If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend checking out the documentary film Free Solo about Alex Honnold climbing the 3200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite free solo. Or in other words, climbing it without any rope or partner or safety gear at all; nothing but climbing shoes and a bag full of chalk.
The trailer enough is awe-inspiring/terrifying:
The film won the Academy Award for best documentary and has been almost universally praised. Although there have been a few sort-of critics. While Peter Rainer at The Christian Science Monitor enjoyed the film, he couldn't help but ask "Why on earth would anybody do this?" Lucia Graves took this sort-of criticism in a more environmental direction noting that "'Free Solo' Celebrates Man Vs. Nature-But Nature Lost Long Ago."
This is, of course, an exaggeration, but she regardless says "...it's become accepted wisdom that man's relationship to nature is primarily an oppositional one of "man vs. nature" (and the conceit of bold opposition, historically speaking, would certainly seem to skew male)."
Of course, saying something like "Alex Honnold conquered El Cap" is not meant to be taken literally. But while Graves goes off in a weird direction, I do understand Rainer's and others sort-of criticisms that what Honnold did is insane or even reckless. He does have a girlfriend after all.
That being said, I can't agree with them. Climbing El Cap may serve no practical purpose, but there's something in us as humans that needs to constantly push the boundaries of what is possible. In the realm of science, technology and business, this spirit has pushed humanity to new heights. In the realms of music, literature and the like, it has provided joy and provoked thought. In athletics, such as rock climbing, it can inspire.
In the modern West, there is a debilitating lack of purpose floating about. Humans need a goal to "conquer." And while this applies to all, the obsessional quality to reach new heights does seem to "skew male." This is likely part of the reason why despite living in the wealthiest age of human history, suicide is rising and male suicide is at epidemic levels. The near-constant male-bashing doesn't help, but more broadly, we simply lack purpose. Climbing El Cap free solo is surely not for most (including me, obviously). But it does elucidate the need for a purpose that is lacking in so many people's lives, men particularly.
In one part of the film, Alex Honnold discusses the "warrior mentality" that he thinks climbers share. "It doesn't matter about the cause necessarily" he says, "This is your path and you will pursue it with excellence."
And that's what I really took from this great film (other than the edge-of-your-seat tension and incredible cinematography). It doesn't need to be free soloing El Cap. (And for 99.99999999% of people, it really shouldn't be.) But find a path and "pursue it with excellence." Don't just settle for existence, but strive. That's what makes life truly worth living.
"Every day is a new life to the wise man."
The Righteous Mind
Star Slate Codex
Consulting by RPM