Hummel column: It's all about the bragging rights
The list of seven deadly sins usually includes gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, lust, envy and pride. But today we're not going to talk about the first six, and only a fraction of pride — bragging rights. Some parts of pride can be very positive. But the pursuit of bragging rights can lead to all kinds of trouble.
Take for example the traffic jams on Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain peak (29,029 feet above sea level) in the Himalaya Mountains of Nepal. There is a certain appeal in being able to say you've climbed the highest mountain in the world.
But it's difficult, treacherous and expensive. You have to buy a license from the Nepalese government for about $11,000 to get on the mountain for the attempt. They have issued 381 permits this year, including permits to inexperienced climbers. But the climbing season is very short because of winds and storms at the peak. On May 21, 122 climbers, including the incompetent, were scheduled to reach the summit and on May 23 the number was 172 during this short window of good climbing weather. As of this writing, at least 11 have died in the quest.
The problem is heavy traffic near the top. The guides (called Sherpas) call the last stretch "the death zone." The climber's pretty much have to go single file up the last ridge and some stall for time waiting for a delay in the storms. Problems include running out of oxygen, getting around bodies of climbers who died in previous years, heart failure, and even death coming down from the top.
Nepal is a poor country and mountain climbing is a big tourist industry, so they don't want to sell fewer licenses. At one time, some of the climbers were scientists doing actual scientific research on science. But the long lines near the peak today are not in the search of science. They're after bragging rights.
"Look at me — I have the money, the time, the nerve and the spirit of adventure to go for the peak. That is something to brag about."
In the last few months we have learned of parents determined to get their children enrolled in the most prestigious colleges and universities. Not because they deserve to be admitted, but because they don't deserve admission. Not because they are scholars, but because they are not scholars.
So, the parents bribed admissions personnel and coaches and had "ringers" write SAT exams to get high grades that guaranteed admission. Of course, the kids, once admitted, would be doing sub-par academic work because they don't belong there. And for every one admitted by bribery or dishonest admission tests, some deserving student would be left out.
Why? Bragging rights. "Look at me — my kid was just admitted to Yale — we have the family money and brains to be admitted to one of the elite, exclusive universities in the country."
The next example of bragging rights hasn't happened yet, but it's coming. Elon Musk wants to take colonists to Mars and develop the planet residentially. The first passengers to Mars will not be scientists, they will tourists − Musk will haul them up not for the benefit of science but as a rocket ship load in search of bragging rights.
"Look at me — only millionaires can make this trip — those of us with money to burn and a burning desire to be known as young adventurers." Touring and colonizing on Mars will be like the long lines waiting to reach the top of Mt. Everest — selfish and undisciplined.
Moral of the story: the pursuit of bragging rights is the ugly face of pride and will take us to places we should never go.