Dangerous times

The winner of the Shell-Economist Prize this year is a particularly good essay. It argues that our grandparents walked uphill 8 miles to school every day and liked it. It argues concisely and compellingly that Americans need to suck it up. In part:

It is fashionable to remark that America “lost its innocence” on September 11th. This is balderdash. Our innocence is too deep and intractable for that. The thing we’ve really lost doesn’t even deserve the name of bravery. We’ve lost the ability to come to grips with the simple fact that life is not a safe proposition—that life will kill us all by and by, regardless. And as a society, we’ve just about lost the sense that until life does kill us, there are values aside from brute longevity that can shape the way we choose to live.
[…]
Safety is a fine thing, but as an obsession it rots the soul. If I should live to be 90, and I am called upon to attest to the other nursing-home residents that my life was about something racier than guessing right on the butter-v-margarine conundrum, I will speak of that thunderstorm on Lake Superior. I’ll describe the touch-and-go struggle to keep the boat pointed just enough off the wind to maintain headway, and the jackhammer pounding of a madly luffing mainsail trying to
spill a 75-knot gale. I’ll talk about the way we huddled in the cockpit with our eyes rigidly forward because looking aft would mean another lightning-illuminated glimpse of the dinghy we towed, risen completely out of the water and twirling like a propeller on the end of its line.

Pleasant though many of them were, with the cheese and crackers and such, I doubt I’ll have much to say about the hours I spent on Superior with the sails furled, motoring in perfect safety through flat water and dead air.

– Jack Gordon, “Milksop Nation” (pdf)

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