Thursday, September 26, 2019

My recent encounter with a rock star

These days, it's so difficult to get a sense of the kind of person somebody is. This is true of people in general, but I recently found out the hard way that it's even more true of famous people or celebrities.

But this is neither here nor there. Let me start from the beginning. A couple of months ago, I met this older gentleman in his 70s who had just moved here from Boulder, Colorado, in order to be closer to his two daughters in his retirement. It turns out that I actually know one of his daughters; she took my Intro to Philosophy class a couple of years ago. It also turns out that this gentleman is something of a celebrity, at least in rock-climbing circles. He's a retired rock climber who pioneered a number of rock-climbing techniques back in the 60s and 70s, and has written a number of books and articles on climbing. In 2013, he was inducted into the Boulder Sports Hall of Fame, and one city in Colorado (can't remember which one) named a day of the year after him (as in, " I thereby proclaim July 11th as "[insert name] Day"). One of his fans even proclaimed online that Modern American Climbing owes everything to this gentleman. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that he is a legend and a star among rock-climbers in this country, possibly even internationally; in other words, he's a rock star (Ha! Got you with the title of this post, didn't I? 😛) I'm not going to mention him by name here; I don't want this post to show up on a search of his name. But I have dropped enough factoids here that you can probably identify him on a google search of your own if you so desire.

In addition to being a rock star, this gentleman is also something of a polymath: He's an award-winning song-writer, published poet, as well as a master-level chess player. If this doesn't prove the non-existence of God, I don't know what will: If a just and all-powerful God exists, how can He ever allow some people to have so much more than their fair share of gifts while others come into this world with bodies that barely allow them to live?

Anyway, it was in his capacity as a chess master that I got to know this gentleman. Soon after he moved to Pocatello, he started coming regularly to the local chess club and schooling all of us in the finer points of this beautiful game. I was happy to be schooled; I like learning by getting beaten. Generally, I found my games with him to be quite enlightening. He did have a rather annoying habit of breaking into poetry in the middle of a game; a habit which I found somewhat pretentious, but which I quickly brushed aside as a small prize to pay in return for learning from a master. Outside of chess games, he had a tendency to keep going on and on about his past accomplishments, which I also found annoying, especially in light of the fact that he is currently physically out of shape and suffers from some health problems, and is therefore in no position to replicate any of the physical feats of his youth. The disconnect between his accounts of his past exploits and his current physical form was pretty jarring, to say the least. But then again, I told myself, the man has done all these things and has clearly earned bragging rights, so who am I to judge? At least he's not a scammer or anything, right (see previous post for more details on this aspect of my life)?

Which brings me to the meat of my story. A few weeks ago, I suggested to him that he play in an upcoming chess tournament here in Pocatello. At first, he seemed open to the idea. He then asked me if he would need to renew his United States Chess Federation (USCF) membership in order to play. I said yes, and told him that the annual membership fee is around $50. He flipped out, and sent me a bunch of long emails complaining about how the USCF is a money-grubbing organization that just takes money from its members without doing anything for them. I didn't agree with him, but I decided that he is entitled to his own opinion, so I just acknowledged what he said, and I thought that was that.

But then a few days before the tournament, he sent a text to everyone in the chess club suggesting that we pitch in to help him pay the $50 so he could play in the tournament. As far as I know, nobody responded to his request, and he got even more pissed. He sent me another long email complaining about how people here in Pocatello are so "ambivalent" (whatever that means; I suspect that it's code for "heartless and uncaring"). He also told me that he actually could afford the $50, but he didn't want to pay, because he didn't want to give the money-grubbing USCF more money than he had already given them over the years. He said it's not a matter of money, it's the principle.

I responded by asking him: If you think that the USCF is gouging people with their membership fees and you don't want to pay the $50, what makes you think it's okay to ask other people to pay on your behalf? Aren't you basically asking other people to take the fall for you? How is this ethical?

I didn't think he would take my response well, and I was right. Earlier this week, he sent me another long ranting email in which he accused me of being arrogant and self-righteous. I responded with a brief email in which I politely repeated the same questions. He replied that he's actually a person of rock-solid integrity (no pun intended), and that I just didn't understand him.

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What's the takeaway from all this? Well, for starters, I think I'm done with responding to his emails; takes too much energy and time. I'm just going to ignore his emails from now on. I can't stop him from coming to chess club, so I'll probably have to continue seeing him and interacting with him on some minimal basis. But other than that, I plan to have as little to do with him as I possibly can. Who knows what other shenanigans he might try to pull? Maybe I'm being overly idealistic, but I really have trouble understanding how someone who has lived so long and done so much can fail to understand basic ethics. I mean, I think you would agree that not asking people to give money on your behalf to an organization that you think is a scam is basic-level moral decency. This is not rocket science, just normal human decency, right? Makes me wonder how many other celebrities or supposed legends/rock stars out there are also people who somehow managed to get through life without any basic ethical sense. 

Actually, I sometimes wonder if people who are so gifted may not be in some way blinded by their own gifts. Perhaps because of their gifts and some good fortune, things came to them really easily, so that, unlike ordinary folk like me, they never had to learn the value of being responsible and accountable to others around them. So in this way, perhaps, their gift became a kind of curse that prevented them from being human. Maybe, from their point of view, morals and ethics are only for mortals like me. Gods are beyond good and evil, and have no need of ethics, since whatever they desire simply appears before them quite naturally. But even gods eventually have to suffer the five marks of decay...

I see I'm getting a bit preachy here. Probably a sign that it's time to wrap up this post. I really have no idea how to end this post. What should I even say? Be careful of rock stars?

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