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Letter to the Editor, Rock and Ice Magazine

I can't speak for anyone else and I doubt if many share my views, but my love for philosophy compels me to comment on "The Ethics Issue" - perhaps better described as the "Confused About Ethics Issue".

Part of that confusion is the result of jumping into a discussion of ethics without first addressing its philosophical building blocks. Philosophy consists of four primary subdivisions: Metaphysics (what exists?), Epistemology (how do you know it?), Morality (what has value?) and Ethics (what actions are virtuous?). It is impossible to decide what is ethical without first defining reality, knowledge and values. Modern society's flawed metaphysics (supernaturalism over realism) and epistemology (faith and mysticism over reason and logic) are the primary causes of the moral and ethical confusion reflected in some of the essays in "The Ethics Issue".

It is disingenuous to draw an arbitrary technological line and complain about drills, siege tactics, oxygen and dry tooling, while embracing aluminum, gore-tex, perlon ropes and sticky rubber. One author 's self-admitted irrational "religious" stance serves as a reminder of the dangers of abandoning reason; he states that he would like to kill climbers who "permanently deface" the wilderness in ways he deems unacceptable! If he is really serious about climbing in a pure, clean "historical" style, he should take a steamer across the ocean to his destination, ride an ox-cart to the base, use hemp ropes, wear wool and canvas and carry pemmican instead of freeze-dried food.

If you want to use climbing as an expensive, complicated source of pain and angst, and subject yourself to extra danger and difficulty by eschewing certain tools, that's ok - just don't threaten the rest of us who don't regard you as virtuous or stylish.

Essayists who enjoy routes with plenty of bolts disrespect runout-lovers as selfish and vice-versa. Both sides are hypocritical in that they are advocating what they want - by expressing their own, selfish opinions!

The term selfishness has assumed meaning not reflected in its dictionary definition: concern with one's own interests. Pervasive altruism confusedly substitutes the recipient of an action with the choice of what to value.

Selfishness is not incompatible with generosity, love, kindness and charity. It is not in your own interests to trample the environment and the rights of others in pursuit of transient pleasures. Selfishness is essential to survival, happiness and civilization.

Climbing is a profoundly selfish quest for pleasure and self-esteem through personal achievement. People are usually first inspired to climb by images and stories of climbers on beautiful routes in spectacular settings. They dream of experiencing the adventure, excitement, pleasure and triumph of climbing for themselves. Success produces justifiable pride for one's own achievements. A sane person does not top out on difficult, scary problems and think "Bummer. How selfish of me to enjoy sending this for my own pleasure."

To actually be a selfless person in the real sense of the word would be horrible - to have no desires ambitions or goals for oneself - to be an empty, vacuous automaton, useful only for serving others thanklessly and deriving no pleasure from it. Think about all the truly amazing, unique and special people you love. Their value to you is not their selflessness; it is precisely their strong sense of self, their centeredness and zest for enjoying life for themselves that makes them attractive and fascinating to you.

Too many climbers embrace the destructive trio of altruism, mysticism and sacrifice, rarely lauding the stubborn, centered, independent person who asks not for the unearned; who expects to receive value and recognition for excellence. Instead, our society incorrectly honors the selfless, the ego-less, the poor, the helpless, and those who proclaim it is evil to live one's own life for one's own sake and enjoyment. A man regarded as "virtuous" by today's warped ethical standards is doomed to feel guilty about any personal achievement or pleasure - there is always someone more needy, someone more deserving and not so lucky. Altruistic morality teaches that doing something for your own benefit is never as moral as doing it for someone else's.

Stand up for your right to climb because it is your right, not some other "more needy" person's right. Use cool, modern climbing tools with guiltless joy and with appreciation for the genius responsible for their creation. To be human is to use our brains, tools and the fruits of civilization to accomplish goals that only human inhabitants of this planet are capable of attaining. When you are told that you are being a selfish egotist for wanting to climb on "sacred rocks", or for wanting to put in more bolts, or for wanting to preserve run-out trad routes in their original form - smile and say, "Selfishness is a virtue!"