Friday, February 12, 2010


One of the areas of dissonance between right and left is the meaning of the word "cooperation". For the right, it means something voluntary but also, and this is not a contradiction, involuntary. People harvesting rubber in Malaysia are doing so voluntarily, making a living. They are cooperating, involuntarily, with those who use the rubber to sheath electrical cables in another country.

It also means something awe-inspiring, something Newton put most succinctly when he said he had stood on the shoulders of giants. Here's Bill Whittle, writing about near-disaster flying a light aircraft, and touching on both these aspects of cooperation:

How many people were there with me that day? Not just the obvious two – Dana and Craig, who’s support kept my monkey brain in the back of my head to return to throw pooh another day. How many guys were watching me on radar, keeping me separated from far, far better men and women who do this in their sleep up there? How many people did it take to make the instruments, to mine the silica for the glass, to tap the rubber for the wires? Who laid the asphalt on the runways, who built the filaments in the approach strobes, and who attached the ceramic tips to my spark plugs? And how many millions of other unseen connections had to be made to allow me to do, routinely, and on a middle-class salary, what billions of dead men and women would have given a lifetime to taste – just once. In those few minutes I just told you of, I stood on the shoulders of millions of my brothers and sisters, not the least of which were two sons of a preacher from Dayton, Ohio – now long dead but with me in sprit every day. I was atop a pyramid of dedication, hard work, ingenuity and progress, following rules written in the blood of the stupid and the brave and the unlucky.

I had tossed myself a mile into the air and landed safe in this Web of Trust.

1 comment:

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Kind of appropriate that his name was Whittle, don't you think?

It's a more poetic version of the well-known essay about how nobody knows how to make a pencil.