War And Climbing Are Tales Of All Passions

We Climb Therefore We Are?

Climbing is the tale of all passions. Where the essence is reached. The top of the world is littered with corpses. Littered with ambition and selfishness too, not just selfless heroism. Mountains bring out the extremes. The extremes of humanity: life, death, what human beings consider reasonable behavior… which, in many cases, turns out to not be reasonable at all. Climbing teaches life, and how human values can dominate it.

So a question mountains always bring is how come reason vanishes up there, and how come do human beings persist in taking enormous risks, just because they can and it brings fame. Mountains bring new Achilles ready to kill to achieve fame, and the one they kill is not named Hector, nor for exacting revenge, but it is themselves they kill, and for flimsier reasons.

Nevado Chacraraju at sunrise from Chopicalqui camp. Cordillera Blanca, Peru. America del Sur.

It has always been true that climbing mountains is a great way to find out about human nature. Nature does not care about humanity. Humanity is here to give nature a soul. That soul, that human soul, is the most astounding object in the universe. It is the very fact that lives are at stake, that life is in the balance, for no good reason, which makes climbing irresistible. Gods used to live among the mountains. By entering the peaks, though, and rolling the dice with life itself, human beings make themselves into gods, telling the universe that life and death, and all human passions are just what they play with, and roll around like dice.

This doomsplay makes climbing divine. In one day, one hour, one second, entire lives are lived and universes born and created.

The dirty and not so little secret about humanity is that it is all about creating and destroying. And sometimes, having life in the way is the best way to be alive.

Si vis pacem, para bellum“, the Romans used to say. If you want peace, prepare for war. But preparing for war does not mean just having bigger and better weaponry. It also means to have bigger and better psychology, it means to understand the enemy. It means to understand that the enemy’s psychology is no less than the climbing psychology: it is not because the odds of surviving are low that the feat shall not be attempted. Actually, it is the other way around. It may well be, with some characters (say Xi, China’s dictator) that, the lower the odds of surviving, the more tempting the adventure.

It is important to understand that war, like climbing, is attractive for reasons pertaining to the very inconveniences it fosters, discomfort, pain, fear, and death. When Japan and Nazi Germany went to war, the odds that they would win were extremely low (they both got very lucky initially). But the very fact that the odds were low made the wars they started, more attractive, as, the more deadly and frightening the mountain, the more tempting it is to scale it.

War is not just entertained as politics by other means, but, just like mountain climbing, is as the very root of what it means for human beings to be alive in full… even if that means disdain for life itself… precisely because it means disdain for life.

Patrice Ayme


P/S 1: An implicit background to all this philosophy is that our ancestors were climbers, and carnivores, at least for 100 million years. Climbing… and fighting… come to us more naturally than walking on two legs. They are more part of our creation-given logic.


P/S 2: Some of the (mildest) core of this essay was sent to the New York Times as a comment on an article of Mallory and Irvine (who came very close to Everest’s summit in 1924). My comment was blocked. I mention this, because it shows how much the plutocratic newspaper worries about molding its readership’s mind. The same day another comment of mine on “Cancel Culture” was also blocked. Ezra Klein, from Vox and now the NYT, argued that “Cancel Culture” was just legal maneuvering by corporate America. I added that “Cancel Culture” was the oldest thing in English American culture: after all, the Native Americans were “cancelled”. Well, the NYT cancelled that comment… Climbing may not be everywhere, but fighting is…

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4 Responses to “War And Climbing Are Tales Of All Passions”

  1. kathw Says:

    “Doomsplay” – Great term!


  2. Gmax Says:

    Nice pic. You love climbing, don’t you? How close is it to mountain running?


  3. ianmillerblog Says:

    There is some evidence that when Hitler invaded Poland he did not expect Britain and France to honour their word. Subsequently, both Hitler and the Japanese thought they could make gains and negotiate. Stupid, maybe, I doubt they each thought the initial action would lead to their demise.


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