Still Day Dreaming of Adventures and Glory?
Continuing, in a fashion, from where I left with my last post (the final item on my “Summer reading list about hiking”), here is something which is not directly referring to hiking – actually, quite honestly, it makes no direct reference to hiking at all – but which is carried by the same observation: namely that civilisation, for all of its merits, leaves a huge hole in our lives, which we must then proceed to fill.
The piece is from a talk given by Bertrand Russell as part of the BBC Reith Lectures in December 1948. You can listen to the full talk HERE (scroll down to the bottom of the page, the first of Mr. Russell’s four talks) or read the full transcription HERE.
For those of you in a hurry, this is the passage I am referring to:
“The Crow Indians of America … have been living under the eye of Dr. R. Lowie for many years. They are now living in the security of a reserve. ‘Ask a Crow’, reports Dr. Lowie, ‘whether he would have security as now, or danger as of old, and his answer is – “danger as of old … there was glory in it”’.
Such effects of human psychology account for some things which, for me at least, were surprising when in 1914 I first became aware of them. Many people are happier during a war than they are in peace time, provided the direct suffering entailed by the fighting does not fall too heavily upon them personally. A quiet life may well be a boring life. The unadventurous existence of a well-behaved citizen, engaged in earning a moderate living in a humble capacity, leaves completely unsatisfied all that part of his nature which, if he had lived 400,000 years ago, would have found ample scope in the search for food, in cutting off the heads of enemies, and in escaping the attentions of tigers. …
The problem of the social reformer, therefore, is not merely to seek means of security, for if these means when found provide no deep satisfaction the security will be thrown away for the glory of adventure. The problem is rather to combine that degree of security which is essential to the species, with forms of adventure and danger and contest which are compatible with the civilised way of life. …
A life without adventure is likely to be unsatisfying, but a life in which adventure is allowed to take whatever form it will is sure to be short.
I think perhaps the essence of the matter was given by the Red Indian whom I quoted a moment ago, who regretted the old life because ‘there was glory in it’. Every energetic person wants something that can count as ‘glory ‘. There are those who get it – film stars, famous athletes, military commanders, and even some few politicians but they are a small minority, and the rest are left to day-dreams: day-dreams of the cinema, day-dreams of wild west adventure stories, purely private day-dreams of imaginary power. …
Perhaps it may still be possible, even in our mechanical world, to find some real outlet for the impulses which are now confined to the realm of phantasy. In the interests of stability it is much to be hoped that this may be possible, for, if it is not, destructive philosophies will from time to time sweep away the best of human achievements. If this is to be prevented, the savage in each one of us must find some outlet not incompatible with civilised life and the happiness of his equally savage neighbour.”
You are looking for glory? Day dreaming of adventures in this “mechanical world” of ours? I think there is one already waiting for you, right in front of your own doorstep – all you need to do is step right out.
(The BBC Reith Lectures, in case you have never come across them, are a true treasure trove of intelligent talks about nearly everything under the sun: religion, science, philosophy, history – you name it, they talk about it. Nothing about hiking as such, however – a deficit I intend to cover once they ask me over as their Reith lecturer. That can only be a question of time …)