Obstacle Racing a Form of Privilege? Why That’s Good

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The conversation on privilege throws the word around like profanity, as if those in the privileged ranks by birth and circumstance are somehow infected with a social form of original sin. The privileged are led to feel guilt, but not offered a solution. Now, some might ague, that list of elitism includes the Obstacle Course athlete.

And that, I believe, is a beautiful thing. Here’s why:

1) In Nature, Privilege is Earned

The strongest bull gets to breed. The fastest rabbit survives the hunt. The best camouflaged insect lives another day. The best student gets the scholarship. These individuals either earn or inherit the opportunity to thrive based upon performance, either by their own virtue or that of their genetic line. Should the lion feel guilty, should the student who out-performs feel guilty about their hard work or genetics? Hardly.

Obstacle Racing, especially as a recreational sport, reveals the punchline to the long narrative of human evolution: We’ve become such phenomenal bad-asses at survival, that we’re creating ways to feel more alive.

2) Progress and Conflict are Friends with Benefits

Progress is the natural result of conflict; this is why war often leads to dramatic leaps in science and technology. Am I suggesting that war is a good thing? No, but one cannot deny our natural draw toward intimate conflict. It’s the reason we prefer aerial dogfights between WWII planes and futuristic star fighters over a long range missile strike. It’s why we imitate warfare and hunting with sports. Our enemies and competition reveal our weaknesses.

3) The Problem of Abundance

We have more than enough food, so we’ve become fat. We have more than enough technology, so we develop postural issues by sitting and staring at screens. We have more than enough convenience, so we fill our time with wasteful living.

“Underprivileged” societies don’t have these issues.

For the underprivileged, everything is intimate and immediate. There is an intensity to life that we privileged, first-world folks crave. We simulate this with gyms, workout programs, sports, and the like. But you want more…much more.

4) Obstacle Racing Simulates Survival

Deep down we’re bored with thriving; we want the thrill of surviving by the skin of our teeth. Deep down, we want to earn the privilege to be alive. This is why privileged first-world societies are obsessed with so-called “extreme” events. We go sky-diving, use extreme DVD exercise programs, cheat on our spouses, go on cruises and expeditions.

Attend an obstacle races.

To be privileged enough to be bored with life is something only one species on this planet enjoys, and of that, only a fraction of that group. We’ve earned that privilege via generations of struggle, innovation, and sheer force of will–from the small, pre-historic hunter groups on the plains of Africa who feared the world, to the 7 billion-strong force who commands the ingenuity to split an atom and the imagination to peer into the stars.

5) We Survived 1.5 Million Years of Evolution and All I Got Was this T-Shirt and Finisher’s Medal

We want to risk injury and loss, because we’ve wrapped ourselves in the privilege of thriving for so long. Nothing makes you feel grateful more than loss, and nothing makes you feel more alive than the threat of death. These stimuli are sorely missing in our culture of “everyone wins” and “there’s someone out there for everyone.” We’ve lost the drive to actually earn survival, to earn our daily bread, to earn our next fuck, because we’ve created this notion–this environment, of plenty.

In a time when some want a portion of us to feel guilty for various forms of privilege, I want to offer an alternative. The very fact that we even have the problem of over-indulgence means we’ve made it big; our species is on top of the world. Don’t feel guilty that we’ve come so far, done so much; instead, honor our achievement by being better stewards of our genetic and developmental journey and keeping our earned privilege tuned and focused. We can do this in a few ways:

1: Give beyond your excess. If you find yourself with more than enough, give your excess to the point that you must address your needs rather than your desires. This will develop a drive to fight for yourself and your community.

2: Fight for your mate. We cheat because we’re bored, so treat your love live as if it is under constant threat from competitors (it actually is). Getting laid and the fidelity of your significant other isn’t a guarantee just because you’re in a steady relationship. Fight for your relationship as if the whole world is trying to sleep with your partner.

3: Put yourself at risk everyday. Stand up to the boss, wear your heart on your sleeve, volunteer overseas, try a new food, attend an obstacle race, do something each day which takes you outside your comfort zone and actually threatens you with loss or injury. Real threats, real rejection make us sharper, stronger, more focused. You may succeed, you may fail, and there isn’t always a reward beyond the experience, but each time will make you stronger and more alive.


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