Thursday, 8 December 2011

Matters of taste

This post is a bit of a rant, still no pictures, and it strays a long way from sea kayaking. What's the point of a blog if you can't go off-road every now and again?

As I paddled in to work this morning with my chunky home-made stick  I reflected on Rob Mercer’s recent post on his blog ( about dogma and single-mindedness. Exceedingly sane argument and I enjoyed reading it, as it spoke to three axiomatic principles:

  •            The greater the diversity of experience (in this case paddles and craft ) the better;
  •            No style, technique or bit of kit is intrinsically superior  to another in all circumstances;
  •             Life is really far too short to spend devising arbitrary and mutually-exclusive hierarchies of virtue when we should be  enjoying our brief and improbable  stay on this earth in as many ways and sharing with as many others as possible.

The schismatic tendency towards splitting into groups that differentiate themselves from other groups by some comparatively  arbitrary factor and then infer a moral, technical or intrinsic altitude from that position seems pretty hard-wired into humans. It’s everywhere. I see it in kayaking, where it’s possible to define yourself as whitewater, ski, river, sea, Greenland, racing, plastic, composite, sit-on, sailing or any other number of fine-grained differences.  Or define yourself by what you are not (that reminds me of a joke…*). All ultimately matters of personal preference. Does it really matter what sort of blade or craft you choose, as long as you get on the water and enjoy it? De gustibus non est disputandum, or words to that effect.

I’ve seen the same us-and-them impulse at play at the snow, with free-heel, fixed heel, snowboard and snowshoe. It’s true with bikes (think fixies, mountain, street, BMX), football codes ( hey, you can split by code and team, how good is that) and of course in other realms of my interest  far from sport: Apple vs the rest, iOS vs Android,  vegetarian vs omnivore, sourdough vs commercial (!), and on and on to the point of absurdity. Religion and politics being the ultimate playgrounds for this sort of thing because there’s no verifiable reality against which to test a given position ( though in the former’s case I guess that may be proven after death!).  

Madness. Very human madness,though.  Jane Elliot nailed this one in 1968.

Douglas Adams wrote a terrific and insightful piece back twelve years ago  ( about the internet in which he set up this scheme:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really

So in reference to the matter at hand and deference to the master I’d like to adapt that:

1)    Everything we do now is sensible, intelligent, progressive and clearly  the choice of any thinking person;

2)    Anything we used to do but now don’t do so  much is OK and understandable, virtuous actually,  but a truthfully bit behind the times and unimaginative,  stuck in the mud if we must be frank;

3)    Anything we don’t do now is probably wrongheaded, ignorant, archaic , faddish, a novelty, unachievable, elitist, boorish,  a wank or ideally all of the above, until we try it, like it,  and move it to category (1) in which case it becomes sensible, intelligent etc.

I have to finish now because I need to go out on my skin-on-frame stand-up paddleboard with my titanium wing blade and heckle a passing sit-on-top about their choice of web browser. Bit difficult on a rainy Wednesday night  but well worth the effort.

(* and that joke.
A castaway is rescued after several years from a tropical desert island . As they row back out to the rescuing ship one of the sailors says to him:
“I understand you’re a devout man, but why did you build two chapels, one on each end of the  island, when there was just you?”
The castaway pointed to the visible rough-hewn  chapel and replied
“Well you see, that chapel, that’s the chapel I go to. The other chapel, well, that’s the chapel I don’t go to!”)

No comments:

Post a Comment