pastime, neither seeking reward outside itself nor recognition beyond a small circle of similarly inclined individuals. Obsession, despair, and sorrow, all are aspects of this experience along with insight, joy, even exaltation. Good crazy embraces paradox, frustration, imperfection, and the concretely experienced truths of transience. Good crazy works itself out as it goes along, seeking the passive path whenever possible and eschewing destruction and injury. Good crazy blames itself when things go wrong and vows to do better next time.
Bad crazy, which the world is too full of these days, seeks none of these things.It believes in a deranged rationality, upholding abstract ideals whose enforcement only results in more suffering. Bad crazy believes in the desirability of unfettered physical power and the self-imposed right to decide guilt and mete out punishment. Whether through drone aircraft in Afghanistan, suicide bombings, or deranged shootings, as have been all too common around the world in recent years, violence is the hallmark of bad crazy. Bad crazy never apologizes. Bad crazy happens in windowless rooms and in front of computer screens where an ever-present enemy is represented and enlarged all out of proportion to reality. This attitude is represented best by the quote from the Vietnam War, "It became necessary to destroy the village to save it." Regardless of the veracity of the source of the quote, its persistence in the popular imagination speaks to a sense of the insanity at the heart of the contemporary imperial-capitalist enterprise.
One of the potential virtues of climbing is that it promotes a good kind of crazy, a kind that reinvents the world in a positive way, that promotes curiosity and believes in complexity and diversity. It may ultimately be the most meaningful meaningless pursuit that many of us will pursue. I think that the most interesting forms of human culture speak to this enterprise of understanding over interfering. When I stand in front of a wall, whether in a museum or in a boulder field, I begin to hear voices, voices that tell me to think again, reconsider, try another vantage point, and I in turn speak back. Out of this dialogue comes something new, something that persists across time, that in turn creates its own new ideas and phenomena.
The world needs more good crazy, more good ideas, more new art, music, stories, even new rock climbs. We all need to nurture attitudes of responsible exploration and discovery that respect the reality and dignity of living things. The world doesn't need more violence, repression, and brutality. If climbing can be a force for good in the world, maybe this is the way; by promoting better ways of being crazy.