When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, the English mountaineer George Mallory (1886-1924) famously responded, “Because it is there.”
Yes, yes . . . very clever. Pithy. Quotable. Well . . . Mallory died in his ambitious attempt without ever reaching the pinnacle, leading the Curmudgeon to ask: In retrospect, was it worth it, George? Was “because it is there” (clever though that sounds) reason enough to risk climbing the (as it turned out) deadly mountain? Or was the whole thing rather, perhaps, just plain foolhardy?
I believe Mr. Mallory’s tale makes for an excellent illustration of a caveat I often cite: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. (I may have coined that myself. If so, I propose it be added posthaste to the official list of caveats. I’m sure such a list exists somewhere, and I’ll be contacting the board to apply for an official designation.)
Certainly, not all foolhardy endeavors result in freezing to death. Some are just stupid, useless, ill-conceived, or a waste of perfectly good time that could be spent napping. Sadly, this caution seems to be lost on a good number of people who attempt things and/or invent things.
For what purpose, for example, is there such a thing as the “turducken”—a dish that combines a turkey, a duck, and a chicken? Now, I’m told that his bizarre fowl concoction is delicious. I’ll never know because I refuse to try it on principle, so appalled am I that it even occurred to someone to invent such an uncalled-for recipe. Yes, of course, it can be done, but why . . . why? I’m quite certain that with enough trial and error one could assemble a combination of buffalo meat, tofu, and haddock, but for heaven’s sake, to what end? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
The following things, inexplicably, are also in existence: a grill that attaches to a car exhaust, tiny umbrellas that attach to your shoes, an apparatus that allows you to take your goldfish out for a walk, a sun visor with fake hair attached to the top, a neck lanyard designed to hold a wine glass, and a DVD rewinder. (Don’t ask; I have no further information). This is just a small sampling of stupid things someone took the time to invent, with who-knows-how-many hours spent designing, working out bugs, creating prototypes . . . and all so someone’s shoes would only get wet from the side.
Of course, the turducken and its ilk are relatively harmless, except to the section of our brains that wants to understand why such things happen, a section where tiny explosions of frustration and despair take place regularly, pushing us toward madness. But as Mr. Mallory discovered, this kind of obsessive curiosity about things that probably ought not to be tinkered with can potentially bear far less benign fruit.
When the idea of cloning was first introduced, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in experiencing a profoundly uneasy feeling deep in my gut. Something terrible was looming. At first, we took comfort in the belief that the idea was pure science fiction, not anything that could actually be achieved. But the stubbornly curious bastards just kept at it. Instead of trying to solve homelessness, poverty, violence, or poor cell phone reception, they dedicated countless hours to cultivating the ability to make a copy of a living being. This is a terrible idea—I can’t put my finger on why, exactly, but I know for certain it has already fallen into the wrong hands and will be used for evil.
The same goes for the newfangled technologies that enable us to switch out one person’s face for another, or place people into photographs of places they’ve never been. Some find these to be amusing diversions . . . the fools. But ask yourselves, why do we need these things? Why do we need to switch faces and stick people into photos? And then ask yourself another question: How long before one of your enemies borrows your face, calls your boss and quits your job, or breaks up with your boyfriend? What these inventions have done is to introduce justifiable doubt into technologies that were once considered solid, undeniable evidence. It used to be that a photo was proof of what it depicted and a phone call from someone meant that person was on the other end. Now, it’s anyone’s guess whether what we see or hear even exists. This leaves the door wide open for claims like “I know you saw me, but that wasn’t really me.”
And yet we hurtle along—idiots that we are—inventing things that ought not to be invented, just because we can, or because there might be a buck in it, never pausing to think of the dangers. So here’s my recommendation to would-be inventors: just stop. Stop concocting new gizmos that no one needs or that threaten to warp our ideas of reality. Leave well enough alone. Unless you can devise a contraption that will stop people from talking during live theatre and walking out during the curtain call (for which you'd be deserving of the first American knighthood), just be kind enough to stand down. Invest in a comfortable chair, a cat, and some great old movies. I’ll even sell you a DVD rewinder.