Maggie Gallagher lazily laces up her evo psych shoes and decides to take a walk in the mind of the mountain-climbing man.
Mountains, you see, are taking our men, like the stealthily placid geological ninjas that they are.
When you are a woman, a lot of the things men do are, well, hard to understand.
This weekend, tragedy struck on a mountain I had never heard of: K2 — a 28,250-foot peak in Pakistan. Since 1939, only 280 people have reached the top of K2; more than 70 men have died trying.
l have no reason to stop here other than to throw in a gratuitous mention of 1991’s K2.
Why do men do these things?
I’m going to guess that “men” (and by men, Gallagher also means several women, none of whom count because hey look ocelots.
Long story short, men have a culturally bred higher tolerance for risk which has a lot more to do with generations of expectations that men go out and risk themselves to provide while women stay home and tend to what’s provided. Except when women do it, which again doesn’t count because jungle cats!
There is, in other words, and upside and a downside to men’s greater taste for risk. I don’t know how many of the men falling or freezing to death up on K2 had children, but I know that no children are going to lose their mother up there on the mountain this time.
…What? Goddamn, she’s better at this random tailing off thing than I’m not a fan of paisley.
Women — feminism aside — have always looked at this male propensity for risk with a double-edged vision. On the one hand, we cannot help human nature: The successful man, who braves risks and emerges triumphant carries a fascination for both women and other men that, well, the evolutionary biologists can have a field day with. At the same time, we look askance at the way our own desires pull us into a relationship with this strange, opposite sex, with his odd priorities and who does these bizarre things for reasons that no woman, I think, can ever fully understand.
Evolutionary biology has nothing to do with it – the large number of female entrepreneurs, aforementioned mountain climbers, artists, leaders, etc. all teach us that the biology of gender isn’t the driver of risk, it’s the availability of opportunity to risk something along with the cultural allowance to do so. Of course, this gets in the way of our admiration and lamentation of our stupid, brave, genetically driven men.
The saddest part of it all is how senseless these 11 deaths are. The Marines rushing into urban conflict in Anbar province I can wholeheartedly admire. The firemen who ran into the burning towers of 9/11 and lost their lives, I remember in my prayers with gratitude and admiration.
But somehow we live in a world where not enough men find real avenues for masculine achievement. They are moved to take enormous risks, like climbing K2, for no particular reason in a world that (apparently) offers them insufficient real outlets for their heroism.
The women who died on K2, incidentally, were told there was a new kitchen in it for them.
There’s a rather obvious reason why men (and women) might want to climb K2. It’s pretty much the hardest thing you can accomplish in the realm of mountain climbing. It provides an incredible sense of accomplishment to do something that so few people have, particularly performing an activity that you love. If they wanted to be firefighters, they could. If they wanted to go fight terrorists somewhere, they could. If they wanted to be deep sea divers or bodybuilders or pilots, they could. But this is what they want to do. I’m sure their frozen corpses are apologetic to Maggie for not turning their drive and passion towards a cause that she found more personally fulfilling (and it really does make you wonder how she feels at all those right-wing conferences when she meets the pudgy, beofficed men of her ilk, bravely forwarding the latest Mark Steyn column around and talking about who they’d nail from the firm on the other corner if they were ten years younger).
To the 11 dead on K2: Salute! We used to send such men out to explore new continents, conquer frontiers or defeat the barbarians.
How utterly sad it is that we don’t live on a larger planet, and that all those men of earlier generations went out and discovered all the good continents and slew all the dirtiest savages. Damn you, God, and your insistence on sticking us on this tiny, stupid rock with your mere seven continents, four oceans and several billion people. You didn’t pull this shit in Alpha Centauri, that’s for damn sure.
People dying doing what they love, in a testament to the sheer willpower and determination of mankind, simply isn’t enough – there’s some “masculine” bloodlust (driven, of course, by a proper lady) that must be fulfilled in order for something to be worthwhile. If only there were an indigenous culture to be displaced, another country’s identity to piss on, then maybe, just maybe, these people would have died for a real reason. Instead, we’re just left with pizza tastes funny when you leave it out too long.