Life on the Edge

A diver has described his long duel of death with a hungry tiger shark.

“I speared it in the gills and even tried to drown it, but it still wouldn’t die,” said Craig Clasen.

He tried to drown it? Didn’t he know that sharks can breathe underwater? I suppose he must have been playing hooky during that biology class. He also fired his spear gun at the wrong place. Shoot a shark in the gills and it just gets angry – to kill it instantly you’ve got to shoot it in the anus.

After finally putting a knife through its skull, he claims he was full of remorse. That didn’t discourage him from slicing a hunk of meat off the carcass to make shark sandwiches for his next maritime adventure.

“Having made a meal of killing it, I made a meal of its flesh,” he would have said if he’d been more witty.

Remorseful or not, our harpoon hero will surely remember his epic victory over Jaws Junior as one of the highlights of his career. There’s nothing like danger to make the pulse race and the brain switch to record. The boxer who floored Mike Tyson for the first time must have re-lived that moment a thousand times, quite possibly while servicing his missus. Emerging unharmed and victorious from a life-threatening challenge produces a feeling of elation. I once saw a photo of a Masai hunting party after killing a full-maned lion. They looked elated.

Can pacifists get the same feeling without actually killing anything? The happiest humans I ever saw in my circus days were the high wire performers. Mad as baboons, but quite literally high on life. After walking the tightrope, their faces glowed like light bulbs. I asked one of them whether he felt any fear when practising his trade. He said that accomplished tightrope walkers believe they have conquered gravity and can float on air. I asked him if he had any advice for beginners. He said they should write a will leaving their money to the High Wire Artists’ Benevolent Fund. He obviously wasn’t as crazy as he looked.

The drawback of dangerous pastimes is the risk of a violent death, leaving a nasty mess for people to clean up. But that’s usually a better way to go than dying from a disease. George Orwell said that getting shot in the neck in Spain was a lot more fun than consumption. The manager of the safari camp has asked one of the park rangers to shoot him like a rabid dog if he ever contracts owl flu. He thinks it would be preferable to getting the hoots and expiring with a constipated stare on his face.

So should you take up an extreme sport? On balance, I would advise against it. Humans who feel euphoric after a parachute jump are not really euphoric – they just think they are. The brain is basically a penis in the skull which releases a lot of endorphins when it’s stimulated in the right way. The secret of a contented life is to feel pleasure without doing anything pleasurable. As Master Kan said to Grasshopper, “When you can walk its length and leave no trace, you will have learned.”

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