Posts Tagged ‘Wingsuit’

Death By Police State: The Case Of Dean Potter

May 24, 2015

HUMANITY WOULD NOT BE WITHOUT LOVE FOR RISK TAKING

Some pragmatic and biased partisans of the police state will immediately interject that the famous climber Dean Potter died from hitting the ground as he flew his wingsuit too low in Yosemite. The Guardian, though, saw a bit further: “Did rules, not risk, cause Dean Potter’s Base jumping death?”

Potter Above The Alps. Some Day, We Will Fly Better Than That, Because We Tried

Potter Above The Alps. Some Day, We Will Fly Better Than That, Because We Tried

See also: The Last Flight of Dean Potter by my friend Dan Duane.

Humanity evolved because it learned to enjoy ever greater feats, by taking ever more risks thanks to, and inciting to inventing ever more sophisticated technology.

Therefore risk takers have to be respected: they are animated by the essence of what makes us humans.

That does not mean one should make a cult of them. And the cult around many a climber has irritated me over the years. Yes, when risk takers go too far, and misrepresent the risks they take to the youth, thus making a lot of victims, they have to be cut down to size. In that sense Dean Potter, and other like him, some of them personal friends, have irritated me. I think climbing is dangerous enough to not overdo it. Most of my friends died climbing.

Wingsuit flying is even more dangerous: around 5% of wingsuit fliers die, every year.  However, the philosophy of wingsuit flying holds together.

Indeed, I am a climber too, and I have free soloed (mostly by force, during mountaineering, because it was safer than the alternative). I have observed, during a long climbing career, that those who solo too much, or at too high a level, die. They don’t necessarily die climbing: they get so used to cheat death free soloing, that they take inconsiderate risks in other activities such as driving, or BASE jumping (indeed). So I view the hard line taken by Dr. Paul Preuss, a fanatical free soloist and with hundreds of first ascents as stupid and criminal. A free soloing Preuss died in 1913, at 27, after falling off a thousand feet. Preuss was a genius, but he went too far.

I use to climb a lot in U.S. National Parks, especially Yosemite. However, over times, those parks turned into training grounds for the police state. Once, long ago, after a hard climb in Rocky National Park, Colorado, our ropes got cut by rock fall on the descent. We had to spend the night at 13,000 feet, freezing, and finished the descent the next day. By the time we made it out to the trailhead, hours away, a ranger was there to arrest us for staying out without an overnight permit (we had only a permit to climb that particular mountain).

In Yosemite, entire casual, or cheap campsites were closed, while the Valley itself became a city, complete with judge and jail. Rangers go about with infrared detectors to arrest those who would be out in the woods at night. And so on.

There is little doubt that forcing parachutists to jump with low visibility, or worrying first about arrests, is a factor increasing the probability of dying.

Why then have the National Parks, and a lot of the wilderness, in the USA, be transformed into a police state? Well, precisely because, so doing, people are trained to live in a police state.

A particularly comic aspect of this happened when the government of the USA ran out of money, and closed all the National Parks.

I came for one of my mountain runs, starting at the end of a dirt road where there is never anybody. For this sort of long, solitary runs, I get dropped somewhere, and run to somewhere else, where I get picked up (it’s more challenging than climbing, these days).

But that period, the Parks were closed. And to make sure that the Parks would stay closed, the government had sent plenty of supplementary law enforcement (so the government spent more money, because it wanted to spend less money!). A runner had to run in the woods to escape the Rangers’ SUVs, and then play hide and seek with a horse patrol, which had been especially sent in pursuit. Those days I saw plenty of rangers in places where one never sees anyone (let alone rangers), on access dirt roads to various Parks. Many people, even families, with children, got actually chased down and arrested for daring to penetrate their National Parks, on their habitual dominical hikes.

What was taught by Big Police by this barely credible repression? That in the USA, the law is hard, but it is the law, and humanity is nothing, if it stands in the way of the law. So Dean Potter died, flying at dusk, and many in law enforcement in the USA rejoice, and so do their fellow travelers. Because it reminds all that people are nothing, and orders, everything. National Park do not teach nature first. They teach the police state, first. That is considered much more important, nowadays.

There has been recently some indignation about the methods of the police in the USA. Racist allegations were made. However, those familiar with the police in the USA know that racism is not the fundamental problem. Some of the officers indicted for violence were actually “colored” (to use an old American expression). Police, in the USA, is very well paid, and associates with the rich, and the order they gave rise to. But not just that.

The Romans used to say: ”The Law Is Hard, But It Is the Law!” The Americans say the same. Brutal application of “justice” and the law is what holds the USA together.

(Obama himself has perceived this, and just cracked down, deciding to forbid the police access to some military equipment.)

325 million citizens of the USA are taught to toe the line, and there is no better place to do so, in a semi-playful way, than in National Parks. And it’s getting worse, in parallel, and related to, the mercantilization of the Parks. That’s why I don’t go there anymore.

Increasing authoritarianism is multifaceted: this week, all my comments to the New York Times, but one, were censored. I cannot even imagine why. But the general trend is clear: if one has something really interesting to say, don’t try to say it on the New York Times: this is the propaganda piece of the pseudo-fair. (Most interesting commenters have disappeared  from there. However, The Guardian, and other British publications publish my comments. So does the… Wall Street Journal.)

Increasing authoritarianism is a slow suffocation of the human spirit. Resisting it, our essence. As Jefferson, third president of the USA pointed out, when a law is bad, it’s not just our right, but our duty, not to obey it.

