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The easy way or the hard way?

[ by Charles Cameron — thinking more in terms of challenge than of threat, and skipping via Chicago Law, Everest, and Handel’s Messiah to a Venn diagram of the workings of conscience ]

Well, I don’t always read the Chicago Law Review cover to cover, or even at all to be honest — but I confess I did like this opening paragraph from George Loewenstein† & Ted O’Donoghue†† (love those daggers after your names, guys):

If you ever have the misfortune to be interrogated, and the experience resembles its depiction in movies, it is likely that your interrogator will inform you that “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The interrogator is telling you, with an economy of words, that you are going to spill the beans; the only question is whether you will also get tortured — which is the hard way. In this Essay, we argue that much consumption follows a similar pattern, except that the torturer is oneself.


Here’s the easy vs hard contrast I was thinking about as I googled my way to the Law Review — as you’ll see, it has nothing to do with interrogation:


So, a little background. Jason Burke has been covering Everest for The Guardian lately, since it has been almost exactly sixty years since Hillary and Tenzing were the first to “conquer” the highest peak on earth — and one of his reports caught my eye — Everest may have ladder installed to ease congestion on Hillary Step:

It was the final obstacle, the 40 feet of technical climbing up a near vertical rock face that pushed Sir Edmund Hillary to the limit. Once climbed, the way to the summit of Mount Everest lay open.

Now, almost exactly 60 years after the New Zealander and his rope-mate, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, stood on the highest point in the planet, a new plan has been mooted to install a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, as the crucial pitch at nearly 29,000ft has been known since it was first ascended. The aim is to ease congestion.

That’s what the upper panel, above, is all about — and I think it contrasts nicely with the bottom panel, which shows a rurp. Should you need one, you can obtain your own Black Diamond rurp here.


Rurps are awesome. Here are two descriptions of them, both taken from the mountaineering literature, and neither one of them focusing in too closely on the poetry of the name…

Steve Rope, Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber, p. 107:

Chouinard’s “rurp” was obviously something special. An acronym for “realized ultimate reality piton,” this ludicrously small fragment of heat-treated steel opened our eyes to untold possibilities.

and Chris Jones, Climbing in North America, p. 273:

It was about the size of a postage stamp. The business end was the thickness of a knife blade and penetrated only a quarter-inch into the rock. With several of these Realized Ultimate Reality Pitons, or rurps, Chouinard and Frost made the crux pitch on Kat Pinnacle (A4). It was the most difficult aid climb in North America.

Chouinard named this postage-stamp-sized thing the realized ultimate reality piton (RURP) because if you willingly and literally hang your life on that quarter-inch of steel, you’re liable to realize, well, ultimate reality.

Zen — yours for $15 and exemplary courage.


Here’s my question: should we make the hard way easier?

When is that a kindness, and when is it foolish?


In its own way, of course, a rurp is an assist — it makes the hard way a tad easier for the serious climber.

As indeed would the proposed “ladder” on Everest: here’s why it might be not-such-a-bad idea:

This year, 520 climbers have reached the summit of Everest. On 19 May, around 150 climbed the last 3,000ft of the peak from Camp IV within hours of each other, causing lengthy delays as mountaineers queued to descend or ascend harder sections.

“Most of the traffic jams are at the Hillary Step because only one person can go up or down. If you have people waiting two, three or even four hours that means lots of exposure [to risk]. To make the climbing easier, that would be wrong. But this is a safety feature,” said Sherpa…

Besides, the idea is to set it up as a one-way street…

Frits Vrijlandt, the president of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), said the ladder could be a solution to the increasing numbers of climbers on the mountain.

“It’s for the way down, so it won’t change the climb,” Vrijlandt told the Guardian.

Ah, but then there’s human nature to consider:

It is unlikely, however, that tired ascending climbers close to their ultimate goal will spurn such an obvious aid at such an altitude.



Shouldn’t we just level the top off, as Handel and Isaiah 4.4 suggest, and as we’re doing in the Appalachians?

A little mountaintop removal mining, a helipad, and voilà — even I could make it to the summit!


But to return to Loewenstein† & O’Donoghue†† — their paper’s full title was “We Can Do This the Easy Way or the Hard Way”: Negative Emotions, Self-Regulation, and the Law — how can a theologian such as myself resist a diagram such as this?

8 Responses to “The easy way or the hard way?”

  1. larrydunbar Says:

    I can’t tell by  Loewenstein† & O’Donoghue††”s diagram. Is prison the reality outside the square or inside the square, or would you need a diagram called: The Reality of Effects-based Self-Control?

  2. Grurray Says:

    how can a theologian such as myself resist a diagram such as this?

    Why Venn diagrams are so visually appealing is that the union resembles the vesica piscis


    a symbol derived from the combination of the disparate inanimate and the animate


  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Yes indeed.
    I’ve made my response as a separate post, since I had already written most of it several months ago…


  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    BTW, your second link goes to a page that quotes John Michell.  I used to know John back in the day, and remember going for an arduous cross-country walk in search of megalithic stones and ley lines one time, with him and the wonderful photographer Gabi Nasemann.

  5. Grurray Says:

    Both he and Escher are frequently referenced in that book.
    I have Dimensions of Paradise lying around, unread as of yet, so I will have to start on it seeing that he is a friend of yours.
    Looking forward to reading more on your studies on form.

  6. larrydunbar Says:

    “a symbol derived from the combination of the disparate inanimate and the animate”

    Well Grurray, how do you suppose to animate such a thing 🙂 ?

    Perhaps you need to watch The Game of Thrones on HBO? 

  7. Grurray Says:

    I don’t have HBO and have never seen an episode of GOT. I’m told I missed something big last night, but I am not convinced.
    I just don’t enjoy TV that much to get involved in a series.
    I tried to watch The Americans and quit after eight or so episodes.
    Too much nonsense.
    I’d rather read a good book.

  8. Grurray Says:

    Wait, I take that back. There was a British show called 
    Wish Me Luck that  the Chicago Boyz recommended. 
    Very entertaining,  if not a bit amateurish.  

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