Felix Baumgartner – example of human achievement or narcissistic idiot?

Felix Baumgartner fell down very quickly. The world went ‘oooohhh’.

But exactly what skills are involved here? The ability to spend money and the ability to fall over – pretty much the same skills as an alcoholic then! Clearly something to admire.

What happened? Did he wake one day and check his pockets… “hmm, I have a large sum of money, what should I do with it?

Well, I could support a local housing initiative, maybe donate money to finding a cancer cure, or research clean energy.

Ah, stuff all that. I’m going to fly up in the air and fall down again.”

To sum up in one very old-fashioned and now unpopular word – decadent.

And before people start flapping their arms about how this is ‘pushing the envelope of human endeavour’ – it is not. It is pointless. Frankly unless he had reached the speed of light and travelled back in time in order to tell himself not to waste so much money being a twat and spend it helping people instead, I cannot see how it could have benefitted anyone.

We have a terrible habit of conflating the ingenious and the pointless. Risking and daring on the forefront of science to advance medicine, technology or knowledge in order to help humankind is one thing. Flying balloons round the world, jumping from planes or driving cars very quickly is another.

A human achievement really worth celebrating would be something like Bill Gates. Yes, yes, I know he gave us the most infuriating operating system in the world, but at least he has now taken his money and is trying to do some good with it. For every Windows crash, remind yourself that a child has just been vaccinated, their life potentially saved. Had Felix Baumgartner done something similar it really would have been wonderful, but probably not front page news.

Doubtless I will be called a cynic for not jumping on the celebratory bandwagon, but I cannot. I think people can be amazing, act with extraordinary courage and kindness, but those people do not make the front page. It then saddens me that pointless self-indulgence such as Baumgartner’s is given a million miles of press coverage and smashes the youtube record when it is little more than a firework show. This new world record is simply meaningless.

I don’t suggest the human race should be miserable and think only about sad things – but I do suggest that we start finding the joy in each other, in the simpler beauties of life. This ‘Skyfall’ seems to be little more than a Playstation game played out across the sky – a distraction that may be fun, but which offers nothing positive to the world, which only numbs us and enables us to forget the hard yet massively rewarding real work we have to do.

There are breakthroughs to be made, but we have to grow up and stop trying to pretend that we can keep treating life like a playground. We have an environment to care for, economic disasters to resolve, hunger to alleviate. These would be achievements to shout across the world.

16 thoughts on “Felix Baumgartner – example of human achievement or narcissistic idiot?

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  1. “For every Windows crash, remind yourself that a child has just been vaccinated….” This line alone serves mankind in a significant way, potentially lowering the blood pressure of everyone who uses a computer.

    1. That gave me a chuckle 🙂 Can’t believe how many times I still have to recover Windows, while my Mac just keeps on going! Thanks for reading and taking time to comment.

  2. Brilliant! My husband laughed out loud at your wonderful writing (in enjoyment of, not at it) and also agrees with your views.
    I too take my hat off to Bill Gates, though thankfully did give up in the end and became a Mac user (so much better, sorry Bill) last year.

  3. This was funny and deep at the same time. I agree with the underlying point–the money could have had better use. But at the same time, wasn’t the whole exercise about finding a way to help astronauts escape a space shuttle should something go wrong? I mean they could jump out.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. I’m not sure if there’s sarcasm in your second point – but I want there to be 😉 Since the shuttle program seems more or less dead I would question if that was the point. In any case, I think the ‘point’ was for the sponsor to have the worlds most enormous promotion, and for Felix to fall quickly. Mad really…

  4. I love the humour in this, it makes it such a joy to read and when you add that it’s thought-provoking too, all you can do is to praise this post! I do agree with you too, because the moment I saw Baumgartner’s suit and parachute being tattoeed with Red Bull all over I thought “Oh right, the world’s biggest marketing stunt.” It is easy to get sucked into the thrill of it, I must admit that I did, like many others, follow his fall live my heart thumping fast. I was actually afraid he might die.
    Now I’m worried that his success might not be a good thing. While I must admit it was pretty cool that someone can do that in this day and age, that we have technology that enables it when 100 years ago we didn’t even have internet or telephone or telly, I can’t help but ask ‘What is it all for?” Like you, I too started thinking ‘What is the point?’ Frankly, I don’t think the world needed another example of the human’s overcoming the laws of physics/nature when there the mentality is quite often that of ‘We can do what we want.”
    Like you, I wish that we could make the hearts of millions thump as frantically when it comes to war, hunger and helping.
    Great post!

    1. Thank you Daisies for the considered response and the praise. I wasn’t watching Felix, I was in the local watching teenagers banging back Vodka-Red-Bull’s until they too, fell – not as far but nearly as fast 😉
      I want to respond thoughtfully too, but there’s too much – optimism, realism, global cultural change, hoping we hit the brakes in time… another post perhaps.

  5. I completely agree with your points. Baumgartner’s recent comments about exploration of Mars being pointless only underline your points. The man’s “talent” is to accelerate at 9.81 m/s2 and spout nonsense about things he knows nothing about.

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