June 15, 2024

To Boldly Go, Or Maybe Not

Rehoboth Ramblings


When F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked “the rich are different from you and me”, Ernest Hemingway famously replied, “Yes, they have more money.” A new response to this might be “Yes, they have less sense”. Everyone is commenting on the recent Titan submersible disaster   and the verdict seems to be “Were they crazy?” Apparently, there were serious concerns voiced about the safety of this vessel, concerns that the participants should have heeded before boarding. These deep-sea explorations are always dangerous to start with.

Yes, it was a tragedy, but one the victims eagerly volunteered and paid a huge sum for, just to have a one-of-a-kind experience. We can especially feel sorry about the young man who had his whole life ahead of him. Why do these overindulged thrill-seekers think they are immortal? The Greeks, as usual, had a word for this type of arrogance: hubris. Which was usually followed, as in this case, by nemesis.

Questions also abound on the complicated subject of who pays for extensive and expensive efforts to rescue/recover these entitled people when their adventures go awry or turn outright tragic. It’s also been noted that at the same time the world was glued to the news about this ill-fated deep-sea exploration, the plight of desperate migrants drowning in the Mediterranean was pretty much ignored.

You would think that the ultra-rich had enough to keep them entertained, what with their luxurious homes, cars, planes, yachts, and costly travel, not to mention enjoying your own personal concert by a favorite big-name star. Don’t get me started on the subject of vanity-project rocket ships.

In a Boston Globe article on extreme adventure tourism, Eric Larsen, who offers polar expeditions to his clients, remarks that most of his customers are “men between the ages of 40 to 60. Having amassed large fortunes, they’re competitive by nature, and impressing, or besting, their peers is an increasingly difficult challenge. There’s a desire to be unique and distinctive from everyone else. That’s where you get into this race to do all these things … They’ve got something they’re trying to prove.”

Well, that’s some midlife crisis! If you have to keep risking your life just to prove something, it makes you wonder about that old saying that money can’t buy happiness. Of course, poverty doesn’t buy happiness either. Surveys have shown that people do need a certain level of income to be happy and not overly burdened by financial worries, but once you get much beyond that, it all levels out, happiness-wise.

It's interesting to see how widely people differ in their acceptance of risk. Self-made billionaires are obviously risk-takers. Then there are the outdoorsy, athletic risk-takers, whether big wave surfers or mountain climbers, especially those who risk climbing up cliffs without the usual safety equipment.  With my fear of heights, there’s no way I can watch “Free Solo”. Risk-takers seem to need an awful lot of stimulation to get the old adrenalin going.

I’m also claustrophobic, so the very idea of getting into an underwater sardine can like the imploded Titan gives me the heebie-jeebies. Plus, I’ve always been so creeped out by the sinking of the Titanic that my view on the subject is let sleeping shipwrecks lie. No, I didn’t want to see the blockbuster movie that came out in 1997 either.

Extreme tourism is mercifully only for a very small segment of the population. What about the rest of us? The only time I want to hear a trip described as “extreme” would be something like: “this (fill in the blank) offers a very pleasant and enjoyable vacation experience for an extremely reasonable price.” No adventure seekers need apply.

We’re often told when young that we can be anything we want to be. I always want to add, “within reason”. The secret to a happier life isn’t spending huge amounts of money, even if you have it. It comes from enjoying the little things in life. As the old song goes, “the best things in life are free”. That’s certainly an over-simplification but still, you can always appreciate everyday things such as nature walks in the woods or by the shore, enjoying your pets and your hobbies, get-togethers with family and friends, or just taking time to admire beautiful scenery. These seem like a surer path to happiness than risking your life at the bottom of the ocean.


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