What is it about rock climbing that makes it such a useful synecdoche for enjoying your life? In an article about an unusual case about a girl whose lawsuit against a sexually abusive teacher foundered when her claims of “loss of enjoyment of life” seemed to be contradicted by a happy Facebook page, I was struck by the comment
Melissa’s account was mostly locked to outsiders, but some pictures were visible: Melissa hanging out with her boyfriend, Melissa working at a veterinary hospital, Melissa rock climbing, Melissa out drinking with friends… Nor did it support her claim of “loss of enjoyment of life,” which one judge has defined as the loss of “watching one’s children grow, participating in recreational activities, and drinking in the many other pleasures that life has to offer.” Rock climbing is a recreational activity; drinking with friends is one of life’s pleasures, after all. Last month, the court ordered Melissa to hand over every photograph, video, status update, and wall message ever posted on her Facebook accounts so that the school district may search for more clues that Melissa is secretly thriving.
And that reminded me of an article many years ago in Harper’s about American casualty adjustors, whose job it is to put a price on someone’s life for purposes of wrongful death suits.
I ask them to evaluate my worth, and they tell me that outdoorsy people are worth more than people like me, who stay home and read. “People have no sympathy for somebody who sits alone on his couch, drinks beer, eats food, and is a load,” Ed says.
“That’s why nobody likes me,” says George. “It’s how sympathetic you are. People go, ‘He rock climbed,’ you know. `This guy enjoyed life. He was out there doing things.’ You cherish life more if you are interacting with it.”
An example that is frequently cited in elementary statistics courses for the unreliability of survey data, is that when people are surveyed about their sexual history, men report more lifetime female partners on average than women report male partners. (A high-quality example is this UK survey from 1992, where men reported 9.9 female partners on average, while women averaged 3.4 male partners. It’s possible to tinker around the edges with effects of changes over time, and age differences between men and women in sexual relationships, but the contradiction is really inescapable. One thing that is quite striking in this survey is the difference between the cross-sectional and longitudinal pictures, which I’ve discussed before. For example, men’s lifetime numbers of sexual partners increase with age — as they must, longitudinally — but among the women the smallest average number of lifetime sex partners is in the oldest group.)
In any case, I was reminded of this when reading Stephen Greenblatt’s popular book on the rediscovery of De rerum naturae in the early 15th century by the apostolic secretary Poggio Bracciolini, and the return of Epicurean philosophy more generally into European thought. He cites a story from Poggio’s Liber Facetiarum a sort of jokebook based on his experiences in the papal court, about
dumb priests, who baffled by the fact that nearly all the women in confession say that they have been faithful in matrimony, and nearly all the men confess to extramarital affairs, cannot for the life of them figure out who the women are with whom the men have sinned.
One of Roald Dahl’s final and most bitter stories (from the late 1980s) tells of a scam engineered by a rare book seller, who picks names out of the obituaries, and then sends a bill to the grieving family that includes expensive items of exotic erotica. The families inevitably pay the bill and avoid asking any embarrassing questions, assuming that the deceased had kept these proclivities well hidden.
I was reminded of this when I saw this article in The New Yorker, about the web site X-art.com, that has become “the biggest filer of copyright-infringement lawsuits” in the US.
Today, they average more than three suits a day, and defendants have included elderly women, a former lieutenant governor, and countless others. “Please be advised that I am ninety years old and have no idea how to download anything,” one defendant wrote in a letter, filed in a Florida court. Nearly every case settles on confidential terms, according to a review of dozens of court records…
It is hard to see why anyone facing such a suit would choose not to settle: hiring a lawyer costs more than settling, and damages are exponentially higher in the event of a loss at trial. Plus, no one wants to be publicly accused of stealing pornography. To avoid embarrassment, many defendants may choose to settle before Malibu Media names them in a complaint.