Patrice Ayme

Wingsuit Philosophy: 400 Million Years Strong

November 28, 2014

 

If Life is Quantum, why do Quantum assemblies jump off cliffs and peaks in wingsuits, with a high probability to be blown to bits? (See flying off the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, Mont Blanc Range.)

Is it the love of danger? What else? Indeed, most of these ladies and gentlemen, when interviewed, insist that they love life. And most of them, indeed, seem to enjoy life, and are extremely lively.

Flier Jumped Off Peuterey (Peak on the Right)

Flier Jumped Off Peuterey (Peak on the Right)

Wingsuit flying is an extreme form of extreme sport. It entangles extreme neurological control, extreme speed, and extreme terror. Plus extreme contempt for probabilities. In other words, all what makes man tick where it counts most, in what counts most, in battle.

The film concludes with a list of more than two dozen wingsuit fliers known to have died in 2013, while practicing their passion.

The first attempted wingsuit flight, more than a century ago, was off the Eiffel Tower (then the world’s tallest structure). The gentleman long hesitated before jumping. He received a significant hole in his head. However, an autopsy revealed that he had died of a heart attack during the flight (so great was his fright?). Frenchmen invented the modern suits in the 1990s. Tubes inflated by air pressure rigidify them. The explicit aim was to land with them (to do this, I believe a 6 meter wing span is needed, thus further, hard, but imaginable, progress in material science).

Wingsuited Corliss Popping Balloons Before Zooming Into A Gorge

Wingsuited Corliss Popping Balloons Before Zooming Into A Gorge

So why is danger lovable? Danger is not just lovable, it is adaptative, in the evolutionary sense of the term. That means that, for human beings, to love danger present greater advantage that the alternative. Can I prove it? Well, wingsuit flying and all sorts of behaviors potentially lethal to those who indulge in them, are only explainable by the thrill of danger. If this thrill is perceived as more valuable than life, it’s that life cannot do without it.

As Sherlock Holmes noticed, when one has eliminated all other explanations, what’s left is what is going on.

The usual suspects, the loud vegetarians, mosquito lovers, peaceniks, Dalai Lama worshippers, partisans of the intrinsic goodness of man in general, and of the extreme placidity and sanctity of themselves in particular, will meekly bleat that from such violence comes the undoing of man. Assuredly, they will reckon, loving danger leads to war, mayhem, and horror of horror, violence, to put it in one hated word.

Yet, what is man if not the creature of ultimate force? Violence is how man was built, one mutation at a time.

After these vigorous considerations, I went running more than twenty miles in the mountains, some of it above 8,000 feet. Never mind a little snow and ice: the greenhouse presents advantages in late November. At some point I met some mountain bikers: ”What are you doing, so far from anywhere?” I did not tell them I was philosophying, as I already looked crazy enough with my skimpy outfit (running is higher metabolism than biking).

Back in the land of computers, I stumbled on an interview of Jeb Corliss, an expert of “proximity flying” (see above). He reached pretty much the same conclusions as yours truly, in an interesting article with a stupid title:

“Courting popularity has never been a priority for Corliss. “Listen,” he tells me, “I talk about the deaths. I talk about the disasters.”

“And if you die?”

“If I die, I want that footage on TV the next day.”

“Why?”

“Why? Because this is not chess. This is not backgammon. This is not . . . ” (Corliss racks his brain for a yet-more-contemptible pastime, and finds one) “golf. This is dangerous. I believe that footage of fatalities is way more important than film of some guy flying across a beautiful meadow. What we are doing here is very important. I believe that flying is what evolution is about. Think of the squirrels.”

“OK.”

“At the beginning, there were probably only a very few squirrels that even contemplated flying from tree to tree. The other squirrels thought they were crazy. I imagine hundreds of them died in the attempt. But then, in the end, one of them managed it. Now that, to me, is evolution. And now we are evolving, through technology and through skill. I liken what we’re doing in proximity flying to the first animals that left the water. We are evolving and growing. And becoming stronger. What else,” he asks, “is the purpose of life?”

The usual suspects, if they have time to stop grazing their pastures, will call the preceding Nietzschean, or Hitlerian, and condemn it. But that would be wrong on both counts: Nietzsche hated evolution, and Hitler loved regression. Corliss’ philosophy wants progress. That philosophy, which has been mine, ever since I reflected in the wastes of Africa, is very close to Lamarck, and… Sade.

400 million years ago, during the Devonian Period, the earliest tetrapods derived from the lobe-finned fishes.

It is an important point that, although plants did not need brains to conquer the land, brainy animals, having brains, had to decide to conquer land.

Strict “Darwinists” speak as if they cannot understand this, and brains are just what genes do (see in particular Dawkins). Does that mean they never decide anything, except what class and genes gave them? (Lord Matt Ridley, one of the most strident advocates of total gene control, and of plundering the planet, is a major and most propagandizing plutocrat; believing “genes” control all means class controls all).

Yet, that’s obviously wrong: if all and any fish had been so terrified of land that they had not tried to crawl on it, all the mutations in the world would not have made the vertebrates conquer land.

For 400 million years, our brainy ancestors took great chances, and very few of those who took the greatest chances, that is, the most lethal chances, could reproduce. They died early, they died hard, but they tried something crazy, to give some mutation a chance… And, as we will see in a companion essay, a chance for this mutation to appear!

Without the will to progress, there would have been no progress. There would be only plants, bacteria, viruses.

Patrice Ayme’