Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Music talks about it all the time. “Mamma always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun, but mamma, that’s where the fun is!” (From Manford Mann’s1976 hit, written by Bruce Springsteen, “Blinded by the Light”.)
Our instinct is survival. That’s what life is all about; surviving long enough to propagate so our genetics live on (and grow). And yet, with this instinct, how fascinating is it that we have such a draw to destructive actions? We love to flirt with danger, taunt death, risk injury. Many people celebrate death; in the US we have Halloween, in Mexico it’s (forgive me if I spell it incorrectly) “Dia de las Muerto”, or “Day of the Dead”. As a Mason, it fascinates me how so many of the rituals reference our own mortality, and preparations for what comes next.
Socrates was found guilty of, what, educating youth, I suppose (most likely their equivalent of heresy), and sentenced to death by hemlock. (Steve Martin did a fabulous skit on this, by the way; it was just hilarious!) Everybody expected him to escape as was the custom back then, but he said something that loosely translates to, “But why should I be afraid of death? As a philosopher, I’ve been contemplating it my entire life!”
Maybe it’s a gender thing. Often we associate extreme sports and truly stupid acts to men (hence the “Hold my beer” jokes). But that also seems to be changing (and why not?). It used to be that things like motorcycles, for example, were highly dominated by men, but women are becoming far more involved in what is often perceived as “extreme activities”. I myself have several young female friends who own their very own “hogs”.
Oh, here’s an interesting thought; maybe its maternal versus paternal! The male of many species do really outrageously stupid stuff to impress the females. Penguins will walk for MILES to find a pebble to lay at the feet of a female in the hopes of mating (it’s nothing at ALL like when human men buy shiny diamonds for women). The Peacock plays the LONG game, growing enormous, ornate tails that make them slow and easy targets for any other species that hunt them just to display it in the hopes of getting a mate. Women, on the other hand, are really the ones in charge, because they usually get to choose her partner (there are species where this is not the case). Once they lay eggs or give birth, it is the female (typically, but again, there are exceptions) that stays with the babies to protect them and teach them.
So, what if this is the source of male bravado? What if all of the STUPID things that men do is really nothing more than a primitive mating dance? Let’s face it, often men do such stupid things like jumping off of cliffs for no apparent reason because they are egged on by other men. By jumping off of the highest cliff, one comes out on top, which is a good way to brag to see if any women notice, or, he is severely injured which removes him from the mating competition with the rest of the men.
I just blew my own mind a little bit there.
Unfortunately, destructive behaviors are not limited to displays of speed, or strength, or just, well, how moronic one can be. Many of us flirt with the danger zone in ways that we might not even really consider. I myself drink entirely too much pop with aspartame, knowing full well that aspartame causes drain bamage. Still others have addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. Some people are unaware that they have such a problem, but others know their problem is real and engage in the harmful activities anyway.
I have had my triple bypass surgery because of my heart attack. The doctors tried angioplasty (where a needle is inserted into a vein and worked up to the heart in the hopes of clearing the blockage), but it failed because my arteries were just too brittle. No doubt, my heart disease is a result of my historically high cholesterol, blood sugar and potentially second hand smoke damage as both of my parents smoked when I was very young. Yet today, despite knowing that I should control my diet, I don’t. I still eat what I love the most, knowing that heart attacks often repeat, and mine has been long enough ago that, well, it’s likely to happen again in a few years.
We know that drugs, alcohol, tobacco (or in my case, my diet) can kill us. Is it intentional, then, that some of us keep these habits because of the “thrill” of flirting with death? Is this just a mating ritual? Or, is it something deeper in our psyche?