Every culture has the myth of a hero who kills a few demons, slays some dragons and finally marries the beautiful daughter of the king. That is the archetypal adventurer, who risks his life for the good of the society, and is richly rewarded in return.
These heroes of yore had the noblest of motivations from the fountain springs of their youth to do something profound and useful; which typically required adventures. The risks to their lives were genuine, the glory and sense of achievement palpable.
There are no historical records of early adventurers, being obscured by myths and legends. Fully documented early adventurers were the explorers of sixteenth century Europe. The competition among countries for raw materials and trade spurred the adventure spirits to undertake risky explorations; to find new lands and sea routes to the expanding markets. The patronage of the rulers, pride and glory were the reward for these adventurers; Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gama are the famous of this genre.
The exploring adventurers were followed by the evangelists and the scientists, who wanted to save the inhabitants of the new world, and also document its natural history. They had noble inte
ntions, to do the work of God, and many were recognised and glorified by the kings and religious institutions of the day. Charles Darwin’s adventures opened up a new field of science, evolutionary biology. Richard Francis Burton, a naturalist travelled extensively through Africa and India, documenting the flora and fauna and among others translated to English the “One Thousand and one Arabian Nights” and the “Kama Sutra”. David Livingstone travelled through out Africa on behalf of the London Missionary Society in the 1800’s.
The expansionist wars of various countries created a set of war h
eroes who sacrificed their lives in military adventures to become heroes. Those who survived managed to secure lucrative political appointments in recognition of their adventures. The Second World War saw the last of these adventurers and heroes.
Outer space opened up a new frontier for the adventurers, the first space flight and landing on the moon involved the true spirit of adventure on untested and unproven equipment to find the limits to where engineering could take man. Neil Armstrong was the last adventurer in its true spirit, not many re
call who went to the moon later or who stayed longest in the space station. The proven technology for space flights has killed the need for adventurous spirit.
Globalisation and the consequent harmonisation of human values have been a death knell for the adventurers. Today, the evangelist adventurers of the past would be religious fanatics to be imprisoned, while the patriotic soldiers would be the bigoted nationalists to be tried in international courts. Twenty four hour career soldiers have been re
placed by nine to five high tech worker- soldiers, as the wars approach the experience of video games. The unmanned aircraft blowing up the bad guys in response to a mouse click thousands of miles away have also blown up the future war heroes.
With no more opportunities for real adventures, people have been fed into the adventure industry where machines contrive the adventure, an illusion of it, to be more precise. They simulate adventures with no associated noble values and objectives as in the past. They are produced by high tech gadgets tested and checked for safety every
day, creating an illusion of physical risk, as though a ride in them is a question of life and death. Rides on these machines are safer than walking on the streets.
These scream machines, run away mine trains and swinging galleon boats have democratised adventures, available to all at reasonable costs. The number of adventure parks have increased since the seventies coinciding with the last adventure by Neil Armstrong. A generation has grown up knowing only what the machines offer as adventure, unaware of the difference between the real and the contrived.
Any web search on adventures comes up with video games with adventure elements for its characters and this is the lowest one can get in the search for adventure. From an era of genuine adventures of the body and spirit to the pseudo physical adventures of the theme parks and finally to the arm chair visual illusions of it, is an atrophy of the human spirit which has long term consequences.
As engineering marvels lull the new generation into the thrills of pseudo adventures and illusions, the real challenges of society related to environment, poverty and income distribution marches on. The willingness to take even minimal risks to challenge the ruling dogmas as an act of adventure to discover the possibilities for change is stymied by the opiates from the adventure parks.
Adventure implies venturing out of the known surrounds into the unknown and that is why the real adventures result in expansion of the human knowledge and broadening of the horizons. The contrived ones will result in no such useful outcomes; multiple roller coaster rides can only make one disoriented and squeamish at best.
It is only natural that the recent revolt by the young to bring about social change happened in the middle-east where the pseudo adventures hardly exist. In societies where the problems due to technology, human isolation and crazed commercialisation emerge, the young are unwilling to step out and express their protest for fear of missing an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or Big Bang Theory.
An important part of the human psyche is gone forever, killed by the process of evolution. Adventure is dead, long live the adventure games!
Aptly written for the times – no doubt some of the adventures of the bygone era were awesome. The article flows very well and is well-reasoned. Of course, as times change the nature of adventure changes. With the world so well-connected, about the only place where there is challenge is the outer space, of which there is plenty. We do know about the heavens lot more than we did just 20 years ago. There is a lot more to explore.
Thought provoking article – congratulations to the author.