Tuesday, June 19, 2012
A sports columnist at the New York Times proposes, in all seriousness, that mountain and rock climbing, of all activities, be
I am not making this up.
Mountaineering and rock climbing have always been high-risk sports. The question now: As populations grow richer, as the globe grows smaller and adventure becomes more of a commodity, are people getting a bit carried away, risking life and limb for mere thrills? Should the authorities step in with greater regulation to promote safety?The article goes on to cite statistics on the high rates of death and injury associated with these sports. (One study actually shows the activities to be safer than pregnancy, but rather than pooh-poohing it like the author, let's set it aside for the sake of argument.)
Doesn't everyone already know that climbing up the sides of rocks is dangerous? Even the article acknowledges this indirectly, as it notes that some climbers ignore the well-known risks and that, in one safety survey, greater climbing experience surprisingly did not mean a lower death rate from accidents. (It astounds and amuses me that the author would find this surprising, and yet simultaneously imagine that government-imposed safety measures would solve the problem.)
What does that translate to? Forty-seven percent of the climbers had been involved in accidents that resulted in multiple bone fractures, head and spinal injuries. Those injuries did not dissuade them from continuing with the sport. The rate of death from climbing was 8.2 percent over the period, something that Mr. Montasterio said was "alarming" and that "supports other evidence that climbing is a dangerous sport."To which I say: So what? Nobody forced these people to risk their lives on the edge of a rock somewhere.
This cry for regulation omits two obvious questions: (1) Who is getting killed or maimed here? (2) Whom is the government protecting from whom? The whole idea of the government regulating an activity very few people participate in (for good reason!), and which puts only the participants at risk exposes the fashionable urge to regulate everything we do as collectivist.
By regulating this activity, the government would admittedly be adding no new knowledge to the equation (not that it is the government's job to teach). It would merely be overriding the decisions by some individuals to participate in an activity that harms -- no, might harm -- only themselves. What personal decision could be exempt once such a premise is accepted? Do we not own our own lives? If so, isn't the risk we partake with any activity our own to assess and judge acceptable or not? The government cannot protect the right of an individual to live his own life by his own best judgement -- by routinely butting in every time someone decides to do something.
Mountaineering is a steep slope I choose to avoid, but I recognize the call to regulate it as an attempt to force me down the shallower -- but slippery and more dangerous -- slope of government meddling.
Today: Corrected a typo.