16 April 2008
Ethical Paralysis: How the mountaineer can offer strategies to act morally responsible
The mountaineer walks a fine line, looking to climb quickly but also safely. The use of ropes, rock and ice protection, crampons, and more reduces risk but does slows travel. Where a mixed climb up an iced over cliff face would require at least some of the above equipment, the trip to the outhouse doubtfully needs a rope and a belay station to prevent the pooper from falling through the toilet. To protect either undertaking, we could go so far as to construct a belay station made secure with a T-Slot anchor using skis, a number 4 cam, and a rocky pillar, with webbing bringing it all together to my harness, positioning myself to reduce any shockload, and then belay using an ATC, (with a friend backing my belay up) while my climbing partner put in ice screws, camelots, and made use of natural protection every three feet, while rechecking that their crampons remained snug and their ice axe uncracked every five feet. Such overkill would literally turn a 3 hour climb into a 2 day one.
So in a world with issues vying for our attention and goodwill, what can you and I do to prevent ourselves from becoming overwhelmed with the details such that we suffer from paralysis or the opposite, in which we do nothing at all?
While mountaineering, there is an old adage: If you are worried about falling in, resort to long roping (above), or if you are worried about falling off, short rope (below). The two precautionary techniques do not outline at what point additional protection should be used, though do make it a point to take at least some precaution when risk is present. Long or short roping reduces travel speed little, as the only requirement is that individuals move together as one.
In looking at the world today, I recognize a range of concerns such as: Extreme poverty, human induced global warming, and war. How can I balance my desires to do good against other desires such as seeing a movie, in which I selfishly seek pleasure rather than donate that time and money to one of the causes? Like the mountaineer, I am worried about falling off my ethical horse but don't know how much effort I should spend keeping myself in the saddle. What is the roping up equivalent that I can follow?
Case Study: A Tithe
A small hindrance which can make a significant difference is what we seek. 10% of ones income fits this bill. With this rope connecting us to others, we are more or less able to pursue the peak we want, with little cost in time or success to ourselves. To put 10% in perspective, think about past income and income today. Think about overall happiness. Think about the degree in which the bills were always there. More money or less money, it always seems a bit of a struggle. Although 10% readily amounts to thousands of dollars for most, directly impacting the car we drive, the vacation we take, the house we live in, this tithe at the end of the day will do little to alter the bills that hound us. And on the happiness front we will likely find some peace of mind.
So in any ethical pursuit, we can set a baseline standard to keep ourselves on our feet and goal oriented. With paralysis at bay we will be found on the mountain, rather than sitting in the outhouse roped safely to the car.