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The Choss Pile: Lane Police

If you have a platform, you damn sure better not use it!

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Don’t fool yourself. They’re watching you. And no, I’m not talking about the helmet police…

I’m talking about a far more insidious breed of enforcers… the lane police.

They have their eyes on you 24/7, and if you so much as THINK about voicing an opinion on something other than a subject in which you hold a Ph.D.… well, you’re going to get owned with the classic line: “Stay in your lane!”

“Stay in your lane!” and the equally banal, “Keep politics out of ______!” are common exclamations we hear anytime someone with a platform takes a political stance. Climbing, unfortunately, is home to its fair share “lane police,” too.

It’s unclear exactly what principles lane police operate under. The general idea seems to be that an individual with a platform, no matter how large or small, has no right to speak on any topic or advocate for any cause that isn’t directly relevant to said platform. LeBron James can ONLY talk about basketball. Johnny Knoxville can ONLY talk about sticking his dick in a mousetrap and filming it. People from Boulder can ONLY talk about using CBD and naming their kid “Bodhi.”

You get the idea.

Lane police typically target people or entities with a large following, like pro athletes and movie stars, or publications like R&I. But these days just about anyone can have a large following. A girl I went to college with has 100,000 followers and mostly posts photos of herself drinking mimosas in a thong in Vegas. One account that simply posted a photo of an egg garnered 55 million likes, and still has 5.7 million followers. At what point does one hold status as an influencer, and when do the lane police feel they have a right to jump in and tell you what to say? It’s unclear.

[Also Read Francis Sanzaro: Should Climbing Be Political?]

I only have 1,500 followers on Instagram, and since I’ve been writing this column, I’ve had nearly a dozen people DM me, ranting about my views or the topics I choose to cover. The “lane police” issue is a problem facing all of us, not just Tommy Caldwell and Outside and Sasha DiGiulian.

If we’re supposed to keep politics out of climbing, out of music, out of television, out of football… where exactly is it supposed to be? If none of these individuals can express their political views, who can? By that logic, only politicians should be able to talk about politics.

I don’t think anyone wants to live in that world.

What is this nefarious, divisive topic anyway? This “politics?” Well, it’s unclear. It means something different to just about everyone. Some people seem to think that “politics” means whether you vote red or blue. Whether you support “All Lives Matter” or “Black Lives Matter.” Whether you think Donald Trump is some superhero/rockstar/incarnate deity or Adolf Hitler reborn.

Even things that seem wholly unrelated to political opinion, like wearing a facemask during a pandemic, are now a political statement. Your politics can mean your views on healthcare, election fraud, or whether you believe Deep State agents funded by George Soros and Chuck E. Cheese smuggled in faulty ballot machines from Cuba and Venezuela through a 4,000-mile underground tunnel system.

At the core, politics really just refers to your beliefs on governance, so politics is everything.

Education, employment, religious freedom, the medical system, law enforcement, finances. Our politics affect all of us, in almost every aspect of our lives.

The individual elected to the Senate from your state will have a direct impact on access (and perhaps oil companies’ access) to the public lands we climb in, for example. As climbers, are we not allowed to have an opinion on that?

Do we not all have a right, as citizens of this country, to speak our views on how our “democracy” is run? I might mostly write about rock climbing and mountaineering, but I’m still a taxpaying U.S. citizen. How can I not be “qualified” to speak on anything political?

If you live in this country, you have an obligation to use your voice to speak your mind, and that goes for both sides.

(Side Note: I also help curate a free political newsletter, The Flip Side, giving opinion from commentators on both the right and left on hot-button issues each day. Check it out.)

How are you supposed to “keep politics out of” anything? Unless you live in international waters or outer space, you’re a citizen of some nation. More importantly, unless you’re Kim Jong Un or another despot, your views have to contend with and co-exist with the views of every other person in your nation. 

The cry to “keep politics out of climbing” really just seems like folks whining because they’re shocked and disappointed that so many people disagree with them. It’s like when my mom would walk in on 13-year-old me playing RuneScape and jerk back the curtains, letting in the sunlight. Not everyone thinks the same as you. Chill out.

That said, we could all do with a little more civility. We’ve never lived in a more divisive time. The internet and social media allow for rapid fire exchanges with little to no forethought. People get in arguments in Facebook comment threads, on topics that neither know the slightest thing about, each looking up facts on the same Wikipedia page in a separate tab. It’s moronic.

That’s the real problem. Climbing doesn’t need lane police. If anything, we need more climbers using their platforms to speak their mind, to promote what they believe in.

We do need a little more willingness to lend an open ear to each other. A little more forethought before we click “Reply” and send a message with curse words and ALL CAPS.

We don’t need to “keep politics out of climbing” or anywhere else. What we need is a little more compassion for everyone. We need to remember that the people we’re telling to go off themselves online are just like us. They’re probably typing with one hand, scratching their butt with the other, and thinking about getting a nacho cheese-covered taco, too (or maybe that’s just me…)

Rock and Ice is committed to a diversity of ideas. The opinions published here do not necessarily reflect those of Rock and Ice.

The Choss Pile is published every Thursday.

Owen Clarke is a freelance writer currently based in Puerto Rico. He is a columnist for Rock and Ice, Gym Climber and The Outdoor Journal. He also writes for Atlas Devices and BAÏST

He enjoys Southern sandstone and fish tacos, and is afraid of heights. 

Follow him on Instagram at @opops13.