As a point of clarification I wrote this post before I realized that fellow CM blogger Paul Loewen is the son of Arvid Loewen (see below post). So I welcome any clarifications that may be helpful in this piece.
So if you are interested in pondering the absurd then have a look at what a local 54 year old grandfather just accomplished. A few highlights;
1. Cycled 6,055 km in 13 days, nine hours and change. This stands as the fastest coast-to-coast cycling across Canada.
2. Breaking this record included an injury part way through (which required a 15 hr break!).
3. His pace demanded cycling a minimum of 20 hours a day.
These facts do not compute in my brain. Through the medium of long distance cycling Arvid has raised over 1.5 million dollars. His charity of choice is an organization that works with street kids in Kenya. So why I am about to transition to some critical comments related to this story? First a couple of qualifications. No criticism is intended towards Arvid. The fact that he found an expression that allows him to generate this type of support for what I will assume is a great cause can only be commended. I also assume that other perspectives than the following could be taken (such the need of extreme behaviour to draw attention to extreme situations), I want, however, to take a step back and ask one question and make one observation.
Why can herculean feats raise this type of money? Is there not something bizzare or even perverse about the need for someone to perform at super-human levels to draw funds for those living in sub-human conditions? I will go out on an unsubstantiated limb and venture a guess in saying that the vast majority of Arvid's support comes from the corporate sector in which donors can only 'win' from their association with Arvid. Arvid becomes the super-hero logo on their chest which invigorates the public imagination. While Arvid remains out of the average person's reach the corporation gives the public access to this imagination by acquiring their brand while also associating the average person with helping 'the poor' (this is the power of the corporation not Arvid) on the other side of the world. This leads to my observation;
The owners of Palliser Furniture in Winnipeg created some 'incentive' for Arvid saying that if he broke the record they would present him with a check for $50,000 at the finish line. Now I will also venture a guess in saying that Palliser would have donated the money regardless. However, the scenario again focuses on some implicit value in this herculean accomplishment. The money is not worth donating directly to street kids in Kenya, that is, bringing the conditions of a group of people's life up to a minimally acceptable level. Or to put it another way, the money is not worth donating to someone who simply demonstrates the need and effectiveness of the situation and organization represented. Instead the money is worth wagering on the possibility of achieving the never before achieved. When given the choice between bringing others up to a minimum level on the one hand or extending our reach beyond the maximum the choice is clear (though we are supposed to believe that the two work together).
To again be clear. I have nothing but respect for Arvid's accomplishments. To have inspiring figures in various fields and expressions is part of the beauty of human nature. What I am drawing attention to is the structure around extreme expressions like Arvid's. The amount of global economic resources that could be available from the world's most wealthy is staggering. And yet it is the folks without such resources that are required to enter the super-human before investors find enough 'value' to throw their tax-deductible donations at so they can still receive a return on investment.