Monday, February 21, 2005

The Constant Noise of Adulthood, Part Two

We attended a talk last week at our local REI store by a person who hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Canada in 2004. He kept a journal of his travels and travails and posted it at Trail under the name Steady. I was reading about his trip and he had some interesting insights on life, some of which I will share here with my own thoughts.

From Steady's trail journal

Hiking through the burn it is clear that the fire started by a PCT hiker along the trail. The wind blows to the north, and the southern boundary of the fire is the trail. One of the four of us protests that it can’t be a PCT hiker, we’re all too careful for that. When suggests that it might be a smoker, then the one smoker in the group protest that smokers are responsible and wouldn’t do it either. It is interesting that we feel that anyone of a group of which we are a member could not do something wrong. A recurring observation from our world travels is that people identify with groups, demark some people as insiders and others as outsiders, and quickly judge those outside the group to be capable of worse behavior than those inside the group. This is very basic human behavior, and is very scary to me. Reluctantly everyone agrees that it must have been a PCT hiker, and probably a smoker. But since no one among us smokes marijuana, the consensus it that someone was smoking grass, conveniently defining a neat boundary between the offender and us.

At the first town, I stop into the fire station to file a report of what I saw. I encourage others to do so as well. The Forest Service has already collected the hiker register from Cabazon, ten miles (16 km) before the fire zone, so they know who was hiking that day. They have also already determined the cause --someone stopped off the trail to go poop, and instead of burying their toilet paper they burned it. That is the recommended leave-no-trace practice in some wilderness areas, but not here. In fact, a burn at Mt Baldy last year was started the same way.

This little passage made me think and I hope it makes you think too. It is a neat observation in some obvious ways and also some ways that require letting the passage percolate in your brain for a while. I think we are all guilty of quickly and inaccurately grouping a person or group of people from time to time. On an individual level, each person has a complex multi-layered life and thought process that can only be hinted at using generalizations. In a noisy realm like the Internet or even watching TV, sometimes it is hard to generate the state of mind necessary to fully appreciate this quality of complexity in the folks around us. It is much easier to do so in person for a variety of reasons.

I could think of more to say, but I've probably done too much analysis already. As an intellectual exercise, it might be fun to check out weblogs and news sources (both agreeable to your view and not) and see if you can identify this tendency to group or pigeonhole people. Everybody does it, so it shouldn't be too hard. Also, find a controversial figure you don't agree with like President Bush or Howard Dean or your own choice and spend a few minutes trying to appreciate the more complex intentions of the person in question. How do you suppose each person justifies their positions on things?


Don Snabulus said...

So, you're one of those comment readers, eh? I knew it. It figures coming from you.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Oh, people like you are all alike. Luckily, people like me are different.

Wait a minute...aren't we in the same group? I guess we're both alike in that we're different. Either that, or we both differ in alike ways.

ladybug said...

Report the POOPERS! Especially pyromaniac poopers!

Vulgarius said...

It was the Jalapenos! They should be banned from hiking trails!

Philrod Piddlewaif said...

This is actually what I've been saying all along. Well, maybe not all along, and maybe I haven't really been saying it in the literal sense, but anyway:

All forms of human excretion should be banned. Bloody noisome, I dare say.


Vulgarius said...

Sure thing Gopher Cheeks!...Take nothing but a picture...Leave nothing butt a footprint.