Question: re: Famous climber quote


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Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
May 3, 2006 - 05:05pm PT
As a serious scholarly matter, we must try to resolve the attribution of "At either end of the social spectrum there lies a leisure clase." (How about them apples?)

Besides, over the years, someone is always suggesting that the quote has another, earlier source, but no one ever offers one up.

I haven’t found anything which points to another source for this quote. No phrases come close and Veblen’s contribution, which Off White points to, offers the definition of the ‘leisure-class’ but misses the mark on Eric’s wry comment.

Thorstein Veblen, author of Theory of the Leisure Class, 1989 is responsible for introducing 'conspicuous consumption' into the sociological and economic literature. He may also be responsible for the term and definition of the ‘leisure class.’ (Googling ‘leisure class’ without Veblen, gets zero hits.)

Veblen introduces the notion of the “…decayed gentleman and the lady who have seen better days…whose alternative is beggary or privation. Wherever the canon of conspicuous leisure has a chance undisturbed to work out its tendency, there will therefore emerge a secondary, and in a sense spurious, leisure class -- abjectly poor and living in a precarious life of want and discomfort, but morally unable to stoop to gainful pursuits.” Even if Eric’s concept was imbedded in this quote, Eric would win hands down for pith.

Veblen also introduces the idea that the servants of the upper leisure class assimilating the manners of the upper leisure class, which had a leveling affect on the character of society as a whole. But this did not turn them into a lower 'leisure class."

These are only links I could find in Veblen’s work to connect a leisure class to the ‘other end’ of the social spectrum. And Eric’s quip has nothing to do with either of these.

(As a note, some one copied the entire book into a searchable word file available on the net.)

If we are going to find an antecedent notion of the ‘lower’ leisure class, it probably needs to come from a source in a social society where a lower 'leisure class' was possible. I am stretched thin here but examples might be the early lay-about Christians who took the promise of a second coming as an imminent event, actors and entertainers in Shakespeare’s London, and maybe something from Voltaire’s time. There might also be something in Fitzgerald’s time in the Roaring 20s. The 60s also clearly fit.

Any social history sleuths in ST land?
Bruce Morris

Social climber
Belmont, California
May 3, 2006 - 06:07pm PT
Good to know that Eric is still around. Thought I read a brief notice in a climbing mag a few years ago that he died in an auto accident (no, not Bruce Hawkins). Goes to show you: Never believe any thing you read in a climbing mag unless you were there to witness it.

Then, why doesn't someone just ask him if the quote was original with him? From what I remember, Eric must have read Veblen, though.

Did a search on Yahoo: Yes, there is an Eric Beck in Bishop and he does have a public phone number.

Ice climber
The Happies
May 3, 2006 - 07:29pm PT
I remember climbing with the late Eric Beck on Daff Dome in Tuolumne in 1975

unless I missed something, Eric Beck is still alive. He's been living in Bishop for years, and was climbing in the Alabama Hills a couple of months ago.
Bruce Morris

Social climber
Belmont, California
May 5, 2006 - 01:09am PT
Just got this email from a very much alive Eric Beck this morning (May 4th) with the answer to the question in this thread about the origin of his quip. So Veblein does play a part in its genesis:

"Hi Bruce;
Very nice to hear from you. Here's the story. It is raining and many of us are sitting around Yosemite Lodge. Roper is reading Thorstein Veblein, THEORY OF THE LEISURE CLASS. In my usual smart ass manner, I happen to remark that there is a leisure class at both ends of the social spectrum. That's it, apparently this caught on with climbers.

We have been in Bishop for 8 years. We go to Tuolumne often in the summer. Some of our favorites remain your old routes, Great Circle and Crying Time.

Eric and Lori Beck"

East of Seattle
Topic Author's Reply - May 5, 2006 - 12:21pm PT
May Supertopo live forever!

Thanks Bruce. That's more and better than I hoped for.

Off White

Tenino, WA
May 5, 2006 - 02:41pm PT
Yep, that's the resolution I was hoping for, someone just ask him. I was exploring that path when it became clear that some here knew him, so I thought it would be better to wait for a friend to get the story rather than have some random stalker from the interweb (uh, that'd be me) call him up out of the blue.

Thanks Bruce.

Trad climber
Austin, TX
May 5, 2006 - 10:34pm PT
Damn, Juan. Bait looked good, but the hook was just too shiny.
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
May 5, 2006 - 10:38pm PT
I think that all the evidence so far points to Eric being the original author of the quote. The idea of a 'poor' leisure class seems to us as fairly well established, but no one can find any cannot find examples. The actual quote--or even something close--does not show up in any searches with any attribution to anyone other than Eric. Even the idea of a 'poor' leisure class doesn't show up either. Veblen’s ideas describe the rich leisure class, but it looks like a couple of us read (or re-read) his book and cannot find an antecedent to Eric’s take on adding the ‘poor’ leisure class.

In all the discussions that I have seen on attribution of this quote, no one has come up with any think even remotely close.

Besides, knowing Eric and Steve, I can imagine Steve reading some section of Velban aloud, with his unique cadence and emphasis, and I can 'hear' Eric popping off his quote as he took in the scene of the climber's hanging out in the Lodge lounge, waiting for the rain to stop, reading about the leisure class.
Off White

Tenino, WA
May 6, 2006 - 01:35am PT
Yep, like Oscar Wilde in kletterschues.
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
May 6, 2006 - 11:02am PT
Yep, I agree, radical. It is a brilliant observation with a perfect choice of words. That's why I am pushing everyone to find any antecedents. If it is solely Eric's, we shouldn't be second-guessing the attribution.

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
May 6, 2006 - 12:14pm PT
Eric's mother was one of the first female Zen Masters in the US. No sh#t. She wrote several excellent books on the practice. I used to go to the same (LA Zen Center) place where she started, though long after she had left. Always wanted to ask her about that son of hers...

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
May 14, 2006 - 10:05am PT
Here is another photo of Eric with his friend (John?) about 1975ish, over near Munginella I think. This was during his career reprise. One of the wittiest ever to have climbed!


Mountain climber
Oct 3, 2018 - 07:42pm PT
Though I knew this quote came from Eric Beck, I've always wondered about exactly how it came about.

Trad climber
Oct 4, 2018 - 08:00am PT
I believe that Harold Drasdo coined the phrase. At least it was atributed to him long ago
Flip Flop

Earth Planet, Universe
Oct 4, 2018 - 08:12am PT
Was it Cassin that said " Climbing Mountains is a game. If you die climbing, you lose the game"
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Oct 4, 2018 - 09:07am PT
"You've lost yur ax, Tizzy. Ya lose again!"
After the FA of Grandes Giraffes, Tizzoni, Cassin, Esposito.
After the FA of Grandes Giraffes, Tizzoni, Cassin, Esposito.
Credit: mouse from merced

Social climber
Sierra Eastside
Oct 4, 2018 - 03:40pm PT
Thorstein Veblen +1!!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 4, 2018 - 05:44pm PT
Russ McClean and Eric Beck, Alabama Hills, Ca 2-14-16
Russ McClean and Eric Beck, Alabama Hills, Ca 2-14-16
Credit: Yafer
2007 thread:
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