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The Love of Danger

From The Business of Life By Frank Crane Published 1916

Danger includes War, Crime, and Adventure.

It is perhaps the primal human interest. Homer reeks with it. The Old Testament, the Eddas, and the Nibelungenlied are compact of it. Death, the supreme Danger, is particularly fascinating.

Digby Bell once said to me that he liked the kind of novel in which there was a murder in the first chapter, and the story “worked from that on up.” Men do not shrink from danger. They love it. They flee clubdom, luxurious leather chairs, highballs, and pussy-footed servants, to go hunt tigers in the wild, climb the dizzy Matterhorn, freeze in the Arctic ice-fields, where they get the scurvy and “spit out their teeth like stone,” or burn with fever in the tropic jungle.

Even the child is not deterred by danger. He loves to experiment with his safety, his health, and his life. Tell him a thing is perilous, and he longs to do it.

It’s the thrill he wants. And only danger can give it. He loves the swimming-hole so deep he may drown, and the loaded gun, and the green apples that may give him the colic.

The gambler does not want money. Give him a million dollars, and he will put it all on the next turn of a card. It is the excitement of that moment of peril he craves.

The essence of interest in every Game is Danger, if not of life and limb, at least the presence of sufficient uncertainty to make it a “sporting proposition.” The English and the Americans are gluttons for danger, and hence they are confirmed sports.

They conceive of everything as a game of chance. A lawsuit is not primarily to discover the facts and award justice, but one lawyer is pitted against another, and the public watches the contest with very much the same sensations it enjoys a prize-fight.

We cannot elect officials without making a game of it. So we speedily scrapped the decorous machinery our fathers devised for elections, organized opposing political parties, and proceeded to make it a game.

Crimes are alluring, and detective stories are fascinating, not because they are immoral, but because they appeal to our danger appetite. Criminals play with the highest stakes, liberty and life; and those of us too cautious for personal piracy like to read about it in “Treasure Island.” The greatest plays are tragedies and end in death, for death is the greatest of all dangers.

From the gentle old lady who “loves her murders” in the morning newspaper, to the sophisticated theatregoer who is best pleased when the curtain falls on plenty of gore, we are all human.

You have observed a curious thing: When this nation was about to enter the late war the country was consumed with enthusiasm, there was entire unanimity of spirit; our two million young men sailed blithely away and the rest of us cheered; but when the war was over and it came to making peace, immediately we fell apart and began quarreling: the Senate snarled; the soldiers complained; everybody seemed out of humor. As one wit expressed it, the Americans said, “Now the war is over, let’s go home and fight.” War, the first and greatest danger, appealed to us. Peace did not. Peace never did appeal to the human race. What it wants is Adventure.

And so long as peace is merely a negation, the stoppage of war, it will be the subject of infinite dissension, even as war produces the greatest social cohesion. Peace can never hope to have the popularity of war until it shall be made equally adventurous.

The human race is eternally young. Youth will have its way. The young man does not want to be safe. He wants to take a chance. He wants to play the game.

Editors Note: What about the Christian Life? Are we playing with danger, or do you find it too easy?

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