This Blog

This blog is dedicated to explorations of spirit, life, adventure, and people. I hope that it encompasses much more than the actions of people, but rather creates a more complete picture of what it means to be an athlete and a person in the outdoor community.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A response

I just picked up the latest Banks mag, a kayaking publication out of Banks, Idaho.  A letter to the editor was brazenly opposed to the "Nihilistic" kayaking attitude and literature that is coming out of todays professional kayakers, using as the quintessential case.

In this post I am evaluating the claim that kayakers are nihilistic.

Nihilism is a philosophy which disregards the idea of meaning in human lives. There is no path that is objectively better than any other path, and actions don't have a moral or karmic aspect to them. Nihilism is a denial of things, an extreme skepticism of the world. It is questioning and undermining of structures and humans regard for their own knowledge and intuition. It can even go as far as to the belief that knowledge is not even possible, that for all we know nothing is real or true because those are merely concepts that have been constructed by others, which in fact are based on arbitrary definitions. Seems like a good place to start as a kayaker.

What would a person with these values do if they were a kayaker? Well, it seems like if you have an extreme skepticism about epistemology, you may be more likely to run really hard rapids because you would be so skeptical of people saying that they are unrunnable. A nihilist might ask "How can you possibly know that it is unrunnable until someone has tried and failed, and even then it is not proof that is unrunnable. It is proof that one person could not run it". Also, if there is no inherent decision that is good or bad, then we must conclude that we should do whatever feels good to us, because what else would really matter? There is no reason to suffer if there is nothing to gain through that suffering.

In the prologue of egcreekin Evan states "The love of kayaking has overcome my desire to make money, go to school, or do anything but go boating. This is my life." This would not be a nihilist statement except that he says "Do anything but boating" which really limits what is important. This is a vote for nihilism because it is only if all activities are of the same essential value that kayaking would become the number one priority, because it doesn't really serve any societal or familial purpose. It has very little purpose outside of self satisfaction, which is the proclaimed reason that Evan does it, otherwise there would be some other things that are important, which never really shows up in his writing or movies. In Evans recently released movie clip a kayaker turns to the camera and says "Sorry mom if I don't make it to the bottom but this is really fun". So, to this kayaker, dying is okay, as long as he is having fun. This statement and lifestyle certainly lacks a sense of values, if death is okay if it is fun, then life is only really worth living if it is fun.

These seem to be the biggest supporting arguments for nihilism. It would certainly be difficult to argue that these kayakers have any other sort of philosophical standpoint. The anonymous writer of this letter to the editor has a point. But, so what? It is not a given that nihilism is bad, or that people who are nihilist somehow inhibit our society. In some ways nihilism frees you to follow what you love, regardless of societal pressure. If people followed their passion like these kayakers do, if people had the means to, we would be living in a world with tremendously skilled and interesting people. These pro kayakers may be limited in their capacity to find meaning in everyday life, but they make it to these places and express their essence while moving through the water. Despite their seeming lack of attachment to their life, they are happy, living each moment like it is their last, which is commendable.

We need to be able to see past ourselves and wish well onto others who have found their passion; whether it is using kayaking to explore nature and relax or to if it is to challenge one's self to an unprecedented degree. These kayakers deserve respect for finding solace in something, for finding moments of happiness.

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