Written by Nick Faircloth
Published on Thursday, 01 October 2009
This is a topic I first started thinking about around the time Bao wrote his blog post entitled “Get Money, Get Paid.” That phrase struck me, as it seemed to me to contain everything that parkour is and should be- a wholly capitalist statement. Why, then, do the practitioners of the discipline seem to condone such an attitude of altruism in their social interactions, while promoting an opposite attitude of individualism in their personal endeavors? Does such a duality exist, or is it merely an illusion? This is my opinion on the matter after MUCH thought. Please note that this is basically my attempt to reconcile my two main philosophical beliefs, which before now had seemed to contradict each other: Capitalism and the parkour philosophy of “altruism,” which can essentially be boiled down to: “be strong to be useful.” If you’d like to point out flaws in my reasoning, please do. I have no doubt I’ve overlooked some things.
The same article on altruism also had this to say: “altruism refers to behaviour by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the actor.” In other words, doing something for another at one’s own expense. The concept of “altruism” is ostensibly advocated by many of the practitioners of the discipline of parkour, and is reflected in such activities as the Leave No Trace Initiative, community teaching events, and most recently, the One Giant Leap global climate change jam. These are certainly admirable pursuits, yet it may be disagreeable to some to give up their time for nothing in return. Why should I waste my time cleaning up at NCSU when I don’t even go to school there? Why should I bother asking the owner of a property for permission to train there, when I can do it without permission? Why should I show respect to a police officer, even when he is kicking me off the property I didn’t ask permission to train at? Why should I display respect, candor, courage, and all those other character traits Duncan immortalized in different forms of QM? The answer is this: you do receive something in return. As a traceur, you are a representative of the discipline to the public. What you are, is parkour. If you are respectful, courteous and willing to do things for the community, then you will win credibility for the discipline as a whole in the eyes of the public. Whereas, if you are disrespectful, careless in your training (prone to injury) and belligerent when dealing with authority, then soon the entire discipline will be viewed that way. We will not be allowed to train where we want, if at all, because of a few individuals who wanted the short-term benefits of practicing parkour without the long-term investment that comes with the title of traceur.
So, is what we are doing for the community truly altruism? I think it is not. We are (or will eventually be) getting the all-important benefit of public awareness and respect. This is a slow gain, and requires much effort. It is a difficult process, since in our society negative occurrences often receive more publicity than positive ones. One death will receive more press than the millions of hours of practice collectively put in by traceurs worldwide, even though it is the carelessness of dying while training which contradicts the philosophy of parkour. It is the disrespectful practitioner who will be remembered, although it is his attitude which runs contrary to the attitude of the discipline and the intentions of the founders. For this reason, the battle for our “place in the sun,” as it were, will be a long and hard one. But it will be worth it, and we will get our returns in the form of freedom to be able to openly practice our discipline. For that reason, what we are doing cannot be called altruism. It is a wholly capitalist system, and I am fine with that.
Capitalism is doing work and receiving 100% of the benefit (as an individual or as a group with common interests, for example, the parkour community). This is the ideal.
Altruism is doing the same work and receiving no benefit. This is pointless, and condones making no effort because you receive the same reward either way. My question is this: How can a discipline in which you are clearly responsible for your own growth (get money, get paid), be said to condone altruism? Is it possible that there is a contradiction in the philosophy of conditioning and training the body for parkour (work=gain), and in the actual application of the discipline (work=waste)? I think not. Such a thing must surely be the result of a gross oversight on the part of the practitioner, rather than the philosophy of the discipline as a whole.
Let me phrase this a different way: If we knew as a community that acceptance was impossible, that we would never be able to train as we wished, no matter what positive things we did, if we could be certain of this, would we bother? After all, that would be true altruism. I wouldn’t lift a finger. Why waste my time and receive no benefit for it? It simply doesn’t make sense.
I wrote this to clarify what altruism really is, since I have noticed the word being thrown around a lot lately. In my opinion, parkour does not condone altruism. It condones helping others for a reward. That reward can come in many forms- experience, satisfaction at saving the life of another (how cool would that be?), public recognition of the legitimacy of the discipline- yet the same underlying concept is there: action begets reaction. This is more than a physical law, to me it is a moral precept. However, the reward cannot be something which has no value or meaning to the practice of parkour. As Duncan and Herbertiste have pointed out in their treatise on the negative effects of competition, money, fame, recognition, trophies, medals, glory or any other abstract measure of popularity used only to feed the ego are not proper rewards. Parkour has no ego, and that is why capitalism works for the system. True capitalism, like parkour, consists only of hard work and gain. Traceurs are like businesses: A good traceur has invested a lot of time and work for every small gain, and one who takes shortcuts or does not function at his full potential is sure to fall behind. A traceur who performs tasks for others without asking himself “why?” and without learning from each new experience of helping others has not done a useful thing- he is doing the task because he has been told to, and not because he has learned from or thought about the teachings of our practice. The only thing that promotes is the helplessness of the individual he was drawn to assist in the first place.
One last point: I consider capitalism in the marketplace to be competition in the same sense that an individual’s progress in parkour is a competition: an internal one. It is true that many businesses undertake certain strategies to undermine others (wal-mart for instance), yet in my opinion the best businesses are those that do well by maintaining excellence internally, without bothering about what other businesses are doing. Modern-day business practices have given capitalism somewhat of a bad name, but in essence there are few people who can be said to wholly endorse the ideals of capitalism as a belief system.