There is an inherent sense of challenge in the human nature, which is tempered by years of civilization. But it is there, always present just under the surface, ready to jump out into prominence and occupy center stage of a person’s conscious. In fact, this tendency to challenge the limits of one’s endurance is commonly considered as adventurism, machismo, masochism, eccentricity or madness depending on the appetite of risk of the people who sit in judgment.
McCandless was one of those pure personifications of Human spirit, who had the inherent urge to challenge his stamina against nature and to find ways of being away from what he knows. A sense of novelty in every day tasks was a stimulant to him and the unexplored or the seemingly dangerous held such an irresistible lure that it proved fatal. The death of an innocent is not about a young man who had squandered a multitude of talents and opportunities to succumb to a silly death wish. It is the story of the spirit that has shaped civilization over the years – the courage of the man to attempt to know the unknown and to tame the wild.
All Civilization rests on the fact that every generation had its share of visionaries who were quite obviously subjected to the humiliation of being labeled mad and who had the disquieting urge to face danger as a way of life. McCandless journey in the limited melodramatic sense of survival or death may be termed a failure but in the wider sense of taking on dangers and in his case seeking dangers and facing them, his life was a resounding success. Every moment he lived his dream of surviving beyond known civilization was a trophy to his spirit and in this sense his life was a success beyond doubt.
He did face fear, he felt afraid and helpless but to have lived life on his own terms and to have faced his inner demons riding on his idealism is the stuff legend and history are made of. In a Christian society where pacifism and peace are given a premium and a capitalistic set-up, where being unapologetic about self indulgence is an admitted trait of being successful, we still find people in the most dangerous professions of Fire fighting, the Police, volunteers in armed forces, whose social background does not necessitate their involvement in such hazardous occupations.
“It seems reasonable to assume that if people are in the job of their choosing, they may find it to be quite enjoyable” (p. 105, Occupational stress in the Service Professions) The very fact that people choose them as professions in spite of (or may be because of) the inherent dangers is an indicator towards the existence of the breed of men who are attracted to dangers. It is the manifestation of the true Human spirit that yearns to face the unknown and the seemingly invincible in an attempt to conquer it.
McCandless life is a puzzle to his parents and to the society at large and who ever care to judge the case, as they do not conform to the now established norms of maximizing the talent in pursuit of known rewards. But had these considerations hindered any of the discoverers, Innovators, Scientists, Philosophers or Poets we would not have inherited the world in the shape we know today. As they say Columbus would have been a successful baker in Spain all his life and would have been termed a moderate success but History would have failed to register his name and Geography would have been much more incomplete.
It is imperative that there remain such free spirits who inhabit the earth in each and every generation because the death of McCandless is not an ending but a step in the long journey of Humankind towards its quest of taking on newer dangers and greater challenges. A proof that the pure adventurous spirit has not buried under the generations of subconscious tutoring towards a seemingly successful but otherwise irrelevant existence is provided by McCandless’s case.
He could have, for his natural gifts and talents, been anything successful as per the definitions of our current society but the fact that he chose to be different and tried to pit his endurance against the forces of nature is sufficient testimony to the continuing (if diminishing) tradition of courage to seek out dangerous ventures.
Jon Krakauer. Into the Wild, 1993 Anthony H Winefield(ed). Occupational stress in the service professions NW: CRC Press 2003